Tributes have flowed for influential guitarist Wilko Johnson, who has died at the age of 75. The news was confirmed by representatives for Johnson on social media, who said the British musician has passed away at his home on Monday (21st November).
Johnson’s cause of death has not been disclosed. The guitarist was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2013, and said he has less than a year to live. He refused to undergo chemotherapy so he could embark on a farewell tour, and the following year – after undergoing surgery to treat the illness – announced that he was “cancer-free.”
Johnson’s Death Was Confirmed Overnight
This is the announcement we never wanted to make, & we do so with a very heavy heart: Wilko Johnson has died. He passed away at home on Monday 21st November. Thank you for respecting the family’s privacy at this very sad time. RIP Wilko Johnson.
(Image: Leif Laaksonen) pic.twitter.com/1cRqyi9b9X
— Wilko Johnson (@wilkojohnson) November 23, 2022
Johnson first became known for his distinctive style of playing guitar as a co-founding member of the Essex pub rock and R&B group Dr. Feelgood, with whom he played from their formation in 1971 to his departure in 1977. Performing on the group’s first three albums – 1975’s Down by the Jetty and Malpractice and 1977’s Sneakin’ Suspicion – his stabby, percussive guitar style was hugely influential on punk and post-punk.
“Wilko may not be as famous as some other guitarists, but he’s right up there,” Paul Weller of The Jam and Style Council once remarked. “And there are a lot of people who’ll say the same. I can hear Wilko in lots of places. It’s some legacy.”
After exiting Dr. Feelgood, Johnson went on to form The Wilko Johnson Band, performing and releasing work up until his death. His most recent album was 2018’s Blow Your Mind.
Outside of music, Johnson appeared in the Julian Temple documentary Oil City Confidential in 2009. Shortly afterwards, he made his acting debut in HBO’s Game of Thrones, appearing as the executioner Ser Ilyn Payne in four episodes of the fantasy series.
Since news of his death emerged, the likes of Led Zeppelin‘s Jimmy Page, Billy Bragg, Sleaford Mods and Franz Ferdinand‘s Alex Kapranos have paid tribute to Johnson. Bragg wrote that Johnson’s stage presence (“twitchy, confrontational, out of control”) was “something we’d never beheld before in UK pop.”
Steve Albini of Big Black and Shellac wrote on Twitter that Johnson had “started from scratch and invented a new way to play guitar”, inspiring “a generation of twitchy dorks like me.” Kapranos wrote that Johnson’s “unique, wired playing & stage presence thrilled & inspired many guitarists, myself included.”
The Who‘s Roger Daltrey – who recorded an album with Johnson, Going Back Home, which was released in 2014 – wrote a tribute for his collaborator on the band’s website, saying he was “lucky to have known [Johnson] and have him as a friend.”
I’m sad to hear today of the passing of Wilko Johnson, the Dr Feelgood guitarist and singer/songwriter.
I saw Wilko perform at Koko in Camden in May 2013 and the atmosphere was electric. This show was originally billed as his farewell tour pic.twitter.com/M1sQIEe4mm
— Jimmy Page (@JimmyPage) November 23, 2022
Wilko Johnson was a precursor of punk. 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 pic.twitter.com/ukoJ69r41h
— Billy Bragg (@billybragg) November 23, 2022
Wilko Johnson started from scratch and invented a new way to play guitar. Manifesting in his rhythm hand the amphetamine intensity of an era, he inspired a generation of twitchy dorks like me. Without him, I probably play clarinet. Requiescat. https://t.co/2VwlLt05u3
— steve albini (@electricalWSOP) November 23, 2022
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 pic.twitter.com/x6ZzQWojXp
— Alex Kapranos (@alkapranos) November 23, 2022
Sleep well, Wilko Johnson. The unsung inventor of post Mod, Mod. https://t.co/207CBeHhcY
— Sleaford Mods (@sleafordmods) November 23, 2022