Dr. Feelgood
The Feelgoods Hit San Diego - Zigzag (juin 1976)

Cal Worthington (Pete Frame) © Zigzag

To kick off, I think maybe it’d be a good idea if I furnished you with a brief explanation of now I came to be writing this article.

During the late sixties, I was associate editor of a Boston underground newspaper called Vibrations (long since trampled off the face of the earth by the usual economic harassment), for which Pete Frame was our English correspondent, and when Brinsley Schwarz came to the New York Fillmore in April 1970, I met Pete, and we’ve been exchanging letters ever since. My journalistic activities curtailed by a glut of writers and a dearth of demand, I split to Los Angeles – after all, if you are going to be destitute, you may as well do it in the sunshine – and eventually found myself tour manager for Iron Butterfly (who, apart from the name, bore very little relation to the acid-era band), with whom I travelled extensively for 4 years, until I recently took up writing again – this time for the more sedate Culver City Star (Culver City is part of the greater Los Angeles conurbation).

This December, Mac Garry looked me up, told me about Dr Feelgood, and advised me to go see them on the CBS convention at the end of January… "If you feel like scratching out an article, I’m sure we could use it", he told me, adding (in what I gather is his usual tactless fashion), "but we don’t want any of your stuffed-shirt local paper tripe… We want informality and amusement".
So, what follows is a belated (due to circumstances within my control) and essentially disjointed account of Dr Feelgood first days in America, and the events, leading up to their first stateside performance.

I drove south from L.A., along here hours of freeway to San Diego, where the convention was being held, found the hotel, and met up with the guys – who were half expecting me apparently. There was Lee, Wilko, Sparko, Figure, their manager Chris Fenwick, their tour manager Jake, and Nick Lowe (who actually remembered me from the Fillmore gig 6 years earlier… at least, he said he did). Nick was "along for the loon", having decided to blow a large slice of the advance he’d got after signing with the Pink Floyd’s publishing company. Nice guys, all of them… "earthly", as I’d been warned, but matey and charming – in fact, so alarmingly hospitable that I felt as if I was the foreigner.
The Rivermont is a particularly resplendent example of our hotel industry – the best and most lavish in the world. It was literally too expansive to take in with the human eye, but the brochure in my room took pains to point out that this was no flickering-neon dockside doss-house : the facilities were modestly listed… the complex of restaurants, ballrooms and convention suites.. the sumptuous luxury of the bedrooms… the extravagance of not one, but three swimming pools… night clubs, cabaret, shops, coffee bars, etc etc, all spread over several acres of "south Californian Plateau". All I Can say is I’m glad I wasn’t playing for it.

By way of making introductory small talk, I asked Lee what he thought of the place. "It’s ok", he admitted, "but I’m a bit disappointed really… it’s a bit too much like 'The Prisoner' – Did you ever se that series ? With Patrick McGoohan ? Well, it feels to much like that to me… it’s got sinister overtones somehow… can’t quite put my finger on it. I really wanted to spend my first nights in America in one of those places like in Alastair Cooke’s programme… you know, with a big neon Indian waggling a tomahawk over the roof of a tee-pee styled motel… now that would have impresses me".

Within hours of my arrival, the nature of my assignment switched dramatically. For a start, I was horrified to learn that there were no press passes at all – which meant turning right around and wheeling it home, because I couldn’t have afforded 5 minutes at this hotel, let along 2 days and nights. Nick Lowe, his brain positively fizzing with waves, suggested I assume the role of lighting engineer – assisting Pete Clarke, who the Feelgoods had brought over to take care of their lighting… "After all", said Nick, "I’am on the hotel register under the name of Dale Liberator, Equipment Handler… It’s hardly the career I would choose, but it does serve the purpose of funding my accommodation."

At noon I was a journalist, at who I was a lighting assistant, and, through one of fate’s oddest quirks, I became Dr Feelgood’s American tour-manager at six !
Now I’m not too sure of the background, but no sooner had I arrived than I sensed that Jake’s relationship with the band had deteriorated to a state where little mutual respect spanned the chasm which widened between them. Chris Fenwick was continually trying to paper over this crack in their friendship, but the matter came to a head when the Figure took a swing at Jake, after Wilko discovered that his wah-wah pedal, through some oversight, had not been packed with the rest of the gear. The band just seemed to explode with fury, using this flimsiest evidence of negligence as a lever to oust poor old Jake. They flew right off the handle : "Why don’t you piss off, Jake… You’re useless ; we’ve been here two days now, and you still haven’t learned how to use and American telephone." It was quite an ugly, and embarrassing, exchange.

After a hurried conspiratorial huddle, Chris, with reluctance written all over his face, said "I’m sorry, Jacko, but I’m going to have to let you go"… and that was the last I saw the unfortunate fellow… shuffling out of the bar, tail between legs, to catch the next plane to London. (In fact, he went to Pete Thomas’s house up in Santa Monica, and was reinstated for the Feelgood’s second tour.) And that is how, some 7 hours after meeting the band, I came to accept their invitation to take over as tour manager – using my experience of U.S. airlines, cities, venues and hotels, to guide them around America on their maiden tour… and nuts to my job in Culver City !

Apparently, when their first United Artists album was released, the bosses of the American Company decided it was too crappy to sell in any quantity and gave Chris Fenwick carte blanche to sign with another label if he chose. As the weeks tickled by, the Feelgoods became a huge phenomenon in Britain – to the extent that when their second album, "Malpractice", was ready, they had practically every U.S. label doing somersaults to sign them up… much to U.A.’s chagrin.
Dismissed by many as a naïve limey, Chris Fenwick is as shrews as Perry Mason and as sharp as a cactus… he’s nobody’s fool – and he got those guys fawning like rednecks at a Wallace rally, until the competition was whittled down to a straight battle between Swan Song and CBS.
Incognito, Robert Plant had evidently been to see the unknown Feelgoods at some obscure midlands club – twice – and he was particularly anxious that they go out on Swan Song, but Fenwick’s final choice was CBS… which was why, that next evening, Dr Feelgood were to parade their wares before the gathered tentacles of the CBS sales force, not to mention the top brass from 3 continents.

And so it was that eleven in the morning, the edges of the hotel’s 3 swimming pools were lined with pale skinned, light-bulb shaped execs… revving themselves up to doze at meetings all afternoon, gorge themselves on two-pound sirloins by night, and go haywire on alcohol till the early hours.
Slabbed out on the concrete like so many landed Moby Dicks basking in the tropical heat, it was strange to think that these guys were all spiritually joined by a view of life that saw it as an enormous market place, eager to devour the new waxing from the CBS hit-or-miss factories… but they were – which is probably the biggest single contributing factor as to why the CBS marketing and sales set-up is the best in the world, and the envy of all other music industry conglomerates. (That’s a fact : on the ensuing tour we were constantly impressed by the company’s ability to produce up-to-the-minute regional sales figures, and instigate activity in the cities we played in.)

Held twice a year, these gatherings, basically convened to promenade the latest talent in an atmosphere of convivial togetherness, are evidently regarded as superb excuses for monster blow-outs. Every participant is well aware of the underlying seriousness of his role in the scheme of things, and one often detected an almost blind fanatic confidence in the infinity of the future of the Company (it seemed as if the ordinary laws of economics could be ignored, that the future reached limitlessly to the stars – just as long as those Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen platters kept spilling out of the studios… and, of course, there was an overwhelming confidence that they would), but all work and no play makes Jonathan a dull boy… and here is an Diego, a good time was going to be had by all !

To the bands, this was just another gig, another hotel, another day on the road – but to all these area managers and sales reps, it was a rare binge. Consequently, they dived into absurd excess as if the world might end tomorrow.

This was fantasy Rock’n’Roll land, and fully grown men, all given keys to an artificial paradise, were bent on sampling the lifestyles maintained at the glossier end of the industry. If Alice Cooper can do it, so can I ! If John Bonham can anoint some unfortunate bystander’s bollocks with champagne, so can I ! If Keith Moon can beat Lester Bangs’ brains out with a Rembrandt, so can I ! So It was not with surprise that I Heard two chambermaids discussing the fact that a bed had been hurled to the shrubbery from a great height. That and two televisions. The Performers, such as the Feelgoods and Michael Murphey, behaved with the utmost decorum (for the most part), but all around them it was bananasville… the Marx Brothers had come to town.

As an and to facilitate even greater heights of self-indulgence, there were large notices in the rooms, bearing the legend "Columbia Records Convention, January 1976", and expressing the availability of "Total unlimited credit" - and that brief message set the tone of the event. People were down in the shops decking themselves out whith shades and swimming gear, room service was on the hop all round the clock… this wad binge-time with a vengeance.

The first evening, we finished our meal (good wholesome American food ; I couldn’t understand why the guys compared it to an airline meal… of course it was like an airline meal – how else does food come ? Sparko’s fork probed at the carrots – he was perplexed that it had come out of a mould…"Look at it, it’ just like a bloody sandcastle – turrets and all" just a Chick Corea was starting his set. Oh dear, this was going to be a little more than I could endure… if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s that trifling, nowhere jazzy stuff… but Chick was beside himself with enthusiasm : "We had the pleasure of recording our new album at the Caribou Ranch… this is another number from it… it’s really good to be on CBS." Chick was really into it, but not too many others were. One guy, on the table next to us, turned to his neighbour and said "Do you think this is going to be a big album, Herbie ?"… obviously totally confused by it all.

I could stand it no longer. Learning over to the CBS guy assigned to look after us, I explained I was terribly sorry to appear impolite, but I had a busy day tomorrow and needed to retire early… gave him all the flannel about how I wanted to be in tip-top condition for the Feelgoods’ debut. Feeling very smug, I tip-toed out in the general direction of the bar, relieved to hear that tedious music disappear under the general chatter – and then, horror of horrors, I turned round to see the Feelgoods trooping out in a line behind me… obviously under the impression that I’d made excuses on their behalf ! "We got the eyeball message that it was cool to go", explained Figure, "… We thought you was telling the bloke we didn’t like this kind of music." A flying start... they must have thought we were a right lot of rude bastards. Poor Lee, feeling guilty about the line of bods trooping out, remained seated – but he to succumbed after several minutes. He rose from the table, telling the CBS guy that it was "nothing personal" and that he wouldn’t mind or feel offended if Chick got up and walked out of the Feelgoods’ set. Out in the bar, Nick and Clarkie were having a much better time – getting swacked on gratis Jack Daniels.

Next morning, on the day of the gig, I stood against the bar with Nick and Wilko – early risers (and early drinkers) both – and we laughed about the Brinsley "Filmore Hype"… "I wish I had a quid for every time I’ve had to talk about that", Nick said. "At the time, it never occurred to me that I should have that fuckin bell around my neck for the rest of my life – like a Swiss cow." "That’s the trouble with headline ink" said Wilko, "… it takes a long time to wash off." A guy with us, a young CBS man, asked about the Feelgoods’ name, and Wilko explained its origin. "There was this old blues singer from Georgia… I forget his real name, but he used to call himself Piano Red during the fifties. He had some fairly big selling records, but in the sixties he decided to try and broaden his appeal and his horizons – and he changed his stage name to Dr Feelgood. In fact, he had a group called Dr Feelgood and the Interns – and had a hit with a song called 'Dr Feelgood'… on CBS subsidiary label if I remember right."

As far as American Blues is concerned, however, the original Dr Feelgood was not an influence on Wilko. "A lot of people back in England think the sole influence on my playi was a bloke called Mick Green, who used to be with a band called Johnny Kidd And The Pirates. Ever hear them ? They were great; used to wear striped pirates jerseys, and Johnny Kidd had a leather doublet, sort of floppy-topped leather thigh boots, and a black patch like that geezer in Dr Hook. He was killed in a car accident."
"
Anyway, as I was saying, a greater influence on my style was a Chicago blues guitarist called Hunchback Taylor, who was a cousin of Hound Dog Taylor, but a really startlingly original player… unique to the Chicago scene, I should think. One of my great regrets was that I never saw him playing… but Billy C. Farlowe from Commander Cody saw him and said he was fantastic – better than his albums. As far as I know, he only made 2 albums, for Delmark Records - and that’s where I copped a lot of my early licks and riffs… like 'She Does It Right' for instance. He died in poverty about two years ago."
"
I guess life gets to a musician whichever end of the scale he works at ; Hunchback’s body was a weakened by debauchery and venereal disease, as well as brandy and fatigue, but he played on ; the stage of even the grottiest bar seemed to inject life into his crumbling body. He was 43 when he collapsed; on stage… just fell off his chair. He died seven weeks later… a king of shreds and patches, maybe, but still a king in my eyes."

Lee had joined us, and he and Nick went off in search of lunch – an episode in their lives which nick recounted with relish.
"
The thing about eating over here is that you read the menu and just can’t stop drooling with sheer excitement at the prospect of eating such succulent delicacies… you can barely keep your mind occupied as you wait for the chick to bring you 'Fresh young Texan Pheasant breasts, marinated in dog’s milk and garnished with swallows’ tongues'… then it arrives, invariably in quantities sufficient to feed Napoleon’s army, and it looks delicious… but it tastes fuckin awful; completely tasteless."
Anyway, me and Lee were noshing away (on total unlimited credit, of course), working our way through one of these specially de-flavoured meals – when we suddenly noticed the two people sitting at the table next to us. They were middle aged, and typically American – wearing that crimple stuff they all seem to wear, in horribly lurid shades. I mean, there is absolutely no subtlety in American clothes… if something is red, it is red and if something is yellow, it glows like a luminous canary… definitely primary colours !
"But the thing that caught our eye, to the point where we couldn’t stop looking on in disbelied and wonder, was the wig that one of theme was wearing. He was sitting with his back to us, and his wig was bright orange… but it stopped abruptly halfway down the back of his head and his natural black hair took over… and it looked as if he’d got a bit of tiger skin draed over his swede !

"So we were having a bit of a chuckle, watching them – and we suddenly realised just how much food they were guzzling… shrimp cocktails, with shrimps and lettuce and mayonnaise heaped everywhere, shovelling it all in like guys spading coal into the open jaws of a blast furnace… steaks and vegetables and side salads and rolls and wine, all being shoved down as fast as they would go. We thought it would be impossible for anyone to eat any more, but then they started on these brandy glasses, like huge goldfish bowls, crammed with globs of coloured ice-cream… We just couldn’t believe it !"
"Meanwhile and farting about – servile to the point of nausea…" and what is your desire ? How can I be of further service to you ? Is thee anything else you require ? Would you like me to wash your feet and kiss your arse ?… Well, you know how they go on.

"Anyway, these cats ploughed on, oblivious to the world around them, just stuffing themselves stupid… totally pre-occupied with the task at hand. If you’ve ever seen a kitten licking its arsehole, you’ll know what I mean. Then, suddenly, without warning, Tigerskin Toupee puked the whole lot up – a gushing torrent of vomit like I’ve never seen… all over the table ! His face was purple, and I’m sure he was having a cardiac arrest."
"
Well, me and Lee were laughing so much at this quaint American custom of behaving like Gadarene Swine, that we had to leave the restaurant, bent double, tears in our eyes and piss in our pants."

Alright… zero hour, and screwed up with responsibility, I’m more tense and nervous than the band, who are standing in the wings with Chris – cool and casual as ever, confident of a maximum performance.

Preceding the Feelgoods had been Bonnie Koloc, and a group called Small Wonder (a pseudo Supertramp/Yes effort with all white equipment and ultra violet light… the sort of thing Dantalian’s chariot were doing almost ten year’s ago), and closing the evening would be Michael Murphey and his band, with John McEvan from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band guesting on fiddle and banjo.

CBS, to their credit had got the very best : Showco to provide the p.a. and studio instrument Rental to provide any equipment necessary… it was a magnificent service. They had trucks full of gear – anything you could want.
The four rooms nearest to the stage were used as dressing rooms, and I was about to lug an amp off the stage so the guys could tune up… and immediately, an army of studio instruments Rental guys rushed up to offer alternatives… "
What would you like ? A champ ? Or a Princeton ? A Twin Reverb ? What about a Strobotuner… What about 3 strobotuners ?" I could barely believe it.

The p.a. was perfection… a brilliant sound… and hundreds of lights – the operating desk was like a studio console… and backstage it was all being organised with minutes precision. So we were on stage right on cue, behind the curtains, waiting to be announced.
Meanwhile, out in front, the cat from CBS was winding u is speeches and observations… Sincerity welling from every crevice in his body. It was pure theatre, and he was digging every minute of it… "And Art Garfunkel has personally asked me to thank you guys in Seattle for the wonderful promo job you did on 'Breakaway' – boy, was that some campaign you pulled off up there… and Boz is here with us tonight… hi Boz… he has a brand new album out very soon – good luck with that one Boz…" and so on. It was great. Nothing is constant in the world of rock, nothing except the flow of product, and that comes and goes like loaves of bread. No-one remembers last year’s failures – no-one even hears the squawking of those who baked the wrong horses.

The Feelgoods waited patiently, but the’d been standing there for about 8 minutes now, and the cat was still going on about major breakout areas / demographic sales surveys / promo campaigns… and the band beagan to get a little tense and edgy.

Meanwhile, the Showco road crew – 30 guys at least, all assigned to their specific tasks, are standing around the edges, alert with efficiency… When Lee suddenly notices that his mike lead has been taped down at the back of the stage, rather than the front… my fault, I guess, no being familiar with their requirements (Lee likes it taped in front of him to prevent it knotting up as he flails it around). So I dispatch a Showco guy to fetch some tape… and as he rushes off, he knocks Lee’s slide guitar off its stand breaking the neck clean off !!

Will they get to play ? Will it be a roaring success ? Will there be a drunken party with CBS hookers ? Tune in the next month’s exciting conclusion !

Wilko Johnson travaille sur un nouvel album
11 Mai 2017

Nouvelle biographie sur Lee Brilleaux
27 Novembre 2016

Docteur Wilko Johnson
20 Novembre 2016

31 Décembre 2017
Wilko Johnson
Les concerts à venir...
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© Dr Feelgood & Lucie Lebens - Tous droits réservés
In Memory of Lee Brilleaux & Gypie Mayo