Paul Simonon Biography

Bassist, Painter (1955–)
English musician Paul Simonon was bass player for the punk rock band The Clash.


Born in 1955 in London, England, Paul Simonon, along with Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, formed the backbone for the pioneering English punk rock band The Clash. After the group's breakup in 1986, Simonon continued to record music and make his mark as a noted painter. The Clash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

Early Life

Musician, painter. Bass player for the groundbreaking English punk rock band The Clash, Paul Simonon was born December 15, 1955, in London, England. Raised middle-class, Simonon, who attended predominantly black schools as a child, developed an early appreciation for soul and Jamaican music that would later influence his work with The Clash.

His love for art, and his obvious talent for it, eventually earned him a scholarship to a local art school. But his passion for music never subsided, and in the early 1970s he cut his teeth as a bass player in a punk band called London SS.

Through it he formed a lasting friendship with the group's guitarist, Mick Jones. In 1976 the pair took in a performance of a band called the 101ers. Headed up by singer Joe Strummer, the group had earned some early notoriety for playing a couple of gigs with up-and-coming British punk band the Sex Pistols.

The Clash

Later in 1976, Jones, Simonon and Strummer were formally introduced by their common friend and eventual manager, Bernie Rhodes. From that introduction, The Clash was formed. The group's name came from Simonon, who had noticed how often the term "clash" was used in an edition of the London Standard newspaper. Drummer Terry Chimes joined the group a short time later.

In January 1977, The Clash signed with CBS Records for £100,000. The group's self-titled debut album, which was recorded in just three weekends, came out that April.

The record, with future punk-rock anthems like "White Riot," "I'm So Bored with the USA" and "London's Burning," quickly propelled The Clash, who would spend the next decade largely singing about revolution and the working class, into stardom.

The group's follow-up album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, hit British record stores in 1978. About a year later, the band delivered what many rock critics and fans consider The Clash's best album, London Calling, a double-record effort that meshed the best of the 1970s punk rock sound with a refined level of lyrics and smarts that would help usher in the new decade.

The recording also featured the band's first American hit, "Train in Vain," as well as Simonon's best-known composition, "The Guns of Brixton," which he sang. Rolling Stone magazine later voted London Calling the best album of the 1980s.

For his part, Simonon's art school background played no small role in the band's success. Much of the band's look emanated from Simonon, from its early Jackson Pollock–like paint-splattered graphics and style to its later military-inspired dress.

Simonon's personal style and natural good looks also helped anchor the appearance of the band. "He was just there, looking fantastic...the bastard," Jones later recalled.

But stardom and the wear and tear of maintaining the band's energy and commitment to its craft took its toll on The Clash. Tensions mounted between Jones and Strummer, leading to the former's departure. Added to the complications was an increasingly rocky relationship with CBS Records. After six albums and many hit singles, The Clash officially broke up in 1986.

But the group's music never really faded into the background. Nine years after the band's final album was released, one of its singles, "Should I Stay or Should I Go," was re-released in England and shot to the top of the charts, giving The Clash its only number one hit. In 2003, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Later Career

Following the demise of The Clash, Simonon continued to maintain a heavy involvement in the music scene. He started a new group called Havana 3am, which put out just one album before breaking up. Later, he stepped into the recording studio with Bob Dylan for what became Dylan's album Down in the Groove (1988). He also came on board as the bass player for Jones' post-Clash band, Big Audio Dynamite.

For years, rumors swirled about a possible reunion of The Clash. That speculation came to a tragic end with the death of Strummer in 2002.In 2010, Simonon and Jones started work on a new biopic based on the album London Calling.

The years since The Clash's end have also seen Simonon return to his earlier artistic roots as a painter. His work is regularly exhibited.

Simonon has also remained politically active. In early 2011 he was arrested while working as a cook on board a Greenpeace ship that was part of a contingent protesting an oil rig off the coast of Greenland.

"We stormed the oil rig," Simonon recounted. "They said if you don't get off...we're going to phone the authorities in Greenland and say you've hijacked the oil rig, and the police will come and arrest you. And that's pretty much what happened."

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