Wilkinson took up the guitar early and, at the age of nine, went to see Elvis perform as an opener for Hank Snow. He told Presley he couldn't play guitar "worth a damn" and went on to show him a bit of his own work. Presley was amused and told him they would meet again someday.
While in high school, John started the band The Coachmen who played songs skewed a little more towards the country music that was mostly heard in his hometown. In 1964, after college, Wilkinson moved to Los Angeles where he formed a band to play in the clubs.
By mid-1968, his reputation had grown and Presley, himself, called to see if he wanted to try out to be rhythm guitarist in his band now that he was returning to live performing. The audition went well and John became a member of what would eventually be the TCB Band. Over the next nine years, he played at over 1,200 shows with the King, right up until his final appearance on June 26, 1977.
Wilkinson also dabbled with a solo career during his time with Elvis, releasing a number of singles. After Elvis' death, he formed the band Justice before dropping out of music for a time to work in industry. He also continued to occasionally play, expanding his touring after a stroke in 1989 left him paralyzed on his left side. He went on to do shows singing many of the songs he performed with Elvis along with some originals.
He is survived by his wife, Terry.