Roger Daltrey and Jimmy Page lead tributes to Dr Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson

The musician found fame in the 1970s pub-rock band who helped pave the way for British punk.
The musician found fame in the 1970s pub-rock band who helped pave the way for British punk.

The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page have led tributes from musicians to singer-songwriter and Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who has died aged 75.

The musician found fame in the 1970s pub-rock band who helped pave the way for British punk, and also enjoyed a successful solo career.

A statement on Johnson’s Facebook page on Wednesday announced he had died at home on Monday evening and thanked fans for their “tremendous support”.

Wilko Johnson death
Wilko Johnson (left) performing with Roger Daltrey (Yui Mok/PA)

Daltrey, who recorded an album with Johnson in 2014 called Going Back Home, said he was “lucky” to have known him.

In a statement, he said: “More than anything Wilko wanted to be a poet. I was lucky to have known him and have him as a friend.

“His music lives on but there’s no escaping the final curtain this time.”

Referencing a poem by J Milton Hayes, Daltrey added: “So it’s goodnight to Mad Carew, the uncompromising Bard of Canvey.”

Led Zeppelin guitarist Page said he was “sad” to hear the news, and recalled watching the Dr Feelgood star perform at Koko in Camden in May 2013.

“The atmosphere was electric. This show was originally billed as his farewell tour,” he tweeted.

Folk singer Billy Bragg described Johnson as a “precursor of punk”, writing on Twitter: “His guitar playing was angry and angular, but his presence – twitchy, confrontational, out of control – was something we’d never beheld before in UK pop.

“Rotten, Strummer and Weller learned a lot from his edgy demeanour. He does it right RIP.”

Blur guitarist Graham Coxon said Johnson was one of his “all time tele heroes” while Tim Burgess from The Charlatans said: “God speed Wilko.”

Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand reflected on how Johnson had inspired him, writing on Twitter: “Very sad to hear Wilko Johnson has died.

“His unique, wired playing & stage presence thrilled & inspired many guitarists, myself included.

“When I interviewed him a few years ago, he was bright, thoughtful & an astonishing story teller. His presence will be felt for many more years.”

Radio presenter Bob Harris reflected on how Dr Feelgood did their first radio session on his BBC Radio 1 show in 1974.

“Wilko was absolutely unique. His energy and spirit were incredible. We’ll really miss him,” he added.

A statement on Johnson’s Facebook page on Wednesday said: “This is the announcement we never wanted to make, and we do so, on behalf of Wilko’s family and the band, with a very heavy heart: Wilko Johnson has died. He passed away at home on Monday evening, 21st November 2022.

“Thank you for respecting Wilko’s family’s privacy at this very sad time, and thank you all for having been such a tremendous support throughout Wilko’s incredible life. RIP Wilko Johnson.”

Dr Feelgood performing live on the DOC music show in 1988
Dr Feelgood performing live on the DOC music show for Rai television in Rome 1988 (Theodore Liasi/Alamy/PA) (Alamy Stock Photo)

Johnson was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer in 2013 and given just 10 months to live.

He initially chose to avoid treatment after being told he was terminal and embarked on a farewell tour with the album he made with Daltrey, and visited friends around the world to say goodbye.

However, later tests showed his cancer was not as aggressive as previously thought and an operation was offered as a chance to save his life.

After an 11-hour procedure which removed a tumour, his pancreas, spleen, parts of his stomach and intestines, and some blood vessels from around his liver, the musician was declared cancer-free.

In an interview with the Northern Echo newspaper in 2019, he said: “It seems very unjust but I’m in the clear and feeling pretty healthy other than I’m missing a pancreas but apart from that I’m really fit.”

Dr Feelgood album Malpractice on vinyl
Dr Feelgood’s 1975 album Malpractice (Rob Wilkinson/Alamy/PA) (Alamy Stock Photo)

Born on Canvey Island in Essex in 1947, Johnson recalled in his autobiography that he had a tough childhood, and at 16 he was elated to come home from school one day to find his father had died.

In the book, he also said he found joy in literature but, after realising he was never going to cut it as a poet, he discovered music.

He graduated from Newcastle University before travelling around India, then returned to Essex to work as an English teacher.

Not long after, he formed Dr Feelgood in 1971 alongside Lee Brilleaux and John B Sparks, and went on to play with Ian Dury And The Blockheads for a spell.

He then had a lengthy solo career playing with The Wilko Johnson Band.

Johnson also appeared in TV hit Game Of Thrones as the mute Lannister executioner Ser Ilyn Payne.