The Three Record Rule and Dr Feelgood

It’s a sad but true fact that almost every artist has a sell by date. The rule I usually live by is that no one needs more than 3 CDs from any one artist, once you’ve got three that’s enough, go and find somebody else who is doing something more interesting.

There are obvious exceptions, the big ones in my book are the 60’s singer songwriters. I’ve gone beyond the three with Dylan, Young and Joni Mitchell, but even geniuses have their limits, I could push Dylan maybe up to ten Young up to seven and Mitchell up to five but they’ve all recorded stuff I could happily never listen to again.

The Beatles, of course are outside these rules but hopefully they won’t let us down by recording any new stuff ditto Miles Davis but he’s Jazz, it’s a bigger palette.

At the other end of the scale there’s plenty of bands and artists I would be quite happy to have just the one album by. The B52’s for example, their first alum was perfect, no need for anymore.

Unfortunately the artist themselves are never willing to just stop although dying can often slow them down a bit.

It was perhaps fitting that as punk hit, Dr Feelgood, the band that had at least set the mood for a back to basics approach , fell apart.

It had been a while coming, main members Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson had been drifting apart to the point of a constant antagonism. They had already recorded the perfect ‘Down by the Jetty’ the pretty good ‘Malpractice’ and the defining live album ‘Stupidity’. That would be enough for anyone and they were now struggling to find new material and a different direction. Their latest record ‘Sneakin Suspicion’ was patchy, the best songs being largely Wilko but the rest of the band had started to tire of his work and the material commissioned from new writers was not to Wilko’s taste. This had reached the point where one of the tracks was actualy recorded without him. This had brought matters to a head and Wilko was out.

This left the band with a charismatic lead singer and a tight rhythm section, time to give up, the three record limit had been reached.

But, of course this could never happen, being in a band is an addictive drug and one that a lot of addicts can’t quit.

The Feelgoods were initially lucky, discovering guitarist Gypie Mayo was ,in Brilleaux’s words ‘like finding a fiver down the back of a setee’ . Actually the band were very lucky to actually find Mayo at all as he was homeless at the time and took some tracking down. I assumed his nickname came from gypsy origins but in fact related to the fact he always had some pain or illness or as they say in Essex ‘the gype’.

Mayo was a very different guitarist than Johnson being both more fluid and versatile but less original. Almost overnight the Feelgoods changed from an original band to an exciting but more mundane blues band. Their first record ‘Be seeing You’ was a pretty good slab of punk influenced blues, as good, at least as the likes of George Thorogood or The Fabulous Thunderbirds. The band also went on to actually have hits and be in the charts for a brief period although they often relied on some outside writing help from the likes of Nick Lowe.

I got to see the band at Nottingham University in the late 70’s and they were fine but that was all. By comparison Wilko Johnson put on a display at Trent Polytechnic around the same time that was less professional but riveting.

A couple of years with Mayo was a bit of an Indian summer which disguised the fact that they were seriously on the slide.

The 80’s were a cruel time for any band that liked to play real music in sweaty clubs, there are very few bands that managed to get through the decade without falling prey to the production values of the time. By the 80’s the band had lost not only Mayo but the original rhythm section of Sparko and The Big Figure. The Feelgoods (essentially Lee Brilleaux from this point) were left with the common dilemma of carrying on doing what they were good at or trying to tap into something more contemporary.

Unless a band has a very clear idea of what it is doing and some financial stability to back this up inevitably they are at the mercy of record company’s and producers. The first three Dr Feelgood records sound like a band who know what they are doing, from ‘Sneakin Suspicion’ onwards they sounded like what the producer of the day wanted them to sound like. This is what happened when they started to try to become more commercial.

Matters reached their nadir with the release of ‘Classic’. Surprisingly this had a promising inception. The band had just been signed to Stiff Records. Unfortunately rather than some raw roots record producer Pip Williams was drafted in he had recently cut the collective bollocks off Status Quo with ‘ in the army now’ which unfortunately was a hit. Listening to the 1987 ‘Classic’ is one of the most unpleasant experiences a Feelgoods fan could ever experience. It’s all there, gated drums, synths, backing singers and a sickly sick production.

What were they thinking?

Live, the band continued to be a solid prospect but clearly they could not really just churn out one record after another of R&B.

Sticking to the three record rule is, of course impossible, a band needs a ‘product’ to show they are still active in the marketplace which means that bands and artists end up releasing records that really very few people want.

Brilleaux just couldn’t stop, he was addicted to the road and the lifestyle until his death in 1994. Brilleaux was only 41 but had always seemed a lot older. Although it was leukaemia which killed him it was probable that his lifestyle would have shortened his life considerably.

Wilko Johnson has made a lot less mistakes largely because he seems to have produced far less records. A Johnson live set these days is pretty much a re-tread of his Feelgood days with a couple of songs from his early solo career. In many respects he lives the life of an old style bluesman concentrating on performance rather than product. In a strange parallel to Brilleaux he contracted pancreatic cancer which should have killed him until doctor/photographer Charlie Chan noticed he may have been misdiagnosed and initiated surgery which saved Wilko’s life.

I never saw Dr Feelgood again after the university gig. In the 80’s sweaty R&B was about as fashionable as tuberculosis and although I was aware of Brilleauxs’ demise it was overshadowed by that of Curt Cobain. I have seen Wilko Johnson a couple of times in recent years doing virtually the same performance as I saw in the late 70’s, it’s a timeless spectacle although I still miss his pudding basin haircut.

The two men never had any contact with each other again. It’s probable given the nature of the music business that they would have probably got together, in fact a total original reformation could have been possible with associated record and tour.

I would have gone to that but with no expectations, it would never have been as good as it was in the 70’s. As Johnny Thunders said ‘you can’t put your arms around a memory’

NB no visuals this week as either my iPad or WordPress have decided I don’t have enough storage sorry

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