Nicholas Bowen "Topper" Headon
(born 30 May 1955
), known as 'Topper' (because of his resemblance to the cartoon monkey
), is a British rock and roll drummer
, best known for his membership in the punk rock band
, The Clash
Headon is commonly recognized as one of the best punk rock drummers of the late 1970s and early '80s; critic Greg Prato writes, "producer Sandy Pearlman dubbed Headon 'The Human Drum Machine,' due to his impeccable timing and skills."
A drummer from his childhood, Headon was a jazz
fan, citing Billy Cobham
as a strong influence. Headon played with a group that opened for American R&B legends The Temptations
, but he admits to occasionally lying to claim he actually played with the Temptations.
Before meeting Headon, the Clash went through several drummers, including Terry Chimes
, who recorded on the UK
version of the band's self-titled debut
. Headon -- something of a 'journeyman
' drummer -- originally planned to have only a brief stay with the band, to establish a reputation and then move on. After a period in the Clash, however, Headon realized the full potential of the band, and abandoned his plan to leave the group. He played on the albums Give 'Em Enough Rope
(1978), some tracks on The Clash
(US version) (1979), London Calling
(1980) and Combat Rock
(1982), as well as several landmark singles the Clash produced during their early period. Also of note are his lead vocal on "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" (from Sandinista!
) and his work on the hit single "Rock the Casbah
" (from Combat Rock
), on which Headon composed most of the music and played drums, piano
and bass guitar
Clash singer/guitarist Joe Strummer said that Headon's drumming skills were a vital part of the band: Headon had strength and stamina, and could play convincingly in funk, reggae and other styles, in addition to traditional rock drumming.
Kicked out and years of addiction
Tensions rose between Headon and his fellow bandmembers due to his growing heroin addiction
. Eventually it began affecting his drumming so much that the band gave him an ultimatum: kick the habit or be kicked out. Topper was unable to give up drugs and left the band on May 10, 1982, at the beginning of the Combat Rock
tour. The band covered up the real reason for Headon's departure, claiming it was due to exhaustion.
After Headon's departure the Clash re-hired original drummer Terry Chimes for the tour.
After his work with the Clash, Topper was considered briefly for the drumming stool in Mick Jones' post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite. However, this failed to work out because of Topper's continuing addiction.
Headon subsequently focused on recording a solo album, which resulted in the mostly unnoticed Waking Up (1986) and a 12-inch recording "Drumming Man" and "DuKane Road" with his own composition "Hope for Donna", that was also included in the 1986 Mercury Records sampler Beat Runs Wild. After this album Headon went to jail on drug supplying charges.
Headon has spent time in the Priory Psychiatric Hospital in North London to deal with his addiction; the hospital has an internationally renowned Addiction Treatment Program drug clinic as part of its structure.
Headon was interviewed extensively for the rockumentary Westway to the World
. During the movie, he frankly apologized about his addiction and speculated that had he not been kicked out, the band might have lasted longer and might possibly still be together. Given the chance to repeat the experience, however, he states that he has no regrets and would do it all again, "because that's the kind of person he is".
Since the Clash broke up, he has rarely been heard from, though he did produce albums for New York band Bush Tetras. Headon contributed drums to Chelsea's 1989 Underwraps.
Although he has mostly moved out of the public eye, Headon continues to play gigs; it was after one of his shows at a pub that he was informed of the death of Clash frontman Joe Strummer. Obviously emotional, Headon said:
Headon also lamented the fact that the classic Clash line-up had been considering a reunion at the time of Strummer's death after the positive reunion during the Westway to the World rockumentary.
Headon was extensively interviewed for the Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, about the late Clash frontman. He related his experiences during this period how he became addicted to heroin and how there were problems before his dismissal. For example, Joe once slept with his girlfriend, which caused a lot of pain to Nick, and Mick Jones didn't want any bus-travelling without pot. Topper also said that seeing the video of "Rock the Casbah" with "someone else (Terry Chimes) at my place playing my song" caused him to fall in even greater depression and heavier drug addiction. It appears that his addiction was only part of the growing tension in the band that led to Mick Jones dismissal a year later and the eventual break-up of the band in 1986.
On January 11, 2008, Carbon/Silicon, the new band of Mick Jones, Tony James, Leo Williams and Dominic Greensmith, played a show at the Carbon Casino Club, The Inn on the Green, 3-5 Thorpe Close, Portobello Green, London. Headon joined the band on stage during The Clash's "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)". An encore followed with Headon playing drums on "Should I Stay or Should I Go". This performance marked the first time since 1982 that Headon and Jones had performed together on stage.
In a February 2008 newspaper article Headon revealed that in 2003 he started to experience serious back pain, a frequent complaint of aging rock drummers. Diagnosed with hyperkyphosis - forward curvature of the back - he underwent intense posture adjustment treatment and continues to exercise daily. He notes that, on his recent appearance with Jones, he exhibited his new upright stance.
In July 2008, Headon played drums on the song 'Queen Of The Summer', which is featured on the independently released album 'The Fifth Continent'
by UK artist / band, Jimmie Bone. This is one of his first studio recordings for many years, on which he uses a drumming style more akin to his Jazz roots.
He currently lives in the Dover area of Kent, in the southeast of England
As a drummer, Headon often employed a distinctive style which emphasized a simple bass
beat, accentuated with closed hi-hat
flourishes. Such a method can be found in the songs "Clampdown
", "Train in Vain
", and "Lost in the Supermarket
". His drumming on "Train in Vain
" has been characterized as one of the most important and distinctive beats in rock music. Writes Scott Kenemore
, "[h]is contribution to the music was tremendous, and his drumming remains an undiscovered treasure for too many."
- For recordings made with the Clash, please see The Clash discography.
Topper Headon has released one studio album, one EP
, and three singles as a solo artist and featured on several other artists albums.
||Leave It To Luck / East Versus West / Got To Get Out of This Heat S.O.S / Casablanca
||"Drumming Man / Hope For Donna"
||"Drumming Man / Ducaine Road (Special 12" Mix) / Hope For Donna / Drumming Man (7")"
||"Leave It To Luck / Casablanca"
||"Leave It To Luck (Double Pack)"
||Mercury MERD 201
||"I'll Give You Everything / You're So Cheeky"
||"I'll Give You Everything (Full-Length Version) / When You're Down / Got To Get Out of This Heat (Extended Mix Version) (CAN)"
||"I'll Give You Everything (7" version) / I'll Give You Everything (Dub Ruj) / I'll Give You Everything (Douce Ruj) / You're So Cheeky
- Gilbert, Pat (2005). Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash. 4th edition, London: Aurum Press.
- Gray, Marcus (2005). The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town. 5th revised edition, London: Helter Skelter.
- Green, Johnny; Garry Barker (2003). A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with The Clash. 3rd edition, London: Orion.
- Gruen, Bob; Chris Salewicz (2004). The Clash. 3rd edition, London: Omnibus.
- Needs, Kris Joe Strummer and the Legend of the Clash. London: Plexus.
- Topping, Keith (2004). The Complete Clash. 2nd edition, Richmond: Reynolds & Hearn.