|In Britain in the
mid Seventies, during the height of glam-rock, a very different sound could
be heard wafting on the breeze from Canvey Island, Essex - the sound of
rythm and blues band Dr. Feelgood. Once London pub-rock circuit favourites,
they achieved national status in a relatively short period, picking up
widespread critical acclaim and a Number 1 album on the way. In an age
of increasing extravagance and sophistication at rock shows, they provided
a return to what the music was originally all about - simpicity, spontaneity,
rebellion and passion.
With Johnson the leader, the band adopted the name Dr. Feelgood (the title of an old Pirates B-side, written by US bluesman Willie Perry) and practised in a local church hall, forging their own style from their respective influences, which ranged from the Pirates, Sonny Boy Williamson and Chuck Berry to Bo Diddley and Elmore James. Their first dates were in 1972 in pubs and rock'n'roll clubs in the Southend area. For a while they were the backing band for faded Sixties pop star Heinz (formerly of the Tornados), all the time priming their own set of material. In early 1974, on the advice of local musician Will Birch (later of the Kursaal Flyers), Dr. Feelgood broke into the embryonic London pub circuit. Despite a disastrous first gig at the Nag's head, Islington - they were mistakenly booked as an Irish jig band - they gained quick recognition.
At this stage of
their career, no band better illustrated the pub-rock phenomenon than Dr.
Feelgood, clearly in their element in a sweaty, crowded bar. Their attacking
form of R&B was coupled with a magnetic air of menace and delinquency.
The obvious focal point was guitarist Wilko Johnson. Dressed all in black,
with pudding-basin hairstyle and manic stare, he darted about the stage
with jerky, puppet-like movements, wielding his Telecaster like a machine
gun. In the summer of 1974 the Feelgoods got the support slot on a national
tour by Dave Edmunds and Brinsley Schwarz. They received rapturous receptions
and much critical acclaim, and as a result were signed to the United Artist
label. Later in the year their long-awaited debut album, Down By The Jetty,
was released to mixed reviews; many observers felt that it failed to capture
the excitement they generated on stage. The 1975 Naugthy Rythms Tour of
the UK saw the Feelgoods share the billing with Kokomo and Chilli Willi.
They completed the year with their own, headlining tour and a second album,
Malpractice, featuring such abrasive originals as 'I Can Tell' and 'Back
In The Night'.
Back to the Sixties
Between 1977 and
1981, Dr. Feelgood produced seven albums of varying quality, though none
was without the occasional flash of inspiration. They had their first (and
only) UK Top Ten hit single with 'Milk And Alcohol', a track from the otherwise
dissapointing LP Pricate Practice (1978), recorded with the much-vaunted
producer of Blondie, Richard Gottehrer. 1979 brought a critically-slated
live album, As It Happens, plus an improved studio set, Let It Roll, produced
by longtime British blues devotee Mike Vernon. In 1980 the band entered
the studios with Nick Lowe to cut what many fans regard as their best post-Wilko
album, A Case Of The Shakes.
appeared in The History Of Rock 97 and was written by Chris Malcolm
Back To Dr. Feelgood