catching up with Lee Brilleaux
When Dr. Feelgood first came roaring out of Canvey Island in 1974 with their stripped down rhythm and blues, greasy suits and cheap haircuts, most people’s idea of a rock and roll show was lots of sequins, tons of sound equipment, pretty pouting lead singers and bags of dry ice.
The Feelgood’s didn’t change things overnight but they did point the way for what was to follow.
Lead singer Lee Brilleaux – he of the rasping vocals – makes no claims, however, to be a Godfather of Punk.
“I’m sure the punk thing would have happened without us. but maybe we were a sign of the times. It was obvious that people were fed up of all the glitter and dressing up. We were dressing down rather than dressing up.”
Eight years old this year, which must make them elder statesmen of rock, the Feelgood’s are kicking 1979 off in style with the hit single ‘Milk And Alcohol’, having come through a bad period of personnel changes and disappointments to find themselves back in favour of press and public alike.
When Wilko Johnson, their charismatic guitarist, left the band after an argument over direction in 1977, he took his writing talent with him. On stage that left Lee having to handle most of the band’s visual style on his own.
These weren’t helped by two uninspiring albums appearing in quick succession.
‘Sneakin’ Suspicion’, the cause of the rift with Wilko, and the Nick Lowe produced ‘Be Seeing You’, which was a rather hasty attempt to introduce Wilko’s replacement John Mayo, both failed to hit the mark.
However, they brought it back home in style at the end of 1978 with ‘Private Practice’, an album which made the most of the excellent John Mayo and benefited from the excellent production by Richard Gottehrer, the man behind the first two Blondie albums.
This was their most pleasing effort since the live ‘Stupidity’ LP, which topped the album chart in 1976.
‘Milk And Alcohol’ has lyrics by the illustrious Nick Lowe. The song is about veteran U.S. blues singer / guitarist John Lee Hooker.
“Nick wrote that about an experience that we shared with him,” explains Lee. “It was the first time we’d been to America, and we went to see John Lee Hooker. We’d only been in the country about 24 hours, and we didn’t realise that you have to be a bit cool on the streets. we were mucking about afterwards and we ended up getting stopped by the cops. Up against the wall stuff.
“So, when we were doing ‘Private Practice’, we were having our usual trouble writing lyrics. So we called the man who can write words for every occasion; off the peg or made-to-measure, whichever you prefer. We played him the backing track and he came back 20 minutes later with a finished song scribbled on the back of a fag packet.. Nick’s incredible.”
All the more so if you read the words and see how good and tight they are.
off to Andalucia
The band are soon off to Spain to rehearse and write songs in, of all places, a pig farm. “You ever seen Spanish pigs?” enquires Lee. “They’re more like dogs. Anyway, we bought this place out in the desert in Andalucia and we’re going away from this awful weather and write material for the next album.”
Andalucia is a long way from The Esplanade in Southend-on-Sea where the Feelgood’s first started to inflict their basic R&B on unwilling audiences.
“Back then, this kind of music was at its lowest-ever popularity. Nobody wanted to know at all. We didn’t care. Then we thought it’d be a laugh if we dressed up in suits and ties, just like the old bluesmen. so we did.”
Nowadays you can’t switch on Top Of The Pops without seeing those narrow ties dangling from the necks of just about everyone, girls included. If for nothing else, Dr. Feelgood will go down in rock and roll history for the way that they helped shape fashion.
But with singles as good and dirty as ‘Milk And Alcohol’ they’ll probably be remembered just as well for bringing back direct music that goes straight to the feet.
Smash Hits, February 1979