Farewell to Girlschool's Kelly Johnson (1958-2007)


A righteous farewell to Kelly Johnson, the phenomenal lead guitarist for Girlschool, who died yesterday after a six-year battle with cancer of the spine. She was 49. Johnson will always be remembered for writing metal classics like "Hit and Run," "Kick It Down" and "Yeah Right," which made Girlschool one of the punkiest and fiercest bands to blow up in the late-'70s/early-'80s new wave of British heavy metal. They had their biggest U.K. hit with their 1981 St. Valentine's Day Massacre EP, a collaboration with their friends in Motörhead. According to legend, the first time Jeff Beck heard Johnson's riffs on "Race With the Devil," he snorted, "There's no way that's a girl playing," but Girlschool fans worshipped Johnson for her cool Aladdin Sane-style mullet and her bag of magnesium-flare guitar hooks. Her old pal and tourmate Lemmy from Motöhead had this to say a few years ago: "I thought they were fucking great. I got them on the tour in the first place and everybody else went like, 'ugh, girls,' and I said, 'fuck you, they're as good as you.' Kelly Johnson, on a good day, is as good as Jeff Beck in his rock & roll days. She's a fucking brilliant guitar player." Here's a clip of Kelly singing and playing "C'Mon Let's Go" with Girlschool live on German TV in 1981. She will be missed.

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Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where he writes about music, TV and pop culture. He is the author of two books, Talking To Girls About Duran Duran and Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

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