Clash fanatics already know the backstory about how Joe Strummer fronted a so-called (and fairly successful) Pub Rock band called the 101ers when he saw the Sex Pistols and decided to quit his hard-working roots-rockin’ boyos in favor of something cut more to the cloth of the times.
The story goes that The 101ers were supported by the Sex Pistols at a club called the Nashville Room in early 1976, and this is when Strummer claimed he saw the light and got involved in the punk scene. Commenting on this event in the Don Letts documentary Westway to the World, Strummer says, “five seconds into their [the Pistols’] first song, I knew we were like yesterday’s paper, we were over.”
By the time their debut single was released, Strummer was in the Clash and the 101ers were done.
A few years ago, and after Strummer’s sad and untimely passing, the Astralwerks label decided to release Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited, a 1981 compilation of early studio recordings by Strummer’s pre-Clash band for the first time in the US, fleshed out with some additional studio tracks and a bunch of live cuts to boot. And if you’ve never heard any of this material, it’s a real treat to listen to how hard Strummer and company rocked out this early, R&B-influenced, meat-and-potatoes rock & roll.
Included in the 21-track compilation is the 101ers’ first official single, released on Chiswick in 1976, “Keys to Your Heart,” as well as the re-recorded-for-BBC version of the same tune. Clash fans should recognize “Junco Partner” (the American blues and R&B standard later reworked into a pair of dub-reggae numbers on Sandinista!), but the astute Clash deep-diver will appreciate “Lonely Mother’s Son,” which Strummer later rewrote as “Jail Guitar Doors” (the B-side to “Clash City Rockers,” the Clash’s fourth single from 1978).