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“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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Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://Twitter.com/JillLawless