Obituary: Lee Brilleaux
Saturday 09 April 1994
LEE BRILLEAUX was the power- driving front man, and founder member, of the traditional rock and electric blues fusion Dr Feelgood. Brilleaux died at home in Canvey Island, the oil refinery community in the Thames Estuary which spawned the hard-hitting style of rhythm and blues exemplified by the 'feelgood' sound.
Brilleaux was born in Durban, South Africa, in 1953, but co- founded Dr Feelgood in 1971, with the guitarist Wilko Johnson, aka John Wilkinson, a veteran of the Essex gig scene (especially in the Southend area). Brilleaux's family had moved to Canvey Island from Ealing when he was 13. The band's name was reputedly derived from an old Johnny Kidd and the Pirates record, 'Dr Feelgood and the Interns', a cover of an original song by the Atlanta blues pianist Willie Perryman.
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were something of an influence on the early Dr Feelgood, especially on the stage act of Wilko Johnson, who modelled himself on the Pirates' guitarist Mick Green. Johnson's guitar slinging was a significant image reflecting the pub-rock character for which Dr Feelgood will be remembered. Brilleaux and Johnson developed a frantic act, often charismatically dressed in dark suits and loose ties, shabby rather than smart. The rough, and almost ruthless, edge which ran through his vocal and harmonica style reflected the character and philosophy of the band.
Dr Feelgood evolved from a conscious decision to react against the rock of the mid-Seventies. A rougher sound than the blues groups of the London Sixties, Brilleaux's band was probably closer to the reality of the street. Brilleaux was known as a hard- drinking, hard-living man. Dr Feelgood almost certainly influenced a range of early punk groups and similar, such as the Clash, Eddie and the Hot Rods and more significantly the Boomtown Rats.
In the early years Dr Feelgood provided backing for Joe Meek's protege Heinz (the ex-Tornadoes guitarist) but the growth of their cult following and rave reviews resulted in their being signed up by United Artists and their pursuing an individual direction. In 1975, after releasing a medley of live rock songs, they produced their debut LP, Down by the Jetty, recorded in mono 'to reflect the band's raw, basic R & B sound'.
Dr Feelgood made a successful transition from club appearances to concert tours, many of which were a sell-out. However, they were never able to transfer and capture the energy and atmosphere of their live act to the recording studio. Their No 1 album in 1976, Stupidity, was recorded live, 'live' was always best. Brilleaux went on to co-found the Stiff record label in 1976, with a loan from the singer/songwriter John Hiatt, and the band's own record label Grand Records.
In 1977 the American producer Bert de Couteaux was brought in to supervise their studio album Sneakin' Suspicion. The title track was their first No 1 hit. Shortly afterwards Johnson left the band after a row concerning the recording of the album Be Seeing You. Ironically, Johnson's resignation occurred in the wake of Dr Feelgood's pre-occupation with the Sixties Patrick McGoohan television series The Prisoner (about an agent who resigns his post without giving a reason). Johnson's departure left Lee Brilleaux without a foil for his live performance, and the band lost a talented writer.
In the Eighties the band continued to perform regularly, sometimes achieving almost 300 gigs a year. By 1984 Brilleaux was the last remaining original member. The album Brilleaux 86 featured songs by Johnny Cash and he returned to recording for the Stiff label.
Brilleaux's last performance was at the Dr Feelgood Music Bar in Canvey Island in January. A recording, Down at the Doctors, will be released next month as a tribute.
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