19 January 2017 Wilko Johnson - I Keep It To Myself
Continuing his association with the reactivated Chess imprint, the label that issued so many of the tunes that inspired him in his youth, I Keep It To Myself - The Best Of Wilko Johnson draws together 25 tracks recorded between 2008 and 2012 by the legendary guitarist and songwriter with backing largely provided by Blockheads Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Dylan Howe (drums), the same rhythm section that performed on Wilko’s enormously successful Going Back Home album with Roger Daltrey.
Including re-workings of Wilko penned Dr Feelgood favourites ‘She Does It Right’, ‘Twenty Yards Behind’, ‘Sneaking Suspicion’ and ‘Roxette’, alongside further dynamic numbers such as ‘Turned 21’, ‘Some Kind Of Hero’, ‘Out In The Traffic’, Barbed Wire Blues’, ‘Down By The Waterside’ and ‘I Really Love Your Rock 'n' Roll’ – I Keep It To Myself - The Best Of Wilko Johnson is a splendid collection of high octane rhythm & blues with that unmistakable Wilko Johnson Fender greatness stamped all over it. Songs that are sung from the heart and played from the soul.
He’s unlike any other musician, Wilko. If you have the good fortune to see him in the flesh, watch his hands (not his plectrum) chopping out mean riffs, chopping out brutal guitar solos, as he moves constantly, towards the crowd and away from the crowd; towards the crowd and away from the crowd. Like his music - in motion, always. Songs rarely reach the three-minute mark. But by the time they’re finished you know you’ve been to a gig.
The Stranglers Jean Jacques Burnel said of Wilko’s former outfit Dr Feelgood: ‘I often say to journalists there is a bridge between the old times and the punk times. That bridge is exclusively The Feelgoods, it allowed us to go from one thing to another. That’s the connection, the DNA.’
By then we knew something of Wilko. His real name was John Peter Wilkinson, born July 12 1947. We knew he used to teach English (it would have been great to have been in his class). We knew he wrote lyrics that would configure a flurry of classic Dr Feelgood singles such as ‘Roxette’, ‘Down By The Jetty’, ‘Keep It Out Of Sight’ and ‘She Does It Right’. We knew he adored Johnny Kidd & The Pirates guitarist Mick Green whose hammer and tongs style he had been attempting to emulate. And we suspected he took an awful amount of speed given his bulging eyes and manic playing.
And despite the intense staring, the lack of a smile on-stage, the pudding bowl haircut, the inability to wear any other colour than black, the frantic and frenetic music, we also knew that Mr Johnson was a solid guy, a good heart beating just above his Fender guitar.
After Dr Feelgood, Wilko formed another band, The Solid Senders. They put out an album in 1978. It did not happen. He then put together the Wilko Johnson Band, before being enticed to play with Ian Dury and his Blockheads. He played on their album Laughter, went on tour.
It was after his work with Dury that he moved into gear. Wilko and Blockheads bassist extraordinaire Norman Watt-Roy plus drummer Salvatore Ramundo and then his replacement Dylan Howe, clicked. Crucially, Wilko did not deviate from his style, did not seek musical fields unknown to him.
Instead he extended his palette, coloured it up. In this collection you can hear the depth of his talent. This is r’n’b done Wilko-style, made to his taste. It is powerful, energetic, direct. It aims for the heart and the feet, classic in its execution and sound.
What astounds is his ability to keep coming at you with meaty, chunky riffs that consistently hit you, that are so fresh, that are of the same family - but differ like sun and moon. They can be fast and furious as in ‘All Right,’ ‘Living In The Heart Of Love,’ ‘I Really Love Rock’n’Roll,’ ‘The Hook,’ ‘Some Kind Of Hero’. Other times, the opposite is true.
‘Cairo Blues’ starts with a chugging guitar, which sets the scene, the all- important setting, and allows Wilko to shoot off on various excursions, thrilling in their imagination and intensity.
And Wilko and his boys also know subtlety. ‘Dr Dupree’ begins with a calm considered riff, hits a reggae lilt and then half way through the song comes a psychedelic guitar break which of course echoes the subject matter – that of a doctor and his dodgy pills.
Sometimes the band just knows what works. ‘Down By The Waterside,’ for example, hits home simply through its killer chorus. ‘In Barbed Wire Blues,’ at 1.54 the band break into a smooth bass and drum riff and there is Wilko creating waves of sound that splash out onto the floor and catch everyone’s attention until the song powers in and picks up again.
These riffs can also be insanely catchy – check into ‘Paradise,’ ‘When I’m Gone,’ ‘Ice On The Motorway’ – and these riffs can lead you into unexpected styles. ‘Come Back And Love Me’ is a lovely warm, bluesy song, vocals delivered sans aggression, the song completed by a great jerky solo.
Wilko keeps quiet about all this but in his music you can hear so many echoes, obvious echoes of course – Chicago Blues, Howling Wolf, Bo Diddley. But also Bob Dylan, electric, in ‘66, The Drifters, Bob Marley, Television and the Brill Building.
And he sings of many things; of water, of lust, of despair. He sings about fortune tellers and drug dealers. He sings of lovers, crazy lovers, wonderful lovers, and love gone bad.
And then he writes a song such as ‘Turned 21,’ which has little to do with the blues or this genre or that genre, but is just a great song, raw, rough and affecting.
And you think to yourself: You know what? That Wilko Johnson... He does it right.
I KEEP IT TO MYSELF – THE BEST OF WILKO JOHNSON RELEASED ON THE LEGENDARY CHESS LABEL 24TH FEBRUARY 2017 2 CD & DIGITAL
For further information: Stuart Kirkham at Hall Or Nothing PR on 07795 844611