Johnson recalls Canvey in his youth as "a cowboy town," with dirt roads and wooden bungalows built on reclaimed marshland beside an oil refinery. The blues-loving members of Dr. Feelgood liked to call it the Thames Delta, playing up its exoticism for eager journalists.
"Oil City Confidential" also told a familiar rock 'n' roll story — the close-knit band of brothers torn apart by the pressures of the road.
"We were just such good friends," Johnson said. "And on the way up you felt this absolute power in the friendship we had. No one could penetrate that."
But by the end, he says, "I'd learnt the art of solving all problems in the world by slamming a door."
He regrets his impetuousness now, and is keen to attribute the success of Dr. Feelgood to Brilleaux, who died of lymphoma in 1994.
"He just had this vivid personality. I can remember asking somebody about him when we'd decided to do a band: 'That Lee bloke, can he sing at all? Because if he can just sing a little bit, he's a star.'"
Johnson says he doesn't mind that stardom ultimately eluded Dr. Feelgood. (A band of that name still exists, though it contains no original members).
"I never meant to do it, so everything that's happened with rock 'n' roll has been an adventure, really," he said.
Terminal illness has eased his concerns about the band's legacy.
"People go, 'You influenced so many of the punk bands. You started this and you did that.' That may well be right, but it's all part of the stuff that doesn't really matter now. It's been done."
Still it's hard, sometimes, not to reflect on what might have been.
"If we'd all done just what we were told, taken the advice of management, if they could have packed us all up in flight cases after every gig and stored us away so we couldn't do anything (until) we get out there and played — I'm pretty sure we'd be multimillionaires.
"But we didn't. We were geezers from Canvey Island. We were great friends, and we fell out."
Johnson says he is not afraid of dying — though he is afraid of illness. He lost his wife to cancer eight years ago, and fears putting his loved ones through the sense of helplessness he felt then.
For now, though, he feels fine. He hopes it lasts long enough to give his fans a rousing send-off. Despite the pain of saying goodbye to friends, he found the recent shows in Japan exhilarating. Music has lost none of its power to thrill.
"The last number we did (in Japan) was Chuck Berry's 'Bye Bye Johnny.' You've got the crowd, you're all going 'Bye, bye, bye, bye,'" Johnson said, waving his hands.
"And there was a dry eye in the house, actually — it was mine. I wasn't feeling choked and sad or anything like that. I was thinking, 'Oh man, what a great gig!"
Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://Twitter.com/JillLawless
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