Dr Feelgood, the closest British rock got to deep down South homesick Blues. Four working class guys in suits, fronted by the alternative creased suit thin White Duke Lee Brilleaux and driven, until his meltdown, by the deranged machine gun lead guitar of Wilko Johnson. Plus bassist John B ‘Sparko’ Sparks and drummer The Big Figure. Inspired by a trip to see Howlin’ Wolf at the King’s Head in Romford. A vital piece in the jigsaw of British rock, British blues and the birth of punk.
Emerging, kicking, screaming, drinking and smoking from Canvey Island in deepest Essex Dr Feelgood for a rock and roll, pub-rock fifteen minutes were one of the biggest acts in town, loved across Europe and the US by storm, they imploded in a mist of overwork, drugs and booze. Here are this correspondents top 5 vinyl Dr Feelgood classics. Immortalised in Julien Temple’s Oil City Confidential.
The album was a primary influence on artists such as Paul Weller, Bob Geldof and The Sex Pistols, along with Blondie, The Ramones and Richard Hell, who were introduced to the album by Blondie drummer Clem Burke. All songs were written and composed by Wilko Johnson, including standout tracks Roxette and She Does it Right, featuring completely classic Johnson guitar riffs. The album cover is a classic in its own right… cold, surly and hungover in Canvey. 1975.
The first time Dr Feelgood bothered the UK charts, Malpractice reached 17 in the album charts in November 1975, long before they hit the singles charts. Tales of homespun, down at heel Essex debauchery and Canvey Island romance. Back In The Night is this writer’s favourite Feelgood track. Lee Billaux never looked more sartorially glorious in his ubiquitous grubby white threads.
The first live album to reach the top of the UK album charts, Dr Feelgood released this under pressure from UA for a new release and the au revoir to Wilko Johnson. A religious teetotaller while the rest of the band drank to heroic depths, Johnson plunged himself into rock star drug use and quit the band in blaze of acrimony and paranoia. Dr Feelgood were born to be a live band and Stupidity captures them at their beautiful, un-remastered, un-manicured majestic best. Recorded in sunny Southend. Check out their cover of Lieber and Stoller’s Riot in Cell Block No. 9.
Now shorn of Wilko Johnson, Dr Feelgood recruited a different but equally magnificent lead guitarist Gypie Mayo and had to write the songs they formerly relied on Johnson for. Nick Lowe came on board as producer – and would go on to be the scribe for many of their songs (performing rather than songwriting was Brilleaux’s forte). Suitably, the album cover is the band in their local boozer, the Admiral Jellicoe in Canvey.
Home to their biggest single, Milk and Alcohol (with trademark Mayo riffing), this is arguably Dr Feelgood’s final great vinyl moment. Alongside Milk & Alcohol, standout track is Down At The Doctors. The album peaked at number 41 in the UK Albums Chart in October 1978. After this, they were never quite the same again.