Punk pioneer and guitarist Wilko Johnson dies at 75
Wilko Johnson, the guitarist for Dr Feelgood and a formative influence on the British punk movement, has died aged 75. A statement posted on his social media accounts said he had died at home on Monday.
Johnson was diagnosed with latestage pancreatic cancer in 2013 and elected not to receive chemotherapy.
That year, he was told he had nine or 10 months left to live. Nevertheless, in 2014 he released the album Going Back Home, a collaboration with The Who’s Roger Daltrey. Later that year, he announced he was cancer-free after surgery to remove a 3kg tumour.
Daltrey said yesterday: “More than anything, Wilko wanted to be a poet. I was lucky to have known him and have him as a friend. His music lives on but there’s no escaping the final curtain this time.”
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand tweeted: “His unique, wired playing and stage presence thrilled and inspired many guitarists, myself included.”
Johnson was born John Peter Wilkinson in Canvey Island, Essex, in 1947. He began playing guitar as a teenager, but his career started in earnest in 1971, when he formed Dr Feelgood with the singer Lee Brilleaux, bass player John B Sparks and drummer John Martin.
The band went on to become a mainstay of the pub rock scene, and Johnson quickly became known for his distinctive style of guitar playing, which utilised fingerpicking to play riffs or solos while playing rhythm, as well as his flamboyant performances, which often featured him raising his guitar to his shoulders like a gun.
Dr Feelgood’s intense, brutal take on R&B was a major influence on British punk. Johnson remained with the band for their first four albums, the latter three of which charted in the top 20, before band conflict led him to part ways with the group.
Johnson later formed Solid Senders, who released one album in 1978, and briefly joined Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Shortly afterwards, he focused on the Wilko Johnson Band, his longest-running project, with whom he released seven albums.
In 2012 Johnson released his autobiography, Looking Back at Me, co-written with Zoë Howe – and was a guest star on Game of Thrones, playing Ser Ilyn Payne, an executioner.
Musicians have shared their admiration for Johnson. Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre wrote that Johnson “fought the good fight, and had a damn good run”, while the post-punk duo Sleaford Mods wrote that Johnson was “the unsung inventor of Post Mod, Mod”.
Journal Obituary Page 10