Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter Fine Art Print

I haven’t been here for a while, and I realized it was because I was committing myself to long pieces when I already have several of those assigned to me a month on Soundstage’s web-sites. I decided that some short things here might give me an outlet to say some things I can’t cover in a review, or to call your attention to some music I didn’t get to on Soundstage Hi Fi, et.al.

I had intended to expand a bit on the sound of the Black Keys’ new disc. I liked the music very much, but I did not like the sound at all. I’ll get to that another time.

As I was thinking about that piece, I read that Johnny Winter died at age 70 while on tour in Europe. Winter was an iconic guitarist of the 60s, as admired as Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix, but he was a purer blues player. When I heard his debut album on Columbia in 1969, I didn’t know what to think. I had heard Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton play the blues, but this was edgier and, to my young ears, less refined. I realized later, when I heard real blues players, that what I reacted to was Winter’s genuine feel for the blues, and his commitment to it. He didn’t filter it through rock in the way the British players had and he didn’t bury it in late 60s production effects.

He achieved fame and airplay in the 70s with Still Alive and Well but by then he had already established himself as a blues and rock and roll guitarist of formidable talent. The two albums with Johnny Winter And, the band he started with Rick Derringer, are classic 70s rock—real rock and roll with a fierce sound and a blues undercurrent. Their live album is fast and powerful. I saw Winter once, in 1973, and he was a gripping performer with a stage presence that reached out to you even in a large arena.

Winter produced four albums for Muddy Waters in the late 70s and early 80s and they returned Waters to the forefront of the blues, which was just beginning to enjoy a revival. All four albums received good reviews and awards. Winter himself continued to record for various labels, some of the results great, some only so-so, but even the least of them showed his characteristic flair for the blues and his love for it.

I’m sad that Winter is gone, but there are worse ways for a musician to go than while on tour playing the music he or she loves.

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