Tag Archives: Johnny Winter And

Happy Birthday, Johnny Winter

 

When you consider all the auspicious starts to legendary recording careers, it’s tough to top a pair of albino brothers playing blues in a black club in Texas. 

John Dawson Winter turned 66 today, and thankfully he’s still around to celebrate the moment. There have been several times during his career when I didn’t think he’d last the week, but although a bit frail, he’s still out there delivering his unique style of blues and rock. 

My first encounter was the legendary Johnny Winter And concert where he and Rick Derringer squared off like it was a (friendly) duel to the death. I’ve waxed poetic about that concert tour and the live album that captures it;  still one of the five best live albums in rock history. 

His tone and slide technique is strong and powerful. Combined with his trademark growling vocals, his versions of Rolling Stones songs were arguably better than the originals. “Silver Train” became his the minute he recorded it, and you’re not likely to find a more incendiary version of “Jumping Jack Flash” than Winter’s. 

Have Cape, Will Sling.

Before he went back to the blues he released some killer rock albums for Columbia in the 70’s including a covers project with brother Edgar, I have many fond memories of blasting those sides over and over. Unfortunately, his abuse issues resurfaced, and I soon witnessed an attempted performance so bad that it has gone down in local history as “the bottle throwing show”. I truly believed that night if the crowd didn’t kill him – and they would have, if they caught him – the needle would. 

But he survived that night and his addiction. He soon came back to his roots, recording many acclaimed blues albums into the 80’s and 90’s, avoiding the cape-and-fanfare rock’n’roll that brought him to a wide audience. One got the feeling he was almost being penitent, putting aside less important music for something deeper and more spiritual. Recently Winter has released a well-received series of authorized live bootlegs, and last year’s Live Through The 70’s (a DVD of early performances) is an absolute treasure. Now we finally have the long lost Woodstock recordings as well. What a career!

He’s frail enough that he must sit while playing, but he’s playing. If you have never seen this masterful guitarist, you must. Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter…there’s just something special about Texas blues. Happy Birthday, Johnny. 

Johnny Winter website and wiki

Discography at the All Music Guide 

 

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And a cake for you too, Captain America.

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Blast From The Past: Johnny Winter And

Guitars? Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Guitars? Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

I was watching a recently released DVD titled Johnny Winter Live Through The 70s, which contains some amazing early footage of one of rock’s best and most underrated guitarists. The footage varies in quality, but from acoustic blues runs to television performances to stage madness, Winter’s blazing fretwork is astonishing. I was very pleased to see Randy Jo Hobbs accompany him in a duo setting as well as on two clips from Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert (with Richard Hughes manning the double-bass drumkit). But I was surprised and disappointed that there was no footage that included Rick Derringer, because that’s when and how I jumped on the Johnny Winter bandwagon.

Johnny Winter And was the name originally used when Winter picked up The McCoys as his backup band. The McCoys had a massive pop hit with “Hang On Sloopy” and featured brothers Rick and Randy Zehringer (Rick would later change his name to Derringer) and bassist Randy Jo Hobbs. By the time this album was recorded, Randy had been replaced by powerhouse drummer Bobby Caldwell (Captain Beyond). I was familiar with The McCoys and had a few singles (I still like “Don’t Worry Mother”!) but knew little of Winter; in fact when I was on vacation with the family in Florida and a group of kids at the hotel asked me to go with them to Pirate World, I thought we were planning to see Jonathan Winters!  What I saw that night blew my mind, rearranged my brain and changed my life. To this day I’m not certain what parts of the album were from Florida and what was from the Fillmore, but it’s among the five best live rock records ever made. Seeing that show live was like opening the door to a blast furnace and getting every hair singed off your body in a nanosecond…and loving it.

If I could boil down the appeal of this album to a couple of words I would say passion and tone. From the moment that Caldwell’s drums launch “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” into orbit until the last note of  “Johnny B Goode” bleeds out, this band is on fire. And tone? Winter’s slide guitar work in “Mean Town Blues” is a master class, and Derringer’s rhythm and second leads define the word chunky. Whether blazing through Chuck Berry songs like two runaway trains or delicately dancing a slow blues, this was Guitar Hero material long before the game was invented. Beside and behind them, Hobbs and Caldwell are like a volcano belching molten lava (in perfect time, of course). This was four guys plugged in and gone, no commercial intent, no posing – just foot-to-the-floor rock’n’roll.

Johnny Winter plays Rolling Stones songs better than they do (“Silver Train”, anyone?) and his version of “Jumping Jack Flash” is amazing, but when he lets out that otherworldly howl before ripping into “Johnny B Goode” you know that he’d also gone after Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis that night. It’s almost forty years later and the hair on the back of my neck still stands up at that moment, just like when the smoldering cauldron of “It’s My Own Fault” starts to bubble over during the second solo. I don’t think Winter or Derringer were ever better than on this album.

My God, folks – this album retails for $6.99 on Amazon. Seven dollars for a life-changing experience is a pretty sweet deal, and I suggest you get a ticket on this ride ASAP. I’ve got this masterpiece on vinyl, on CD, and living in my memory forever, singed hairs and all.

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