The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


February 4, 2013

Dying guitarist Wilko Johnson rocks until the end


He regrets his impetuousness now, and is keen to attribute the success of Dr. Feelgood to Brilleaux, who died of lymphoma in 1994.

"He just had this vivid personality. I can remember asking somebody about him when we'd decided to do a band: 'That Lee bloke, can he sing at all? Because if he can just sing a little bit, he's a star.'"

Johnson says he doesn't mind that stardom ultimately eluded Dr. Feelgood. (A band of that name still exists, though it contains no original members).

"I never meant to do it, so everything that's happened with rock 'n' roll has been an adventure, really," he said.

Terminal illness has eased his concerns about the band's legacy.

"People go, 'You influenced so many of the punk bands. You started this and you did that.' That may well be right, but it's all part of the stuff that doesn't really matter now. It's been done."

Still it's hard, sometimes, not to reflect on what might have been.

"If we'd all done just what we were told, taken the advice of management, if they could have packed us all up in flight cases after every gig and stored us away so we couldn't do anything (until) we get out there and played — I'm pretty sure we'd be multimillionaires.

"But we didn't. We were geezers from Canvey Island. We were great friends, and we fell out."

Johnson says he is not afraid of dying — though he is afraid of illness. He lost his wife to cancer eight years ago, and fears putting his loved ones through the sense of helplessness he felt then.

For now, though, he feels fine. He hopes it lasts long enough to give his fans a rousing send-off. Despite the pain of saying goodbye to friends, he found the recent shows in Japan exhilarating. Music has lost none of its power to thrill.

"The last number we did (in Japan) was Chuck Berry's 'Bye Bye Johnny.' You've got the crowd, you're all going 'Bye, bye, bye, bye,'" Johnson said, waving his hands.

"And there was a dry eye in the house, actually — it was mine. I wasn't feeling choked and sad or anything like that. I was thinking, 'Oh man, what a great gig!"

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