Basic Background Info
Nicholas "Topper" Bowen Headon, considered by many to be one of the best punk rock drummers of the 1970s and 80s, never intended to stay with The Clash. Topper Headon's plan was simple: "Get me [sic] name known, and then move onto something good." Looking back now, it would be hard to imagine what would have happened to The Clash without Topper Headon. As said by Clash frontman Joe Strummer, "We would have been absolutely lost if it wasnít for Topper Headon." An avid fan of jazz and soul, Topper Headon began drumming at a young age. Soon he found himself in various local bandsóone of which opened for The Temptations (though he often lied and said he himself played on stage with the R&B group).
In 1977, The Clash was between the recording and release of their first album. At that point, the band had achieved a degree of success and even cut a deal with Epic Records, but they could not seem to hold onto a drummer. Informed of the tryouts by an acquaintance (who also knew guitarist Mick Jones), Topper Headon auditioned his talents and was offered a position in the band. Topper Headon accepted the invitation to join, but told himself that he would be leaving the following year. But before too long, The Clash's range of styles and fiercely political lyrics eventually convinced Headon that The Clash was the band to be in.
In 1978, The Clash recorded Give 'Em Enough Rope. After witnessing Topper Headon's tireless drumming and flawless timing, producer Sandy Pearlman gave Headon his second nickname, "The Human Drum Machine." Topper Headon also has recording credits on London Calling (1979), Sandinista! (1980), and Combat Rock (1982), which contains The Clash's biggest hit, "Rock the Casbah."
Despite his musical skill, an ongoing heroine addiction strained Topper Headon's relationship with the rest of the band. Unable to kick the habit, Topper Headon left the group on May 10, 1982, in the middle of the Combat Rock tour. The Clash re-hired original drummer Terry Chimes to complete the tour. Although "Rock the Casbah" was almost entirely written, composed, and performed by Headon on the studio album, it is Chimes who appears as drummer in the music video, a fact that Topper Headon admitted drove him deeper into depression.
Guitarist Mick Jones was dismissed from The Clash a year later. He briefly considered collaborating with Topper Headon for his post-Clash project (Big Audio Dynamite), but Topper Headon's continuing addiction caused the deal to fall through. Three years later, Topper Headon released his solo effort, Waking Up (1986), as well as a few other miscellaneous recordings, but they all went largely unnoticed. Soon after, Headon found himself in jail on drug supplying charges.
Since jail and drug rehab, Topper Headon has appeared in two documentaries, Westway to the World and Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. Topper Headon continues to play small gigs. On January 11, 2008, Topper Headon joined Mick Jones's new band Carbon/Silicon on stage during a rendition of "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" and an encore of "Should I Stay or Should I Go." It was the first time in twenty-six years that Headon and Jones shared the stage.
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