‘Jail Guitar Doors’ – International Clash Day 2019
Red-faced admission: I’ve known and enjoyed this song for forty years and only recently discovered that the second verse refers to Peter Green (and that was only because someone told me!)
In my defense it is not a song that I listen to all that often and Jones’ snarled enunciation of the words are a little hard to understand – but for any who are not familiar with the stories behind the verses, (is there anyone out there other than me?) here is a quick rundown:
Originally written and performed by Joe Strummer with his first band The 101ers as ‘Lonely Mother’s Son’ the song first saw release in June of 2005 on “Elgin Avenue Revisited” (as a live recording from May of 1976 at the Camberwell Art School in London)
Keeping the original arrangement and chorus, Mick Jones wrote new lyrics detailing the travails of a variety of musicians.
Mick Jones: guitar & vocal /
Joe Strummer: guitar & vocal /
Paul Simonon: bass / Topper Headon: drums
Recorded October / November 1977
Released, February 17, 1978 B-side, ‘Clash City Rockers’ (CBS U.K.)
Released, “The Clash” (Epic U.S.) January 1979
Jail Guitar Doors (Strummer / Jones) (3:05)
“Wayne” in the first verse refers to Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and his arrest for the sale of cocaine to undercover agents in 1975. He was released in the spring of 1978, a few months after the song’s U.K. debut.
The second, as noted is about Peter Green. The now thoroughly discredited story of Green threatening his account with a shotgun first made the British tabloids in January of 1977 and his being sectioned for further treatment kept the story alive for months to come.
Though he would have had no way of knowing, Green was himself back in the studio at the time the song was recorded, beginning the sessions that would lead to his “first comeback” LP “In the Skies”.
Keith Richards had been arrested in Canada for heroin possession with intent to distribute in February of 1977. In October of that year, he was able to plea down to simple possession (the original charge carried a maximum penalty of life in prison)
“54/46” refers to the Toots and Maytals song ‘54/46 Was My Number’ released in the U.K. in 1969, about Toots’ time in prison for marijuana possession.
In 2007, to honor Strummer after his passing, Billy Bragg started “Jail Guitar Doors” a prisoner rehabilitation program, in the U.K. https://www.jailguitardoors.org/
In 2009, Wayne Kramer partnered with Bragg to bring the program to the U.S.
Kramer performing the number solo at Illinois’ Cook County Jail; the lyrics are a bit easier to understand,
Wayne Kramer: vocal & guitar
Intro (0:14) / Jail Guitar Doors (Strummer / Jones) (2:21) (2:35)
This is a link to the website of the organization started by Kramer and Billy Bragg