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Dying guitarist Wilko Johnson rocks until the end
“And then punk came up,” Johnson said, “and we kind of got swallowed in the aftermath.”
After that near-miss with the big time, Johnson played with Ian Dury’s band, The Blockheads, before going solo with the Wilko Johnson band. He has built significant fan bases in Britain and in Japan, where he has played many times over the past 30 years.
A wider audience got to know him through Julian Temple’s 2009 documentary “Oil City Confidential,” which restored Dr. Feelgood to its rightful place as punk precursor _ with Johnson as its wide-eyed shaman and storyteller.
Johnson recalls Canvey in his youth as “a cowboy town,” with dirt roads and wooden bungalows built on reclaimed marshland beside an oil refinery. The blues-loving members of Dr. Feelgood liked to call it the Thames Delta, playing up its exoticism for eager journalists.
“Oil City Confidential” also told a familiar rock `n’ roll story _ the close-knit band of brothers torn apart by the pressures of the road.
“We were just such good friends,” Johnson said. “And on the way up you felt this absolute power in the friendship we had. No one could penetrate that.”
But by the end, he says, “I’d learnt the art of solving all problems in the world by slamming a door.”
“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.’”
“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.
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