Dr Feelgood are a British pub rock band formed in 1971. The band's name derives from a slang term for heroin or for a doctor who is willing to overprescribe drugs. It is also a reference to a 1962 record by the American blues pianist and singer Willie Perryman (also known as "Piano Red") called "Dr. Feel-Good", which Perryman recorded under the name of Dr. Feelgood & The Interns. The song was covered by several British beat groups in the 1960s, including Johnny Kidd & The Pirates.
Hailing from Canvey Island, Essex, they are best known for early singles like "Back in the Night" and "Roxette". Although their most commercially productive years were the early to mid-1970s, they continue to tour and record to this day.
The group's original distinctively British R&B sound was centred on Wilko Johnson's choppy guitar style. Along with Johnson, the original band line-up included singer Lee Brilleaux and the rhythm section of John B. Sparks, known as "Sparko", on bass guitar and John Martin, known as "The Big Figure", on drums.
Like many pub rock acts, Dr Feelgood were known primarily for their high energy live performances, although studio albums like Down by the Jetty (1974) and Malpractice (1975) were also popular. Their breakthrough 1976 live album, Stupidity, reached number one in the UK Albums Chart (their only chart-topper). But after the follow-up Sneakin' Suspicion, Johnson left the group because of conflicts with Lee Brilleaux. He was replaced by John 'Gypie' Mayo. With Mayo, the band was never as popular as with Johnson, but still enjoyed their only Top Ten hit single in 1979, with "Milk and Alcohol". Johnson never achieved any great success outside of the band, apart from a brief spell with Ian Dury and The Blockheads from 1980. Fans always speculated about a return by Johnson that never occurred.
Despite Mayo's departure in 1981, and various subsequent line-up changes which left Brilleaux the only remaining original member, Dr Feelgood continued touring and recording through the 1980s. However, the band then suffered an almost career-finishing blow, when Brilleaux died of cancer on 7 April 1994.
As Brilleaux had insisted prior to his demise, Dr Feelgood reunited in May 1995, initially with vocalist Pete Gage, (not to be confused with guitarist Pete Gage of Geno Washington and Vinegar Joe) and recommenced touring in 1996. Though the band contained no original members at this point, the musicians backing Gage had all previously played as members of Dr. Feelgood for at least 5 years, and in some cases for over a decade. In 1999 Gage was replaced by Robert Kane, formerly of The Animals II and The Alligators, who celebrated his 1,000th gig as the frontman of Dr. Feelgood in April 2007.
Every year since Brilleaux's death, a special concert, known as the Lee Brilleaux Birthday Memorial, is held on Canvey Island, where ex and current Feelgoods celebrate the music of Dr Feelgood, and raise money for The Fair Havens Hospice in Westcliff-on-Sea. Fans attend from all over the globe, and the 17th event was held on 7 May 2010. Although still based in the UK, Dr Feelgood continue to play across the world, with concerts in 2010 including, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.
Band manager Chris Fenwick also organises an annual walk around Canvey to commemorate Brileaux's life, as well as additional walking tours during which he points out landmarks from the band's career. These include the jetty featured in the photograph on the band's first album cover, and venues where they played early in their career such The Lobster Smack inn, The Monaco Nightclub and The Canvey Club (disguised as 'The Alibi Club' on the sleeve of the album Sneakin' Suspicion).
A film by Julien Temple about the early days of the band, Oil City Confidential, premiered at the London Film Festival on 22 October 2009, and received a standing ovation. Guest of honour was Lee Brilleaux's mother Joan Collinson, along with his widow Shirley and children Kelly and Nick. All the surviving members of the original band were present along with manager Chris Fenwick, former tour manager and Stiff Records boss Jake Riviera and other friends and colleagues of the band. The film has its own Facebook page. Reviewing the film for The Independent, Nick Hasted concluded: "Feelgood are remembered in rock history, if at all, as John the Baptists to punk's messiahs". On general release from 1 February 2010, the film has been critically well received, with Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian describing it as “ ..a vivid study of period, music and place”. The film was broadcast on BBC Four in April 2010, September 2010 and on 15 March 2013.
A major exhibition of memorabilia celebrating the band's career ran at The Canvey Club from May 2013, and is scheduled to close in July 2013, having been extended several times.
- Kevin Morris (b. Kevin John Morris, London, 15 May 1955) – drums (March 1983 – present)
- P H (Phil) Mitchell (b. Philip Henry Mitchell, London, 19 March 1953) – bass (March 1983-March 1991, May 1995-present)
- Steve Walwyn (b. Stephen Martin Walwyn, Southam, Warks. 8 June 1956) – lead guitar (June 1989 – present)
- Robert Kane (b. 6 December 1954) – vocals (1999–present)
- Lee Brilleaux (b. Lee Collinson, 10 May 1952, Durban, South Africa, died 7 April 1994) – vocals, harmonica, occasional slide guitar (January 1971-April 1994)
- John B Sparks (b. 22 February 1953) – bass guitar (January 1971 to April 1982)
- The Big Figure (b. John Martin, 8 November 1946) – drums (January 1971-April 1982)
- Wilko Johnson (b. John Wilkinson, 12 July 1947, Canvey Island) – lead guitar (January 1971-March 1977)
- Gypie Mayo – (b. John Phillip Cawthra, 24 July 1951, Hammersmith, died 23 October 2013) lead guitar (April 1977-March 1981; substitute for Gordon Russell March 1989-April 1989)
- Johnny Guitar – lead guitar (March 1981-December 1982)
- Buzz Barwell – drums (April 1982-December 1982)
- Pat McMullen – bass (April 1982-December 1982)
- Gordon Russell (born 4 June 1958, Hammersmith, West London) – lead guitar (March 1983-May 1989)
- Dave Bronze – bass (March 1991-September 1991, May 1992-April 1994)
- Craig Rhind – bass (September 1991-May 1992)
- Pete Gage (b. Peter Gage, 2 December 1946, St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London) – vocals (May 1995-September 1999)
- Substitute musicians
- Henry McCullough – lead guitar (March 1977-April 1977; following Wilko Johnson’s departure)
- Barry Martin – lead guitar (May 1989-June 1989; following Gordon Russell’s departure)
(Including compilations and retrospectives)
Lee Brilleaux (1976)
Wilko Johnson (2009)
Wilko Johnson (2013)
- Jost, Roland; Nättilä, Teppo, Mäkinen, Rauno – From Roxette To Ramona, Dr Feelgood And Wilko Johnson On Record – ISBN 3-033-00460-1
- Down By The Jetty – The Dr Feelgood Story by Tony Moon – Northdown Publishing 1997 (Rev 2002) – ISBN 1-900711-15-X
- Official website
- www.wilkojohnson.org Official site
- Archive of former official website
- Hometown website
- Dr. Feelgood biography at the Allmusic.com website
- 2006 interview with Wilko Johnson
- Official site of the Julien Temple film on the early years
- Review of Oil City Confidential movie
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