English pub rocker Wilko Johnson says he isn't
about to change after three decades of rhythm and blues.
think I froze in around 1972"
As an ignorant American, could you tell me what exactly pub
rock is? Is there anything to it beyond rock in pubs?
Naw, there's absolutely nothing beyond rock in pubs.
I always thought it was a terrible term. It was just something
that happened in the '70s-some good bands started
playing in the pubs in London. But all the bands were different.
It wasn't really a kind of music; it was a venue. Putting
it down as pub rock is completely meaningless.
Was the kind of music that was being played in pubs at
the time different from what was being played at larger venues?
The prevailing music at the time was the big, progressive
rock stuff, and what the pub rock bands were doing was playing
much more basic music, like R&B, country music-live
music that you could play simply in small places.
Pub rock is said to have influenced the genesis of punk.
Is there anything to this?
Yeah, a lot of bands back then, and particularly my band,
Dr Feelgood, had a lot of influence on the up-and-coming punk
bands. Many of the punk bands that were to emerge a year or
two later had taken quite a few cues from Dr Feelgood in terms
of simplicity, energy, and the jumping-about-on-stage kind
The new CD does possess a simple, stripped-down quality
It's simple; I'll guarantee you that.
Having played in so many pubs over the years, you must
have had some crazy experiences. What would you describe as
Worst? I love 'em all, but one time up in Newcastle,
as we'd just got into our stride, I noticed policemen
and firemen. They were looking at me a bit perplexed as I
charged up and down the stage. Finally one came up to me and
said, "There's a fire in the building. You'll
have to evacuate."
Would you have a best pub experience?
Yeah, but I probably can't repeat that.
An English friend recently said people have stopped clubbing
and are now going down to the pub to sing. Do you see a return
to pub music?
This may be true, but I don't go out so I don't
know what's going on. For a long time the whole music
thing in England changed because of the rise of dance music,
which I didn't like very much. But my teenage son is
playing guitar-sounds awful to me-but they are
actually starting to play guitars again now.
Are there any current bands that strike you?
I tell you what-I think I froze in around 1972. I've
listened to nothing since then.
So you're happy in deep freeze?
I love the old, American rhythm and blues from Chicago. And
I love Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Van Morrison and stuff
like that. I don't take any notice of what people do
now. I mean, why should I listen to these people? They're
all so much younger and more successful than me.
Some of those names are people you have covered in your
new album. Was there a deliberate decision to do an album
of cover songs?
No, there wasn't. Generally I record and perform my
own songs, so the cover album was an unusual thing. These
songs were never supposed to be released, but some friends
in Japan heard it and said they liked it. What we were doing
was angling for a job with Van Morrison. He needed a backing
band at the time, so we put these tracks down as a demo. Nothing
came of that, but I quite like this album-it's
a rather unusual selection of songs.
You seem to have connected very strongly with Japan. How
did that come about?
One of our first gigs with this particular band was sometime
in the '80s at the 100 Club in London. A Japanese promoter,
Mr Masahiro Hidaka, came to see us and said he'd like
to have us to Japan with his Smash Corporation. We said yes
and went over and had such a great time. And they kept asking
I gather a book is underway about you. What are the episodes
in your career that could make for some of the more lively
episodes of the book?
I don't know. It depends on how people look at me.
Dr Feelgood's third album of 1976 went straight to
number one. And I tell you I felt pretty damn clever then.
But you know I don't get a lot of that kind of thing.
How did Dr Feelgood go over in the States?
I toured with them twice around 1976, and CBS had signed us,
and were quite keen on us. At the end of that year we were
making an album with an American producer. But unfortunately
during the recording of that album we had a tremendous argument,
and when morning came I was no longer a member of that band.
Of course, after that they were useless! This dust-up didn't
do either party much good, but that's the wild and
wacky world of show business.
Have you patched up your differences?
It's not possible. The singer is dead now so I can't
get through to him. No, we didn't really; we went our
separate ways. I think too many horrible things were said
Are your sons both following their dad?
The older one does something with computers; he's not
musical. But the younger one I'm quite pleased with.
He's twanging away... I hope he can be successful so
I can retire and manage him and steal his money.
Red Hot Rocking Blues is available
on Trippin' Elephant Records. Wilko Johnson plays Club
Quattro on October 27. See listings for details.
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