Death of Wilko Johnson

Death of Wilko Johnson
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LONDON — Wilko Johnson, the guitarist of British blues-rock band Dr. Feelgood, who enjoyed an unexpected career resurgence after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, has died. He was 75 years old.

A statement posted to Johnson’s official social media accounts on behalf of his family on Wednesday said the musician died Monday evening at his home in south-east England.

Born John Wilkinson in 1947, Johnson grew up on Canvey Island, a swampy industrial oil town in England’s Thames Estuary. He studied Anglo-Saxon literature at Newcastle University and worked as a schoolteacher before training Dr Feelgood with other local friends.

In an age of flamboyant glam and indulgent progressive rock, they played a then-old-fashioned brand of blues and R&B, dressed in cheap suits that made them look, Johnson later said, like “low quality bank robbers”.

Johnson helped give Dr. Feelgood a dangerous edge with his jerky, relentless guitar style and thousand-yard highlights – a look terrifying enough to earn him a role later in life as the silent executioner Ser Ilyn Payne in ” Game Of Thrones”.

The anarchic outfit inspired bands that would soon lead Britain’s punk explosion and rocked the brink of global fame, scoring a No. 1 album in the UK, tours of the US and a deal with CBS Records. Then, in 1977, Johnson walked out amid friction with charismatic singer Lee Brilleaux, who died in 1994.

Johnson later said that if the band had been able to follow their managers’ instructions to behave, “I’m pretty sure we’d be multi-millionaires. But we didn’t. We were Canvey Island geezers. We were great friends, and we had a fight.”

Johnson continued to perform with Ian Dury’s band, the Blockheads, and spent years performing to a devoted fan base, primarily in the UK and Japan.

In 2012, Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he was terminal. The prospect of death unexpectedly revived his creative energies. He refused chemotherapy, decided to do one last tour and recorded a “last” album, “Going Back Home”, with Roger Daltrey of The Who.

“I suddenly found myself in a position where nothing else matters,” he told The Associated Press in 2013. And suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore. None of this matters.

“You’re walking down the street and you feel intensely alive. Oh, look at that leaf! You look around and you think, I’m alive. Isn’t that amazing?”

In another twist, a fan who was also a cancer specialist offered to help. After surgery to remove a 3 kilogram (6.6 pound) tumour, Johnson announced in 2014 that he was cancer free. He released another album, “Blow Your Mind”, in 2018, and played gigs with his Wilko Johnson Band until last month.

Daltrey paid tribute to “the uncompromising bard of Canvey”.

“More than anything, Wilko wanted to be a poet,” he said. “I was lucky to know him and have him as a friend. His music lives on, but there’s no escaping the final curtain this time.”

Johnson is survived by his sons Simon and Matthew and his grandson Dylan.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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