Wilko Johnson, death of the most punk of guitar heroes

With Dr. Feelgood, in the mid-1970s, he asserted his sharp style and disturbing class. Diagnosed with terminal cancer ten years ago, the irreducible Wilko will have continued to fight while playing. He passed away on Monday at the age of 75.

Nine year probation. When Wilko Johnson, founding and legendary guitarist of Dr. Feelgood, announced in 2013 that he had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, it was thought, him the first, that his days were numbered. After all, the doctors gave him, at best, another ten months to live. He finally died only on November 21, at the age of 75. Suffice to say that for almost ten years, refusing to capitulate, turning regularly with insolent energy, Johnson had a miracle.

The guitarist may well have left, in April 1977, the group which gave its letters of nobility to pub rock, he remained forever, in the minds, an element as essential as its singer Lee Brilleaux, who died in 1994. distinguished the formation of Southend in a musical universe bogged down in the megalomaniac excesses of a progressive or a heavy metal turned towards mass success and the gigantism of the stadiums.

Wilko Johnson, graduate in letters as he was, asserted himself as a purist of rock’n’roll and R’n’B origins, for whom almost anachronistic formations like the Americans of the J. Geils Band showed the way forward. His breathtaking guitar playing, so particular, all in choppy rhythms and sharp riffs, directly inspired by Mick Greenthe brilliant musician of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (authors of the classic Shakin’ All Over), had no equivalent. Just as his disturbing stage acting, his crazy gaze and his mechanical psychopathic gestures, in contrast to his always impeccable dressing (bowl cut, suit and well-buttoned shirt), heralded the wind of punk revolt that was not to be long in coming. to blow.

As early as 1974, at a time when all was rhinestones and a display of prowess and means, Dr. Feelgood published a first album, Down by the Jetty, whose sober aesthetics, in black and white, was confirmed by a no-frills sound recording, in mono moreover. But played with unprecedented force and conciseness. A first attempt confirmed the following year with Malpractice which, without departing from the strict line of its predecessor, shook even more by its formidable power and breadth. From the resounding revival of Riot in Cell Block #9 Coasters with the twisting but relentless boogie of Back in the Night.

In 1976, Stupidity, live album testifying to the extraordinary energy of the quartet on stage, climbed to the top of the British charts. A consecration for Dr. Feelgood, a blessing for all those who despaired of one day witnessing a return, without nostalgia, to the fundamentals of rock. Hence the shock when, before the publication of Sneakin’ Suspicion, Wilko Johnson announced his departure from the group, following a deep disagreement with his companions.

The good Doctor will continue to administer his doses of rock’n’roll, without ever managing to forget his first exceptional guitarist. The latter persisting in a solo career never deserving but lacking in brilliance (and the voice of a Brilleaux). He even joined Ian Dury’s Blockheads for a while (the album Laughter) and will actively participate in Oil City Confidential, excellent documentary by Julien Temple dedicated to the story of Dr. Feelgood (2009).

In November 2013, Wilko Johnson gave concerts as furious as they were moving in front of an audience who came to make a last tribute to the condemned, before surprising his world by publishing in 2014 an album recorded with one of his most prestigious admirers, Roger Daltrey. A dream come true for the guitarist, an honor and a happiness for the singer of The Who, so happy to put his voice back on such hard-hitting riffs. It could have been a fine testament, but you have to believe that death wanted the world to hear, for a few more years, the visceral game, of an exemplary economy, of Mr Johnson. Before finally enjoying it in turn?

Wilko Johnson, death of the most punk of guitar heroes