Gary Foley with Paul Simenon & Joe Strummer 1982

Joe Strummer, lead singer for seminal British punk band the Clash, has died at the age of 50 of a hear attack. Joe, who was the band's guitarist, vocalist and songwriter alongside Mick Jones, died on Sunday at his farmhouse in Somerset, southwestern England. Joe, born John Mellor in Ankara, Turkey, and the Clash burst onto the British punk scene in the late 1970s on the heels of fellow countrymen and punk rockers The Sex Pistols and are considered by many to be the definitive British punk band. During their five years together, the Clash blended punk, reggae and world-beat rhythms with lyrics championing racial unity and combating political oppression and became widely known as "the only band that matters."

The band's hits included "London Calling," "White Riot," "Rock the Casbah," and "Should I Stay or Should I Go." The Clash sold records by the millions, but the deal they had struck with their record company meant they never raked in the sort of royalties that others did. Bob Geldof - a musical contemporary as frontman for the Boomtown Rats - said he admired their refusal to sell out.

"I know for a fact they were offered huge amounts of money. They just said, 'No, that isn't really what we stood for.'" Geoff Martin, the London convenor for Unison, the trade union, praised the way Joe supported trade union struggles at home and abroad. "Joe was prepared to fight for workers rights from Nicaragua to Newcastle. It's a fitting tribute to him that one of his last UK shows was a (striking) firefighters benefit that he financed out of his own pocket," he said.

Aboriginal rights activist Gary Foley who was invited to join the 1980s Australian tour and promote Aboriginal land rights to audiences remembered the way Joe engaged his fans in political debate instead of just concentrating on sex, drugs and rock and roll. "No doubt there were young women who turned up at the shows and were keen to bed him, but he always deflected them from those sorts of thoughts and tried to encourage them to think about local political issues and engage them in broader political questions," he said.

After the demise of the Clash, Joe went on to a solo career. He returned to the limelight with his new band, the Mescaleros, three years ago. The Mescaleros, whose music vividly encompassed Joe's fascination with global genres, released Rock Art & The X-Ray Style in October 1999. It was followed by a second Mescaleros album, Global A Go-Go, released on the Hellcat label in June 2001.

Joe likened a Clash performance to a rocket launch: "Do you know those shots from above a rocket gantry, especially those Sixties, early-color shots of Cape Kennedy or Cape Canaveral? There's that moment after they count down, 'Three, two, one . . .' when clouds of smoke billow from the rocket and then it begins to thrust and burn a whole in the atmosphere -- that would be the feeling of a Clash show. And it would seem about that length of time too."

Some truly great Clash albums include The Clash, 1977, London Calling, 1979, Sandinista!, 1980, Combat Rock, 1982.

Joe's family asked that instead of floral tributes, money should be paid to the Mandela SOS fundraising concert, which is aimed at raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Joe had been due to take part in the show on 2 February from Mandela's former prison on Robben Island.

Sources: Strummer Site.com, The Scottsman, Punk News, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Rolling Stone, Aversion