Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood

Wilko gives a guitar lesson, Brian May was on the same show, May stressed the wearing of loose, flowing, garments .

Dr. Feelgood at their peak– 1975. I love the drum solo.

Wilko back in Oil City: Canvey Island, Essex.

Wilko today, he looks a bit like Tor Johnson.

I noticed the Julien Temple’s Dr. Feelgood documentary Oil City Confidential has hit the theaters in the U.K. and parts of Europe, I doubt it will get released here in the U.S., but hopefully it will at eventually turn up on tv, perhaps on Sundance Channel’s Doc Mondays which could really use some help, they consistently show the dullest and lamest documentaries ever made.

Chart toppers in the U.K., Dr. Feelgood never developed much of a following here in the states, by the time the word got out about them, guitarist Wilko Johnson had left the band and Johnny Rotten had pronounced all pub rock “rubbish” giving them an air of unfashionablility. The flared pants didn’t help.
I used to work for a concert promoter when I was a teen, mostly just watching the door and running errands, and I remember once Dr. Feelgood were booked to open for Kiss at the Miami Jai Lai Fronton, a 4,500 seat hall, it must have been around 1975. Unfortunately, the Feelgoods canceled and I didn’t see them until I got to New York City where they played at the Bottom Line once (with the Ramones? Rockpile? I can’t remember who the else was on the bill). They were a thousand times better live than on record. I must admit, if I want to hear Riot In Cellblock #9 I’d play the original Robins version, and if I want to hear Brits covering American R&B tunes I tend to go with the Stones/Pretty Things/Yardbirds, but Dr. Feelgood really did add something unique to a set list that 90% of which would have been familiar to any American bar band between the years 1962-70. And much of what the added came from guitarist Wilko Johnson– his chunky, “it sounds like two guitars” guitar style, his wired, robot walk stage presence, and their best original songs, Wilko was really what made Dr. Feelgood into a truly great band. After leaving Dr. Feelgood in 1977, he was replaced by John “Gypie” Mayo, a good but somewhat colorless player who added little to their sound and had almost no charisma onstage. The chemistry, or perhaps a better term would be alchemy, was gone. That X factor that makes a great rock’n’roll band. The reason why a bunch of crappy musicians can sound great together, or why a bunch of great musicians can sound as dull as dishwater, went out the window when Wilko left the band. Wilko formed a band called the Solid Senders who made a couple of decent records, then joined Ian Dury’s band for a bit, the rest of Dr. Feelgood carried on (in fact their 1978 Nick Lowe produced LP Milk and Alcohol wasn pretty good) , the original members dropping out one by one. There’s a Dr. Feelgood on the road right now, Lord knows who they are. Frontal lobe Lee Brilleaux (pronounced Brillo) from Durban, South Africa (current home to their biggest fan– Brendan O’Reilly) died of cancer in 2004. At Clement Moore Park, around the corner from my house, someone has shelled out to name a park bench in his honor. Wilko Johnson never found a group to showcase his talents as good as sympathetic to his strengths as Dr. Feelgood. For a short time he was in a terrible group called Sheena & the Rokkats, but more often then not plays solo with just a rhythm section. In a way he reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green in that he let something very special slide through his fingers.
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