Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnny Winter - Johnny Winter

I have owned a beat-up vinyl version of this album for a while but for whatever reason it never really connected with me. However, when I got this expanded CD, I was blown away! Absolutely terrific r’n’r/blues played by one of the masters. Johnny’s guitar playing is phenomenal throughout, whether it is blistering electric blues or acoustic slide played with the authenticity of Robert Johnson. This debut showcases a talent that had obviously learned from the greats and one of them, Willie Dixon, even makes an appearance here!

Tommy Shannon opens the record with a groovy bass line that Winter adds to and then “Uncle” John Turner kicks in on the drums and you have an uptempo r’n’r/blues number ("I'm Yours and I'm Hers") that has Johnny dueling with himself with wild guitar lines that merge and fight and get you moving right from the start! JW’s tone is a mix of the old and new and his style is his own – blindingly fast when he wants to be, but still maintaining a subtlety at times and his slide tone is impeccable. What an intro to this artist and his band!

“Be Careful With a Fool” is a more standard blues cover – mid-tempo and groovy and another exercise is crazed guitar riffing by Winter. He plays with speed yet with real precision and each note counts and makes sense, even when it is almost impossible to follow him. The recording is done basically live (some overdubs here and there, of course) and shows what a tight group this was and how well Winter could fill out the sound and carry the load.

Having studied Robert Johnson’s open-tuning slide playing, JW demonstrates what he learned in “Dallas”, an original that sounds like it easily could have come from King of the Delta Blues! Really mind-boggling in its authenticity!

I cannot imagine what Willie Dixon and harpist Walter “Shakey” Horton must have thought when they were asked to sit in on a session by this albino Texan guitar player, but “Mean Mistreater”, a slow, traditional blues number, must have dispelled any qualms that they might have had. Winter is in fine form, but allows Horton to shine and Dixon’s acoustic bass gives the number a solid ground. This was just the beginning of Johnny playing with and helping out older blues masters.

He steals from “Rock Me Baby” for “Leland Mississippi Blues”, and even acknowledges this in his lyrics. But, that continues the old blues tradition of “borrowing” songs that you’ve heard other people do.

“Good Morning Little School Girl” is propelled as a jump’n’jive number with brother Edgar’s horn arrangements giving it r’n’b accents. Great mix of styles! Robert Johnson’s “When You Got a Good Friend” is given a faithful, acoustic rendition, which in itself is pretty amazing! Winter really did his homework here! He is at home on acoustic guitar or dobro as he is on his Gibson Firebird.

Edgar’s r’n’b/soul influences come to the fore with “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears”, which he arranged as a Ray Charles-styled tune, with piano dominant and a full horn section. This allows Johnny to show what he can do vocally, and he really does have a nice, raw, r’n’b tinge to his voice.

Returning to stripped down blues for the vinyl closer “Back Door Friend”, Johnny also overdubs some classic blues harp, showing that he was no slouch on that instrument, either! Primitive and real, down-home Southern blues. Whew!

This CD re-issue comes with several bonus tracks, starting with the jumpin’ slide blues, “Country Blues” aided by Edgar’s pumpin’ piano. The acoustic slide number “Dallas” is reprised with the band backing him – a simple acoustic bass and basic drum beat that adds a nice feel.

The last bonus is a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Two Steps From the Blues”, another more “urban” feel, with full horn section and keys – again I think more of Ray Charles than of down’n’dirty blues for these numbers, which is certainly not a bad thing! This does show Johnny’s versatility!

All in all a spectacular debut from one of r’n’r’s legendary guitarists! A must for any lover of rockin’ blues!