It was with great sadness last week to hear the news that Wilko Johnson had died at the age of 75. I was familiar with much of the material that he recorded with Doctor Feelgood, but did not get to see him live until his support slot on a Stranglers tour (the year escapes me). Thereafter, I saw some of his solo shows, the incredible trio of Wilko, Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe. What a visual as well as an aural treat those gigs were. Such a sight to see Wilko and Norman locked in a deadly combat with their respective instruments. Wilko being dragged across the stage by his Fender telecaster jerking in his hands like a high calibre machine gun whilst Norman was engaged in a life or death wrestle with a wet alligator, slippery with Mississippi mud..... or was it a bass!?
Back in the early to mid-1970’s a rough at the edges quartet, in the form of Lee Brilleaux, Wilko Johnson, John B. Sparkes and The Big Figure, roared out of Canvey in the direction of London and its plethora of smokey pubs that would nightly play host to a array of bands who delivered gutsy Rhythm and Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll to appreciative beery audiences. Sadly, like Doctor Feelgood itself most of those venues are no more, but the former had lit the touch paper that in 1976 emerged as punk rock and those same pubs opened their doors to a new breed of music fan.
The Feelgoods were rather blown up by their own bomb as the likes of The Pistols and The Clash (The Clash themselves coming together out of a pub rock band and a glam rock band) swept away all that had come before. Those most closely associated with Pub Rock either put a little distance between themselves and pub rock and took on took on board some of the elements of the new music or they battled on for a time against the tide.
But it should never be forgotten that those bands and Doctor Feelgood with the amphetamine rush of their music, their look and their stage presence paved the way.
RIP Wilko Johnson.