Producer Sandy Pearlman dubbed him “The Human Drum Machine.” As the drummer for the legendary punk-rock outfit The Clash, Nicky “Topper” Headon cemented his name as one of the best punk-rock drummers of the ’70s, known above all else for his impeccable sense of time.

Headon was born May 30, 1955, in Bromely, Kent, England, Headon’s initial music interests lay in jazz, particularly regarding the stylings of Billy Cobham, and he got his stary playing for a group that opened for R&B; superstars The Temptations.

Headon’s stint with The Clash was initially meant to be merely experiential, an opportunity to make a name for himself before moving on to greener pastures. But once he realized the band’s potential, Headon stuck around, playing on every Clash album save for the first and last, and putting his mark on several key singles, such as “Rock The Casbah,” which he wrote. Clash frontman Joe Strummer regarded Headon’s drumming skills as a vital part of the band. Headon’s versatility enabled him to play various styles like reggae and funk along with traditional rock drumming. Coupled with his amazing strength and stamina, these skills became a potent force that drove much of the energy that defined The Clash’s sound. Headon’s style was always crisp, dry, and tight, and he possessed a rock-solid tempo and blistering backbeat, which held together the band’s riotous arrangements.

Unfortunately, the rock and roll lifestyle eventually caught up with Headon, and his notorious addiction to heroin was a constant source of tension in the band. Unable to kick his drug habit after receiving an ultimatum, Headon quit the band in 1982, and The Clash rehired original drummer Terry Chimes to take his place. Sadly, history has since lost track of Headon.

Salman Haqqi