May 30, 1955: Clash Drummer Topper Headon Born

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The Clash (with Headon at L), in a late ’70s publicity photo via Epic Records

Named Nicholas Bowen Headon on his birth May 30, 1955, in the London suburb of Bromley, he was nicknamed by Clash bassist Paul Simonon for his resemblance to the character Mickey the Monkey in the English comic book Topper. Initially a jazz drummer, Headon first came into the orbit of The Clash when he played for a week with Mick Jones’ previous band London SS.

He joined The Clash in 1977, and is credited with bringing greater rhythmic sophistication to the band. He also wrote most all of the music and recorded the piano, bass and drum tracks for their most successful chart single in both the U.S. and the rest of the world, “Rock The Casbah.”

Headon in 2008 (Photo: Steve Haughey, Cedar Tree Design)

While the song reached only #30 in the U.K., it was one of only three Clash songs to chart in the U.S., reaching #8 in 1982, the band’s most successful showing. (The other two to reach the Billboard Hot 100 were “Train in Vain” at #23 and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” at #45.)

Joe Strummer fired Headon from The Clash that same year due to his increasing dependence on heroin. (Headon was replaced by once and future band member Terry Chimes.) In the years to follow he was plagued by his addiction to heroin and alcoholism, but after 13 stints in rehab finally conquered his substance abuse problems, and remains clean and healthy today.

Related: See where The Clash rank in our list of all-time classic punk rock songs

When it came to filming the music video for “Rock the Casbah,” Headon had already been replaced by Chimes.

Watch the official video of “Rock the Casbah”

Related: Our Album Rewind of London Calling

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