SIxTY SECONDS WITH...
A minute’s all it takes to discover what makes a great guitarist tick. Before he jumped into his limo for the airport we grabbed a quick chat with Canvey Island’s king of punky R&B guitar, the great
This month we meet Canvey’s rock and roll punk icon, the one and only Wilko Johnson.
GT: Do you have a type of pick that you can’t live without?
WJ: I have never used a pick.
GT: If you had to give up all your pedals but three, what would they be?
WJ: I have never used pedals.
GT: Do you play another instrument well enough to be in a band? (If so what, - and have you ever done it?)
WJ: I have never learnt to play anything but the electric guitar.
GT: If a music chart were put in front of you, could you read it?
WJ: No! I’m a rock guitarist for fuck’s sake!
GT: Do guitar cables really make a difference? What make are yours?
WJ: I always use a red curly lead on stage. This is to save me from tripping over and also because it makes me look like I’m on a spring. These leads are of course terribly noisy and quite unsuitable for use in a studio. I trip over a lot in studios.
GT: Is there anyone’s playing (past or present) that you’re slightly jealous of? (And why?)
WJ: I love to listen to great guitarists who can play stuff way beyond my capabilities. Jealous? No, just very happy that such people exist. I could make a long, long list from Jimi Hendrix to Hubert Sumlin to Django Reinhardt and on and on. We are lucky that they did what they did.
GT: Your house/studio is burning down: which guitar do you salvage? (And why?)
WJ: I have my first Telecaster that I bought in 1966. It holds many memories for me, but in the end it’s just a plank of wood with microphones on it. I’d rather burn my hands saving groovy stuff.
GT: What’s your favourite amp and how do you set it?
WJ: I use a Cornell ‘Wilko’ combo. Denny Cornell builds superb amplifiers, and my single-speaker Cornell is far and away the best amp I’ve ever had. I particularly like the fact that it has nothing but volume, bass and treble controls and an on-off switch. Just set all the controls to half-way and go.
GT: What kind of action do you have on your guitars? (Any particular quirks etc?)
WJ: I use the factory settings. As long as there are no strings buzzing etc, the action shouldn’t need adjustment
GT: What strings do you use gauges, etc?
WJ: It’s best to use the heaviest gauges suitable to your style. The heavier the gauge, the louder and truer the note. You’ve got to strum and you’ve got to bend strings. I use something like .011, .013, .017, .030, .042, .052.
GT: Who was your first influence to play the guitar?
WJ: Mick Green’s playing with Johnny Kidd and The Pirates really showed me the way.
GT: What was the first guitar you really lusted after?
WJ: My first Telecaster in 1966. It was in a music shop window in Southend and I used to stand there and stare at it. It cost a fortune unattainable to me (£90 for a brand-new 1962 Tele!).
GT: What was the single best gig you ever did…?
WJ: I don’t think you can grade one good gig against another - great gigs can happen in big venues or tiny back rooms. They’ve all got their own flavour.
GT: …and your worst playing nightmare?
WJ: In 1972 the very inexperienced Dr Feelgood got to play at Wembley stadium. We were backing ’60s one-hit wonder Heinz on a big rock and roll show. So there I am on stage before a huge audience - never played anywhere bigger than a pub back room - I start to get into it, feeling pretty cool, when Heinz threw an inept Elvis-style karate kick in my direction. His foot hit the machineheads of my guitar and knocked EVERY string right out of tune. Think about it - did I feel cool then?
GT: What’s the most important musical lesson you ever learnt?
WJ: If you play a bum note, keep a determined expression on your face and glare at the keyboard player.
GT: Do you still practice?
GT: Do you have a pre-gig warm-up routine?
WJ: I pace round the dressing room in anti-clockwise circles.
GT: If you could put together a fantasy band with you in it, who would the other players be (dead or alive)?
WJ: An unfulfilled dream for me is to play with Bob Dylan. Who could be in the rest of the band? Couldn’t have any good guitarists because they would show me up and Bob wouldn’t be impressed. To tell you the truth, I’d pick my band - Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe. We three and the Zim? That would be a dream.
GT: Present company accepted (and notwithstanding the stupidity of the question!), who do you think is the greatest guitarist that’s ever lived?
WJ: Albert Anonymous from Smalltown USA.
GT: Is there a solo by someone else that you really wish you had played?
WJ: The guitar work on Bob Dylan’s New Pony is just how I wish I could have done it. Also the guitar on George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby. Also also also…..
GT: What’s the solo/song of your own of which you’re most proud?
WJ: I’m not really proud of any of them. I think Back In The Night has probably made the most people happy over the years, so, yeah, I am a little bit proud of that one… and some of the others. Ah shucks, they may be infantile, three-chord rubbish, but they’re my infantile three-chord rubbish and I love them all the same, even the crappy ones.
GT: What would you most like to be remembered for?
WJ: Writing a novel greater than Moby Dick.
GT: What are you up to at the moment - any gigs, tours, projects, albums)?
WJ: We’ve just done six gigs in the UK and now we’ve got to start on a new album. Oh, dear. Wilko Johnson Band (with Norman Watt-Roy on bass and Jason Howe on drums) play their 30th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 26 September 2017. Book tickets from the 24 HR Box Office: 0844 478 0898 or www.thegigcartel.com. Wilko celebrates his 70th birthday on Wednesday 12th July 2017.
Use THE HEAVIEST STRINGS SUITABLE TO YOUR STYLE. THE HEAVIER THE GAUGE THE LOUDER AND TRUER THE NOTE