Wilko Johnson was many things: a raconteur, a voyager, a spinner of tales… but he was first and foremost a guitarist. In some ways, Wilko was one of the most influential musicians Britain has produced in modern times, his role in spearheading Dr. Feelgood’s pub rock attack clearing the ground for punk.
Indeed, many of the first wave British punks cited Dr. Feelgood as a primary influence. From Paul Weller to Billy Bragg via the Sex Pistols and the Clash, it seemed as though an entire generation came of age listening to the Canvey Island ne’er-do-wells, in particular taking notes on Wilko Johnson’s guitar style.
Heavily percussive, he played with energy, and a deep-rooted sense of physicality. Taking influence from early rhythm ‘n’ blues records, he transported that sound – so beloved by British Mods – into another sphere.
As archive clips attest to, watching Wilko in action was unlike observing any other guitarist from the era. An outsider in a prog generation obsessed with technical virtuosity, he played with menace, flair, and no small degree of street smarts.
It’s something that Wilko Johnson never gave up, right to the end. Diagnosed with cancer in 2013 he was given months to live, but instead turned this into a decade-long second act. An album with The Who’s Roger Daltrey followed, alongside breathless touring up and down the country.
Age may have slowed him a little, but that inimitable style remained – with audiences left to gasp, how the hell does he do it?
Well, this clip explains a little of that Wilko Johnson magic. Shown solo at a bookshop in Letchworth, it’s an intimate video, one that allows you to see his guitar action up close. Breaking down his approach, he reveals a few of his key influences, as well as the way he adapted those tricks to perfect his own style.
Wilko Johnson passed away on November 21st, with his family revealing the news just over an hour ago on social media. With fans paying tribute, we thought we should share this video, a fantastic glimpse into the technique of a true one-off.