I first met 'Wilko' John Johnson when I had returned from working in America and joined United Artists Records as label manager. I soon realised I had several artists - Whitesnake, The Vapors, The Stranglers and Dr Feelgood who I knew nothing about. Within months UA was 'acquired' by EMI Records and we moved to Manchester Square. Around this time I ventured down to Southend to see the band play for myself.
I knew already that these were Essex Boys, Canvey Island Posse. They were playing in a pub, the name of which escapes me. I travelled down with young woman from the UA offices who was dating bass player John 'Sparko' Sparks. We met up with the band pre-gig and once the obligatory introductions were over, the compulsory drinks started to flow. As a guitarist myself I was slightly in awe of Wilko Johnson’s style and technique. I told him so and he laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
I quickly warmed to Wilko, probably above the others, not sure why, he was self-effacing and confident, but not cocky. He was a bit older than me. I really liked his quiet articulate manner. He spoke with with the Essex accent and the conversation flowed easily. I have to say I loved the band's company. No BS, next to no ego's. They were playing the music they loved, but Wilko’s guitar, which sounded like two guitars to my ears was obviously a major component to their success.
Wilko and the guys devoured the drinks and I did my best to keep up, forgetting that I was due to drive back to London later that night. After 4 or 5 or 6... my poor stomach began to rumble and gurgle. I started to panic. The band seemed totally fine and oblivious to my impending dilemma. Wilko asked me what was wrong and I told him I didn’t feel well. Was this any way to represent their record label? Wilko took me outside and it was when the fresh oxygen hit my stomach that it decided to explode and eject the curdling mass within. Like a 15 year old after his first two pints I felt very very ill and humiliated in equal measure. Wilko kindly laughed it off and left to sound check.
I don’t remember much about that gig or where I spent the night. It might have been my car. I was to see them play live several times after that with the raw energy that they became known for. I remember my time spent with Wilko and the band with fondness. He was a gent and a guitar hero of mine.
Main image Wilko talks about his guitar technique youtube screengrab.
Graham Baker is a veteran of the Music Biz trenches from the times when music was still a B-I-G biz. And artistry still mattered more than counting beans. A former label boss at Capital records. Graham's passion for music never lets up.
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