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Wilko Johnson

Idioma disponível: inglês
One of the great guitarists of the 1970s, Wilko Johnson bridged the chasm separating hard-driving blues-rock and tense post-punk. On the records he made with Dr. Feelgood, the pub rock band he co-founded with singer Lee Brilleaux and bassist John B. Sparks, he showcased a visceral fingerstyle technique that felt as aggressive as a punch and as wiry as a boxer. Johnson's restless attack is a large reason Dr. Feelgood's revival of British blues didn't feel nostalgic: his blend of rhythm and lead guitar gave the band a pulse and opened the doors for non-blues-based guitarists to take his innovations into other fields of music. Johnson stayed true to the blues in his own music, even after he left the Feelgoods in 1977. After the short-lived Solid Senders and a spell in Ian Dury & the Blockheads, the guitarist established the Wilko Johnson Band in the early 1980s, a group that cranked out records and gigs into the 2010s, the very definition of a working band. Johnson experienced an unexpected revival after director Julian Temple's Dr. Feelgood documentary Oil City Confidential in 2009, the film leading to Johnson being cast as an executioner in the fantasy epic Game of Thrones. Not long afterward, Johnson received news he had terminal cancer, a diagnosis he countered with a farewell tour and Going Back Home, a duet record with Roger Daltrey. During this bustling goodbye, Johnson learned that his cancer was treatable and after a successful operation, he returned to active duty, releasing the Blow Your Mind album in 2018. Born John Wilkinson (which he inverted to come up with his stage name) in 1947, Johnson grew up in the coastal Canvey Island area, and played around the local music scene during the '60s (often in jug bands). He studied at Newcastle University beginning in 1967, but returned home during breaks to keep up his musical activities. In 1971, after returning from a trip to India, he joined the band that became Dr. Feelgood, and quickly became one of their focal points thanks to his maniacally intense stage presence. Dr. Feelgood played locally for a couple of years and made their debut in London in the summer of 1973; their distinctively scruffy image and menacing energy soon made them a hot commodity on the pub rock circuit. The band released its debut album, Down by the Jetty, in 1975; Johnson stayed for two more studio albums (Malpractice and Sneakin' Suspicion) and the chart-topping live document Stupidity, contributing a number of fine original songs. However, tensions between Johnson and the rest of the group led to his departure toward the end of 1977. Johnson soon formed a backing band called the Solid Senders, which featured keyboardist John Potter, bassist Steve Lewins, and drummer Alan Platt. They signed to Virgin in 1978 and released the LP Solid Senders that year. The following year, Johnson joined Ian Dury's Blockheads, where he remained until 1980; there he met bassist Norman Watt-Roy, who later became a regular collaborator. In early 1981, Johnson released his second album, Ice on the Motorway, and two years later issued the EP Bottle Up and Go! with Lew Lewis; several small-scale LPs, mostly for European labels, followed over the '80s: 1984's Pull the Cover, 1985's Watch Out!, 1987's Call It What You Want, and 1988's Barbed Wire Blues. The latter was the first recording with his new regular group, the Wilko Johnson Band, featuring Watt-Roy and drummer Salvatore Ramundo. Ramundo was replaced in 1988 by Steve Monti (ex-Curve) for the Barbed Wire Blues tour and remained in the band -- which toured almost literally nonstop throughout Europe and Japan for the next decade -- until he tired of touring and was replaced by ex-Blockhead Dylan Howe. Johnson finally had the opportunity to release another album, Going Back Home, for Mystic. There was renewed interest in Johnson's career in the 21st century, due largely to director Julien Temple's Oil City Confidential, a documentary about Dr. Feelgood and Johnson. The film appeared on the festival circuit, where it drew rave reviews, as did the soundtrack. Johnson also gained fame as an actor, playing the fearsome executioner Ser Ilyn Payne on the popular fantasy drama series Game of Thrones. As a result, two volumes of The Best of Wilko Johnson were released in 2010, as well as a remastered reissue of Barbed Wire Blues. Following a 2011 tour on which he supported the Stranglers, 2012 saw Johnson publish his autobiography, Looking Back on Me. In early 2013, Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and announced that his televised performance on the show Madness Live: Goodbye Television Centre would be his last. However, the summer brought impromptu live appearances with Watt-Roy and Howe in Essex, and by the end of that November he had recorded an album of re-interpretations of material from his back catalog in collaboration with the Who's Roger Daltrey. Ahead of the release of Going Back Home -- not to be confused with the aforementioned Mystic album of the same title -- Johnson performed it in its entirety with Daltrey at a packed Shepherd's Bush Empire in London toward the end of February 2014. Later that year, after undergoing surgery that removed a tumor weighing three kilograms, Johnson revealed that he was cancer free, and returned to music, performing regularly and releasing the album Blow Your Mind in 2018. He also became the subject of a second documentary by Julien Temple, The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson. Wilko Johnson died at his home on November 21, 2022, only two months after his final concert appearance. He was 75 years of age.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Steve Huey /TiVo
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