With the recent passing of Wilko Johnson, best known as guitarist and songwriter for UK rock group Dr. Feelgood, The Press takes a look at one of their finest albums: the chart-topping live document, Stupidity.
Wilko Johnson, who recently passed away at the age of 75, was the explosive guitarist and songwriter for the original line-up of Dr. Feelgood, a rhythm and blues band that emerged from the London pub rock scene in 1974. The band’s menacing energy and back-to-basics “no fashion” approach were as influential as any at the inception of punk, and were a major inspiration to numerous rock luminaries including John Lydon, Joe Strummer, Richard Hell, and Paul Weller.
While their first two albums, DOWN BY THE JETTY (1975) ★★★★★, and MALPRACTICE (1975) ★★★★½, sold respectably, it was their third album, the live STUPIDITY (1976) ★★★★★, that captured the band in their finest essence while consolidating their popularity, reaching #1 on the UK charts and announcing Dr. Feelgood as top-drawer practitioners of the live circuit.
Hailing from Canvey Island, near Southend, the original core of the band consisted of legendary lead vocalist and blistering harmonica player Lee Brilleaux, bassist John B. Sparks, drummer John Martin aka ‘The Big Figure’, and our hero on guitar and occasional lead vocals. He famously prowled the stage when he played, and on Stupidity, you can almost hear him zipping forward and back with his so-called ‘duck-walk’, his right hand chopping across the strings of his signature black telecaster in his own distinctive finger-picking, rhythm/lead guitar style. In a live setting, the dynamic friction of Lee Brilleaux’s tough vocals and the terse choppiness of Wilko Johnson’s guitar lines, was palpable.
Stupidity succeeds by perfectly capturing the stripped down, sweaty anarchy of Dr. Feelgood’s live shows in front of boozed-up audiences demanding their rock ‘n roll be loud, fast, and delivered with commitment. The unvarnished performances encapsulate what this great band were capable of distilling on stage, and the memorable short-sharp, Wilko-penned, rock songs are considerably more exciting than their studio-recorded counterparts. They also breath new life into a good dose of blues standards, including Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man, and Rufus Thomas’ Walking the Dog, and the album is swathed in powerhouse guitar, economic solos, and gruff kick-arse vocals. Unlike several live albums of the era, it is unadorned with any polished overdubs or editing.
“Stupidity was the culmination of the revolution against the stack heel and platform shoes brigade, and everything that went with that. We said bollocks to all that, this is how a live band really goes to work.” – Lee Brilleaux
On the vinyl record, side one was recorded at Sheffield City Hall 23rd May 1975, and side two recorded at Southend Kursaal 8th November 1975. Only 20,000 copies of the first edition were released, making it a highly sought after album by collectors. A CD version was released in 1991 entitled Stupidity Dr. Feelgood – Live – 1976-1990, where nine additional songs were added that had been recorded in the period after Wilko left the band in 1977 following disagreements over the tracks to be included on their fourth good album, SNEAKIN’ SUSPICION (1977) ★★★★.
A wild man, off stage and on, funny, eloquent and charismatic, post-Feelgoods Wilko Johnson would go on to join Ian Dury and the Blockheads, form the The Wilko Johnson Band, release a plethora of solo material, act in Game of Thrones, dodge terminal cancer (he was given 10 months to live in 2013), work with Roger Daltrey on a farewell album, and perform informal unannounced sets at his local pub, the Railway Hotel in Southend. A British great and a true original whose approach to the guitar was influential, precise, manic, intense and driven – he stood out in a sea of 70’s guitarists, and never lost his individualism.
Dr. Feelgood – Stupidity (1976) mp3
- Talking About You
- 20 Yards Behind
- All Through the City
- I’m a Man
- Walking the Dog
- She Does It Right
- Going Back Home
- I Don’t Mind
- Back in the Night
- I’m a Hog for You Baby
- Checking Up on My Baby