Dr. Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson Was ‘Reduced To Playing Pub Gigs’ Says Stephen Foster

Wilko Johnson, who made a name for himself with his unique guitar-playing style in the 1970s, passed away at the age of 75. The sad news arrived on November 21 from Johnson’s social media account. After this statement, homages began to be shared. The unknown details of his life and notes on his mastery of the guitar were also heard during these tributes. Stephen Foster, who works as a music journalist, thinks that while Johnson inspired many with his guitar, he had been reduced to playing in pubs later in his career.

“He took it to another level,” he said, referring to Wilko’s exceptional guitar technique. Foster shared, “And he played with such energy and had such a stage presence that, as I mentioned, a number of younger bands who, some of them like the Jam and the Boomtown Rats, the Clash, that they broke through and Paul Weller, certainly. When you listen to the early Jam albums, ‘In the City,’ in particular, they really did sound a bit like Wilko Johnson; his guitar playing was simply out of Wilko Johnson’s style book.”

He continued, “And for me, you know, that speaks volumes of the man as well, that so many young guitarists or all the energy on stage. He was doing something that nobody else had done on the UK music scene. They borrowed a bit of that, but Wilko himself continued for many decades afterward at some stage. I’m afraid he was reduced to playing pub gigs. And I don’t mean that with any disrespect to pub venues, but he was, as a member of Dr. Feelgood, on some of the big stages in the UK and elsewhere.”

Foster then reflected on the ups and downs of Johnson’s career. He noted, “After his record deal with Virgin came to an end as a solo artist, he had to go back to where it all began for him in the pubs, and he built it right up and many years later was number two in the album charts with Roger Daltrey. Their album ‘Going Back Home.’ So a rollercoaster ride for Wilko and a man who’s meant so much to me, you know, from the mid-70s onwards and will do for the rest of my life.”

Johnson was renowned for his distinct guitar playing style, which he attained by playing fingerstyle guitar rather than with a pick. This allowed him to simultaneously play riffs or solos and rhythm guitar, which resulted in a very percussive guitar sound. Johnson had a successful and lengthy career in the rock scene, although not under much spotlight.

He contributed to four Dr. Feelgood albums in the 1970s and appeared on the 1980 album ‘Laughter’ by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. The late musician’s Wilko Johnson Band also put out several albums. Along with all of those, Wilko also collaborated with Roger Daltrey of the Who on the 2014 album ‘Going Back Home.’

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in 2014 but refused chemotherapy. The musician, who survived a major surgery, beat cancer and stayed on stage until the last moment of his life. He was a pioneering guitar player in the 1970s and had a huge impact, especially in the new-wave punk scene. Many famous bands later appropriated his trademark guitar sound.