Looking Back at Me, Dr Feelgood

Wilko Johnson Book Launch: How Dr Feelgood Were Inspired by a Disastrous MC5 Wembley Appearance

Dr Feelgood

Wilko Johnson, former lead guitarist of Canvey Island‘s finest export Dr Feelgood, was at Rough Trade East last night to launch his new autobiography alongside co-author Zoe Howe, a local Leigh on Sea resident.

Wilko spoke eloquently about his life in front of a packed crowd and was then joined by his band, featuring former Blockhead bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe. The band played a fantastic and energetic half hour set including Feelgood favourites All Through The City and She Does It Right. Wilko has lost none of his trademark crazy-eye-stare charm…or his way with words.

Looking Back at Me Dr Feelgood Ian Dury and the Blockheads

The book itself is a gorgeous and colourful rock n roll scrapbook of  Wilko’s life – a unique account of Planet Wilko. Inside its pages is a social history of growing up in Canvey Island, travels around the East as a hippy and the days of Dr Feelgood and Ian Dury and The Blockheads.

Buying this book” said Wilko “speaks volumes for your discrimination as a reader and your taste as a decorator”….“Zoe really wrote the book – is she the Ghost Writer or am I the Ghost object? Whatever – the book is definitely haunted….”

Wilko spoke of his Canvey childhood: “I was born in Canvey Island. Below sea level. The first thing I can remember was that in 1953 there was a disastrous flood where 50 people got killed – the sea wall broke down one freezing night and everybody was evacuated from Canvey Island and we went up to stay with relatives in Sheffield while they were drying Canvey Island out.”

Dr Feelgood

“As a teenager – one day at school I saw an electric guitar and was absolutely fascinated by it. We formed a “jug band” and used to play down the sea front on Canvey Island, busking. One day we were doing that and these three boys came up and were very interested in what we were doing. One of them in particular was asking all sorts of questions – and this was (Feelgood singer) Lee Brilleaux. One of the songs we learned was called Dr Feelgood. Sparky (John Sparks, Feelgood bass player) suggested the name Dr Feelgood: I said it’s been used before – but nobody on Canvey Island’s gonna know, (so) we became Dr Feelgood.”

Wilko then explained how The MC5 became a huge inspiration.

“We got this gig playing Wembley Stadium in 1972 – Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry. – it was a fantastic show. The morning was filled up with “banger” English bands like Screaming Lord Such and us. I find myself standing up there in Wembley Stadium doing this show. After, I go walking out and I saw this band. I could see they were Americans and I quickly realised it was the MC5. Wayne Kramer dressed all in black with a golden face like Tutankhamen and the rhythm guitarist was all in silver – it was a revelation. Now the Teddy Boys didn’t like it – they want Twenty Flight Rock and nothing else, you see MC5 doing Rambling Rose and they were throwing cans at them and everything. Wayne Kramer – this can came flying out of the air and he kicked it and he kicked it again and he didn’t break his stride and I thought – this is the man – they’re brilliant!

Afterwards I saw Wayne Kramer and he was dejected because they’d had a bad time out there and I said “It was fantastic – I thought you were really great” and he said to me he thought if they had had another twenty minutes he would have won the audience over. I said No – you couldn’t – they’re Teddy Boys – and I started telling him all about Teddy Boys – a bad scene. Anyway, you can get a DVD of the story of the MC5. There’s a bit where they talk about coming to England and they play at Wembley Stadium. And Kramer says “Yeah man, there’s these things called Teddy Boys…and he did my exact speech – and I thought “I told you that man!” I came away from that gig and decided to go for it.”

Looking Back at Me, Dr Feelgood

There has been a resurgence of interest in Dr Feelgood since the Oil City Confidential documentary which told the story of how a band from Essex updated the sounds of early Stones RnB and pioneered an underground movement of their own based upon their incendiary live performances. They became the fore-runners of punk in the UK, only to split up just as they were on the edge of their big break in the USA.

The book, Looking Back At Me, is a worthy, interesting and beautiful addition to the documentary and is out now.

Dr Feelgood Looking Back At Me

Record #51: Dr Feelgood – All Through The City





15 responses to “Wilko Johnson Book Launch: How Dr Feelgood Were Inspired by a Disastrous MC5 Wembley Appearance”

  1. garystormsongs Avatar

    Talk about tough gigs! This is a conversation I had with the members of Gentle Giant about . . . Dr. Feelgood!

    Scott Field and I are backstage talking to Ray Shulman and Kerry Minnear, members of the British progressive band, Gentle Giant. They are on tour promoting their new album, The Missing Piece, a masterpiece, full of crystal sweet melodies, dazzling musicianship, and mysterious textures. Opening the show for Gentle Giant was the wonderful boogie pub rock band, Dr. Feelgood, and they were literally booed off the stage by the teeming hoard of classical-rock Buffaloons. My friend Scott is of the Dr. Feelgood contingency. His mind is a garage of rock. From him I learned to love the New York Dolls, Iggy and The Stooges, and Dr. Feelgood. For seven years, he did a late night rock show on WBFO until he was cancelled by the clowns who were trying to make room for their dreary jazzak. Scott has nothing to say to Gentle Giant, these esoteric explorers of the nether reaches of rock’n’roll.

    Gary: Did you check, did you catch Dr. Feelgood tonight?

    Kerry Minnear: Yeah, we’ve done, they’ve been on the tour so far.

    G: And they got booed off the stage just about. What did ya, how-what did you think of what was going on there?

    K: Just that, I guess, it-it’s a shame for them, they’re i-incompatible. I mean, that I guess in England, th-they’re quite popular, they play like pub places, y’know, small clubs, and they probably quite, they generate quite a rock’n’roll atmosphere, y’know. But they stick them amongst . . . . . you know, like two and a half thousand avid Gentle Giant fans, and y-you’re asking for trouble.

    Ray Shulman: We had similar experiences in our, y’know, embryonic stage. We came over here and toured with Black Sabbath, on our first tour.

    K: Yeah, we know the feeling.

    R: It is a pretty useless risk . . . . . useless pursuit. “Time to go home, lads!”

    From oilofdog.com


    1. every record tells a story Avatar

      Thanks for this – great contribution! Loving these classic interviews…


  2. Phillip Helbig Avatar

    My favourite opening-act story:

    Ballsiest opening act award goes to: John Martyn opening for Pink Floyd on the Wish You Were Here sports arena tour. JM walks on stage carrying an acoustic guitar, calmly sits down in a chair as thousands of stoned, impatient Floyd fans scream “We don’t want fucking FOLK music, we want the FLOYD.” Plugs into a huge panel of effect boxes, turns up to 11 and proceeds to blow everyone away for 25 minutes. Gets a *huge* standing ovation.

    —Jim Kauffman


  3. Jason Wendleton Avatar

    Creepy looking dude.


    1. every record tells a story Avatar

      He always was…and has an amazing stage presence. Find some YouTube footage of Dr Feelgood from the early ’70s.


  4. Bill Bell Avatar
    Bill Bell

    Saw Wilko at the Stafford Gatehouse a few months back, poor sound but a great evening. He’s such a unique player and character


    1. every record tells a story Avatar

      Very true. He’s a national treasure…!


  5. Mike Godwin Avatar

    I was at that MC5 show and I was really impressed. They were streets ahead of Little Richard, who was just preening, but not in the same league as Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.


    1. every record tells a story Avatar

      Cool – good to hear from someone who was actually there. Have you seen MC5’s documentary? I’d recommend it…


  6. […] 11. Wilco Johnson played lead guitar for this Canvey Island band. […]


  7. […] He was born – below sea level – on Canvey Island, a few miles away from where I live. I went to his book signing last year at Rough Trade East where he was in turns witty, charming and an excellent story-teller. […]


  8. […] Hailing from Canvey Island, they left behind a legacy of great live shows and some terrific albums. As I have mentioned in these pages previously, Wilko Johnson is a great character and sadly this may well be one of the last chances to hear him […]


  9. […] did try to record another farewell LP with Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and Rat Scabies of The Damned. The MC5′s disastrous appearance at Wembley Stadium was a big influence on the young Wilko, as he described a couple of years ago at the launch of his […]


  10. Higgins Avatar

    I was offered the book 18 months after it was released, to find out the picture on p203 was mine! I was in a state of shock!!!


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