The Clash In Houston, 1979: The Devil In Mick Jones
Photo courtesy of Andy Abbott
During The Clash's October 1979 show at Cullen Theater, photographer Andy Abbott, situated in the front row with 35mm camera gear at the ready, began snapping pics of Jerry Anomie of headliners Legionaire's Disease Band when, he says, "I noticed that almost everyone else was still sitting in their seats. I suddenly felt very conspicuous and sat back down."
Luckily, that self-consciousness didn't keep him from getting close-up pics of The Clash.
Yet, he too ran afoul of Mick Jones. Intending to help the guitarist after a cord fell off stage, he "grabbed it while he was still playing and reached out to put it as far back on the stage as my arm would reach," he says. "As I'm dropping the amp cord, I look up, and there's Mick standing over me, glaring at me with a sneer."
On the other hand, nimble drummer Nicky "Topper" Headon was much more approachable. Heading backstage, Abbott encountered a man that "didn't have an ounce of pretension or self-importance," he says. "He looked right at me and smiled, something rarely seen from musicians at the top of their game. I was struck by his small stature; he looked bigger behind his drum kit."
Abbott wound through linoleum-lined hallways behind the stage, eager to find Strummer in a backroom: "There were tables, a small tub of iced beer, a plate of light snacks, and a few chairs," he says. "I asked, to no one in particular, if it would be okay to take pictures. Without looking directly at me, Strummer said 'Ya sure.' I wandered around the room and tried to capture the scene using a bounce flash.
"I found myself right next to Mick Jones," Abbot tells. "I raised my camera, and without saying anything, pointed it at Mick, and started to frame and focus the shot. Before I could even get my finger on the shutter button Mick half-staggered, half-walked right towards me.
He pointed straight at me and mashed his finger right into my lens, giving it a prominent, greasy smudge. I was speechless. Mick slurred 'Y'know, I could smash your camera if I wanted to!' Sensing that this was a no-win situation, I just walked out."
Abbott headed past an impromptu security barricade and noticed a group of fans "pleading with the muscle-heads to let them." Squeezing past this hectic group, he encountered Mick Jones "running down the stairs after me," he begins.
"He kept saying over and over again that he was sorry for threatening me. He was so apologetic it was bizarre. I just gave him a sheepish smile and said 'All right.' His demeanor had changed in about two minutes' time. The fans at the bottom of the stairs were gobsmacked: their mouths were wide open. Conversations turned to complete, stony silence."
The Hates in 2009
Photo by Brittanie Shey
Christian Arnheiter, singer for potent first-wave local punks The Hates, had a measurably different experience. Since he previously invited Ian Dury to visit his radio program Destroy All Music on KPFT, he knew keyboardist Mickey Gallagher was touring with The Clash. The two soon joined up.
"We took on the bars on west side because a friend of mine worked there and helped drive us around," says Arnheiter. "Even though Joe, Topper, Paul and Mick went their separate ways, I found it to be a real treat hanging with their road manager Johnny Green, who had been a roadie for the Sex Pistols. I picked his brain for stories. Cosmo Vinyl offered up humorous antidotes too... Those three guys were the cut-ups and life of the party."
The Clash hit the stage with a sudden burst of light, hitting the chords to "Safe European Home," recalls Arnheiter. "Their sound had matured and diversified. They were covering everything from rockabilly to ska.
"Everybody backstage, of course, flocked around Joe and company," he continues. "I have to give kudos for him being so gracious to me and giving me a moment of his time. Definitely a guy who had it rough living as a squatter in London and not letting fame go to his head."
As history now tells, Strummer and Headon were a rare breed, easygoing and genuinely earthy, while the effete Mick Jones has left a small trail of sourness in his Texas path.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.