The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


February 4, 2013

Dying guitarist Wilko Johnson rocks until the end


"I think there will be an album. It's going to be rough and ready, because we've got about three or four days and we're just going to go in and to bash it down. We're not going to twiddle with anything."

Wilko Johnson — a play on John Wilkinson, the name he was born with in 1947 — is a mix of clown, curmudgeon, showman and scholar whose life is both inspiration and caution for would-be rock stars.

An unlikely rocker who studied Anglo-Saxon literature and worked as a schoolteacher before joining Dr. Feelgood, he is a cult hero — more influential than famous, and cherished by his fans. Recently his following has grown to include viewers of HBO fantasy series "Game of Thrones," in which the sepulchral-looking Johnson appeared as silent executioner Ilyn Payne.

"They said, all you've got to do is stand around and look menacing," said Johnson of his acting debut. "Well, I can do that by the yard."

Johnson's menacing stare was a memorable feature of Dr. Feelgood, which burst to fame in the early '70s, then blew apart — but not before energizing many of the musicians who went on to create Britain's punk explosion. At a time of flamboyant glam and indulgent prog rock, they were something different — scrappers in cheap suits, playing a then-unfashionable brand of blues and R&B. Video clips of the band performing tracks such as "Roxette" reveal the explosive chemistry of charismatic singer Lee Brilleaux's raw vocals and Johnson's choppy guitar style, rooster strut and thousand-yard glare.

"We didn't look like the other bands around here — they were all wearing frocks and talking about going to Mars," Johnson said. "We looked like kind of shoddy bank robbers."

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