|Birth name||John Peter Wilkinson|
12 July 1947 |
Canvey Island, Essex, England, UK
|Genres||Rock, pub rock, rhythm and blues|
|Occupations||Musician, actor, guitarist, songwriter|
|Associated acts||Dr. Feelgood, The Blockheads, Solid Senders, Wilko Johnson Band|
Wilko Johnson (born John Peter Wilkinson, 12 July 1947) is an English singer, guitarist and songwriter, particularly associated with the rhythm and blues band Dr. Feelgood in the 1970s. Johnson and Dr Feelgood have been credited as one of the founding influences of the English punk movement. Paul Weller has said of Johnson: "Wilko may not be as famous as some other guitarists, but he's right up there. And there are a lot of people who'll say the same. I can hear Wilko in lots of places. It's some legacy."
Born in Canvey Island, Essex, Johnson went to Westcliff High School for Boys and played in several local groups, before attending the University of Newcastle upon Tyne to study for a BA in English Language and Literature. His undergraduate course included early Anglo-Saxon and ancient Icelandic sagas. After graduating, he travelled overland to India, before returning to Essex to play with the Pigboy Charlie Band. The band evolved into Dr. Feelgood – a mainstay of the 1970s pub rock movement. After returning from Goa, Johnson worked in 1972, for less than a year, as an English teacher.
In 1965 Johnson bought his first Fender Telecaster from a shop in Southend, Essex for £90 (around $150) (£1,475 as of 2013). He still plays a vintage 1962 Fender Telecaster with rosewood fingerboard which he bought in 1974, shortly after Dr. Feelgood signed their first record deal. Originally of sunburst-colored body with white pickguard, Johnson later refinished it in black and added a red pickguard.
Johnson developed his own image, coupling jerky movements on stage (his so-called "duck walk") with a choppy guitar style and a novel dress sense (he favoured a black suit and a pudding bowl haircut). He achieved his playing style by not using a pick but instead relying on fingerstyle. This enabled him to play rhythm guitar and riffs or solos at the same time creating a highly percussive guitar sound. It evolved from a failed attempt to copy Mick Green of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates, a guitarist whom Johnson greatly admired. His style formed the essential driving force behind Dr. Feelgood during their initial years, including the band's first four albums, Down by the Jetty, Malpractice, Stupidity and Sneakin' Suspicion, all released between 1975 and 1977.
The live album, Stupidity, reached number one in the UK Albums Chart, but although Johnson played on Dr. Feelgood's first 5 single releases, including "Roxette" and "Back in the Night", the only single to chart during his membership of the band was "Sneakin' Suspicion". He left the band in April 1977, following disagreements over the tracks to be included in the Sneakin' Suspicion album. Johnson maintains that he was kicked out of the band, which then put about the story that he had left voluntarily.
In 1977, he was a founding member of Solid Senders, with keyboardist John Potter, bassist Steve Lewins, and drummer Alan Platt. They signed to Virgin in 1978 and released the album, Solid Senders that year. The Wilko Johnson Band played at the 'Front Row Festival', a three-week event at the Hope and Anchor, Islington in late November and early December 1977, featuring many early punk rock acts. This resulted in the inclusion of two tracks by The Wilko Johnson Band ("Dr. Feelgood" & "Twenty Yards Behind"), on a hit double album of recordings from the festival. The Hope & Anchor Front Row Festival compilation album (March 1978) which reached number 28 in the UK Albums Chart
In 1980, Johnson joined Ian Dury's band, The Blockheads. He then re-formed The Wilko Johnson Band, joined by Blockhead bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Salvatore Ramundo. Ramundo was later replaced by Steve Monti (future Curve and The Jesus and Mary Chain drummer). In early 1981, Johnson released his second album, Ice on the Motorway, and two years later issued the EP "Bottle Up and Go!" with Lew Lewis; several small-scale LPs, mostly for European record labels, followed over the 1980s: 1984's Pull the Cover, 1985's Watch Out! (Live In London), 1987's Call It What You Want, and 1988's Barbed Wire Blues. In 1992, Johnson appeared at the Eurockéennes music festival, and the following year at GuilFest. In 1998, Johnson finally had the opportunity to release another album, Going Back Home for Mystic. He began to cut back on his concert appearances in 1999, but still found the wherewithal to cut Don't Let Your Daddy Know (Live in Japan 2000) the following year.
The studio album Red Hot Rocking Blues was released in 2005. This contained covers of classics by the likes of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Sonny Boy Williamson and Lead Belly. Throughout 2005 and 2006 the band teamed up with The Hamsters and John Otway to take part in the 'The Mad, the Bad & the Dangerous' tour. He played Club Bang Bang at the 100 Club on 6 October 2006, and played throughout the UK, Europe and Japan, including twice a year at the 100 Club.
Johnson appeared in the Julien Temple-directed documentary film Oil City Confidential (2009), where he related his memories of Canvey Island and Dr. Feelgood. The reviewer Philip French described Johnson as "a wild man, off stage and on, funny, eloquent and charismatic", while Temple described Johnson as "an extraordinary man – one of the great English eccentrics." Reviewing the film for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw called it 'the best rockumentary yet' and said that 'the most likeable thing about this very likable film is the way it promotes Wilko Johnson as a 100-1 shot for the title of Greatest Living Englishman.'
On 2 October 2010, it was announced that Johnson was to support The Stranglers on their 'Black & Blue' UK tour commencing in March 2011. In April 2011, he played several sold out shows as part of the Kilkenny Rhythm & Roots Festival in Ireland.
Johnson published his autobiography, co-authored with Zoe Howe and titled Looking Back on Me, at the end of May 2012. He appeared in the BBC4 documentaries Evidently... John Cooper Clarke and Punk Britannia in May 2012. On 24 August 2012, Johnson and his band were due to headline the Blues stage at Rhythm Festival, but the festival was cancelled on 3 August due to poor ticket sales.
Johnson stated in early 2013 that he had terminal cancer, and aptly announced he was going on a farewell tour. On 22 March 2013, he played what was announced as his final show guesting with Madness on the television programme Madness Live: Goodbye Television Centre which was broadcast on BBC Four. Afterwards he stated that he would not be able to perform his two final homecoming shows at Canvey Island due to ill health and would not be performing again. However on 13 July 2013, he performed an unannounced hour long live set with Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe at the Village Green Festival in his home town of Westcliff on Sea. In addition, he occasionally performs informal unannounced sets at his local pub, the Railway Hotel in Southend. In July 2013, the pub replaced their sign with a portrait of him painted by local artist Jack Melville, in honour of his long term support of the south east Essex music scene.
For his acting debut, Johnson was cast in the role of mute executioner Ilyn Payne, in both the first and second series of the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones, after the producers had seen him in Oil City Confidential. He related that "'They said they wanted somebody really sinister who went around looking daggers at people before killing them. That made it easy. Looking daggers at people is what I do all the time, it's like second nature to me'." He appeared in four episodes: "The Kingsroad", "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood" (series one, 2011), and "Blackwater" (series two, 2012).
Albums and EPs (as a band member)
- Down by the Jetty (1975, January)
- Malpractice (1975, October)
- Stupidity (1976)
- Sneakin' Suspicion (1977)
- All Through The City (2012: box set of all four Dr Feelgood albums Johnson wrote and played on plus unreleased material, "much of it garnered from Wilko's understairs cupboard.")
- Solid Senders (1978)
The Wilko Johnson Band
- 2 tracks on Hope & Anchor Front Row Festival (1978)
- Ice on the Motorway (1981)
- Bottle Up and Go! (EP, 1983)
- Pull the Cover (1984)
- Watch Out! (Live In London) (1985)
- Call It What You Want (1987)
- Barbed Wire Blues (1988)
- Going Back Home (1998)
- Don't Let Your Daddy Know (Live in Japan 2000) (2000)
- Red Hot Rocking Blues (2005)
Ian Dury & the Blockheads
- Laughter (1980)
Album as a guest musician
- Mick Farren — Vampires Stole My Lunch Money (1978)
- Johnny Thunders — Que Sera Sera (1985)
- The Stranglers and Friends – Live in Concert (1995)
Johnson's musical style underpinned the early years of Dr Feelgood. A style that has been cited as one of the founding influences of the British punk movement. Jean-Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers says "I often say to journalists there is a bridge between the old times and the punk times. That bridge is exclusively the Feelgoods, it allowed us to go from one thing to another. That’s the connection, the DNA." This influence was explored in the 2009 documentary about Dr Feelgood, Oil City Confidential. Reviewing Johnson's autobiography, Mark Blake of Q magazine said "In the mid-70s the band's brutish R&B and their guitarist's eye-popping thousand-yard stare inspired a young John Lydon, Paul Weller and Suggs from Madness. Looking Back at Me secures the man born John Wilkinson's reputation as one of British rock's most unique characters. Wilko recalls his childhood on Canvey Island and how he followed the '60s hippy trail to Goa ... before helping invent punk with Dr Feelgood." The BBC4 three-part documentary series Punk Britannia, first aired in May 2012, also stressed the importance of Dr Feelgood as "pub rockers, a generation of bands sandwiched between 60s hippies and mid-70s punks who will help pave the way towards the short, sharp shock of punk".
Johnson lives in Southend. He married his childhood sweetheart Irene Knight when they were teenagers, and the couple had two sons, Matthew and Simon. Johnson was widowed in 2004 after his wife's death from cancer. He is interested in astronomy, painting and poetry.
Johnson was forced to cancel a show in November 2012 when he was rushed to hospital with an undisclosed ailment. He was diagnosed in January 2013 with metastatic pancreatic cancer, and elected not to receive any chemotherapy.
On 25 January 2013, he gave an interview to John Wilson on the BBC Radio 4 arts programme Front Row. He discussed his terminal cancer, and said that doctors have told him he has nine or ten months to live. He talked about his "farewell tour" of the UK set for March, and how his diagnosis has made him feel "vividly alive". After the tour was over he announced he would spend his final days recording a farewell album with The Who's lead singer Roger Daltrey.
- "Wilko Johnson - I won't gig again". Echo-news.co.uk. 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
- Roeland Tijskens. "WorldMusicDatabase - PROFILE: Wilko Johnson". Worldmusicdatabase.org. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
- "Wilko Johnson and JJ Burnel". Stranglers.net. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- Mark Blake, Review of Looking Back At Me, Q magazine 312, July 2012, page 123
- "Punk Britannia. Pre-Punk 1972-1976 Episode 1 of 3". BBC. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
- Uncut magazine. April 2013
- "Wilko Johnson A Southend Musician". Southend-sites.co.uk. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- Coles, Mark (21 March 2012). "Wilko's feelgood factor". BBC. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
- French, Philip (31 January 2010). "Oil City Confidential". The Observer. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2013), "What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
- Hunter, Dave. "The Fender Telecaster: The Life and Times of the Electric Guitar That Changed the World". pg 149. Voyageur Press, 2012. ISBN 0760341389, 9780760341384
- "WILKO JOHNSON APRIL 2012 UK TOUR". Hangout.altsounds.com. Retrieved 2013-03-19.
- Moon, Tony (2002). Down By The Jetty - The Dr Feelgood Story (2nd ed.). Borden, Hants: Northdown Publishing Ltd. p. 124. ISBN 1-900711-15-X.
- Moon, Tony (2002). Down By The Jetty - The Dr Feelgood Story (2nd ed.). Borden, Hants: Northdown Publishing Ltd. p. 58. ISBN 1-900711-15-X.
- Huey, Steve (21 March 2002). "Allmusic biography". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- Thompson, Dave (2000). Punk. Ontario: Collector's Guide Publication. p. 102.
- Gambaccini, Paul (1996). British Hit Albums (7th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 366. ISBN 0-85112-619-7.
- Hasted, Nick (13 February 2009). "The Dr Feelgood factor". The Independent. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- Peter Bradshaw (4 February 2010). "Oil City Confidential". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- "Kilkenny Rhythm & Roots". Rootsmusic.info. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
- "Rhythm Festivals 2012". rhythmfestival.com. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Vanessa Thorpe (2013-07-14). "Wilko Johnson gives hometown fans a last shot of the delta blues | Music | The Observer". Guardian. Retrieved 2013-11-08.
- "BBC News - Wilko Johnson honoured by Southend's Railway Hotel sign". Bbc.co.uk. 2013-07-02. Retrieved 2013-11-08.
- "Who’s on when". Wickham Festival. Retrieved 2013-11-08.
- [dead link]
- "The Headsman and the Ranger’s Return, Westeros.org, 02 September 2010". Westeros.org. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
- "Wilko silenced in Sky fantasy". Halstead Gazette. 2011-04-16. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
- Burrell, Ian (3 June 2012). "Wilko Johnson: 'Once, I'd have been whizzing – but not now'". The Independent. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- Kielty, Martin (5 June 2012). "Feelgoods missed out on Wilko cash". Classic Rock Magazine. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- "Former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson is in hospital and has been forced to cancel his homecoming Canvey gig". Southend Echo. 18 November 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- "Wilko Johnson diagnosed with terminal cancer". The Guardian. 9 January 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- Batte, Elliott (9 January 2013). "Dr Feelgood's Wilko Johnson Reportedly Diagnosed With Terminal Cancer". Stereo Board. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- Times2, 22 January 2013
- "BBC Radio 4 - Front Row, Wilko Johnson; William Scott; The Turn of the Screw". Bbc.co.uk. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- "Terminally ill Wilko Johnson recording farewell album with Roger Daltrey". www.mirror.co.uk. 18 September 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
- Official website
- Fan website with detailed biography
- Wilko Johnson photographs
- 2006 interview
- The Mad, The Bad & The Dangerous Tour official website
- Video interview with Wilko Johnson - 2011
- 2011 Radio Interview with Wilko Johnson
- Interview with Johnson talking about Game of Thrones
- Interview with Wilko Johnson and Jean Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers
- Wilko Johnson discusses his cancer (from BBC Breakfast, 15 February 2013