The Big Huerta Discovers Pubs And Wilko Johnson But Not In That Order
I have seen the future of life…and its name is Wilko Johnson
(You say you want a revelation, well ya know)
For many years I have read the name Dr. Feelgood. I spent my musical formative years perusing Rolling Stone, Creem ( a mag that shaped my cynicalness), Circus, BAM, and Spin magazines, like so many bibles, in my youthful thirst for musical knowledge. Dr. Feelgood was a name I constantly came across. Pub Rock, they called it. A purely English term. So, me being an American, always sorta ignored the bands that were lumped into this category. What is a pub? We don’t have pubs, blimey! An English bar…just say they were a bar band….like Southside Johnny, crimony! But as I “grew up” I learned to understand what the term meant. There were bands like Brinsley Schwarz (bought the lp, ok, I reckon) Ducks Deluxe (need to delve into them), Eddie and the Hot Rods (cool) etc…but it was always Dr. Feelgood this, Dr. Feelgood that…cut to many years later…I am in the winter (or is it autumn of my years???) Not sure regardless (or is it irregardless???) I have lived my life playing music since I was 14, battled depression my entire life, lost many loved ones, and felt that music had nothing new to show me these days. Well lo and behold, a couple weeks ago, a friend told me about a documentary directed by Julien Temple, no stranger to music, (Sex Pistols doc/vids) titled “Oil City Confidential” about the band, Dr. Feelgood. Another pal hooked me up with said doc and I viewed and was enthralled! Hooked! Dr. Feelgood made me feel good! I have watched this three times now (it is sorta tough for me to understand Wilko’s speech, quite the accent the bloke has) and getting more insights with each viewing. I fell in love with rock and roll again!
A bit of history for those of you that need it…The Dr. Feelgood boys all hail from a place called Canvey Island, Essex. It seems like the Asbury Park of England, or for my California readers, the Wilmington of England, or more succinctly, a town that looks like nobody ever would want to admit that they are from. Anyways, all these dudes were in a variety of jug bands etc. before coming together as Dr. Feelgood in the early to mid 70’s. Wilko was heavily influenced by the guitarist Mick Green of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (Shakin’ All Over”…another rabbit hole that one digs falling into!) fame and employs a very percussive style of playing. I fell in love with the rhythmic speed of his right hand (Wilko is left-handed but learned to play guitar as a righty) as all of these notes spewed forth from a plectrum (pick) less fingering. I thought that there was another guitarist playing with them. Wilko Johnson has got to be one of the most incredible guitar stylists around. He roams the stage like a caged tiger on pharmaceutical quality speed that has been mistreated by Siegfried and Roy. In the Feelgood days, he wore a Moe Howard style haircut and shot maniacal stares at the audience all the while raising and lowering his guitar like a freaking machine gun! You can hear and see the influences that were used and copped by Johnny Rotten, Andy Gill of Gang of Four, The Jam, Joe Strummer, Johnny Ramone (check the hairdo), even David Byrne tried to look like the psychotic Wilko Johnson! Forty years later, and I get the chills and my heart rate goes up just watching Dr. Feelgood and everything that comes with it! Get on Youtube and check out some vids. Mostly a blues based band with short catchy tunes that feature total cockiness from all four gents that makes one picture a beer stinking smoke filled environment where one leaves wringing wet and exhausted. These guys rocked with heart and if Lee Brilleaux’s beer and sweat soaked white sportcoat don’t get ya…man, Jack you dead! Unfortunately, every great thing must come to an end and misunderstandings between the band and Wilko pretty much ended Dr. Feelgood in 1977.
Folks, I feel a kinship with Wilko somehow. We have a few things in common. A penchant for dressing in black, he is left-handed, liked being alone in his hotel room with things that make one’s heart beat faster (not recommended kids, waste of time and money, albeit fun, sure), does not drink, battles depression, he is a widower. Wilko was lucky enough to have married his high school sweetheart but I can’t imagine the pain of losing someone with that much longevity between them. Wilko has battled cancer (we do not have this in common hopefully) and has won. He is also a painter and dabbles in astronomy. I related mostly to his musings about depression. When one suffers from depression and you are with a group of people, even if they are people that you are comfortable with, many times you are caught up in your own head and do not contribute much to the conversation and are looked upon as being moody or sullen when the only thing you want to do is to be alone in the comfort of your room. Especially when alcohol is involved. Everyone is having a wonderful time but to the depression sufferer, you are not present. You are miserable. There is like a cloak around your brain that does not let the light in. These bouts pass but unfortunately when one is in a crowd or under observance you get the reputation of a weirdo or as being anti-social. You crave familiarity and when one is on the road or meeting strangers it gets a bit heavy. I also related to his admittance that since his wife passed, that she is constantly on his mind and the brief time he gets to escape that is when he is onstage playing, but she is still on his mind, but more in the background. Widows and widowers and people that have lost children understand this. Your loved one is always in your head. You lost half of what you were living for. It is extremely hard to carry on and people think that after a while one should be back to where they were before it happened, but no sir, one’s life is never nor can it ever be the same. You carry the pain with you always. You just tend to hide it better as time moves forward. So you couple this with depression and I understand why Wilko paints and seeks the beauty of the stars and the aloneness of the solar system to soothe him. God bless Wilko Johnson, I truly mean this, and thank you Dr. Feelgood for making me believe that music can touch my soul again…even in my 50’s! A special shout of respect to the late Lee Brilleaux (RIP) and band mates John B. Sparks and John Martin (the Big Figure), you guys rock forever! We are all indebted to your prescence…and sorry I didn’t discover you sooner. (Recommend on Youtube, “She Does It Right” “Roxette” “Back in the Night”)
About the painting…this is my 1st of Wilko Johnson. I plan on doing a portrait of Wilko as the 70 year old man that now graces this planet. This is mostly done in oil except for the background. Being left-handed I tend to smear with my hand as I paint. I tried to capture his open mouthed maniacal stare and movement but very hard to capture the essence of it all. I used the color of fire for his name for he seems like a true warrior spirit and fighter all edged with that trim of black or sadness. He is truly an inspiration for me at this point in my life. Thank you all for your time and I hope I shed a bit of light on certain subjects including the Feelgoods. Be well, all!