An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Winter
Oh, have I been waiting for this one! And it was well-worth the wait.
When writing this review, I found it hard to separate the music of John Dawson Winter III from my life. Understandably so because Johnny Winter shaped much of my musical interests. It’s no stretch to say I would not be writing this review or even a member of Suncoast Blues Society without the influences of Johnny. So, when I saw the press release for the musicians coming together with Edgar Winter to record a tribute to his brother, I could not wait!
Right from the downbeat of this 17-song recording, Joe Bonamassa explodes with a wonderful rendition of Mean Town Blues. Playing in front of Edgar’s vocals Joe is faithful to Johnny’s original. A song these ears first heard on what I consider to be the best live recording in blues rock history, “Johnny Winter And Live.” On “Still Alive and Well” Kenny Wayne Shepherd plays virtually note for note the song Johnny issued on the 1973 album of the same name, shortly after recovering from his well-documented heroin addiction.
Keb’ Mo’ and Edgar paired well on Lone Star Blues and provide a moment to reflect on what a great slide guitar player Johnny was. A point reinforced when Billy Gibbons and today’s premier slide player Derek Trucks turn the heat up on, I’m Yours, I’m Hers. The original was Johnny at his raucous psychedelic best. Hearing this version my mind recalled blowing out speakers in my bedroom on this song.
I am so happy that Stranger made the recording. This has forever been my favorite slow and poignant song from Johnny. In high school I submitted these lyrics as an example of poetry. The teacher was not amused, as my grade attested to. Proving forever to me that poetry is however one defines it. As one who stays away from recordings featuring Michael McDonald, I must complement his vocals on this version. The pairing of Michael with Joe Walsh and Ringo Star is genius.
Both Johnny B. Goode and Highway 61 Revisited are my least favorite songs on this recording. Phil X performed the former in the style of The Rolling Stones, and the latter with “KWS” truer to Dylan’s original. Understandable as recreating the blistering incendiary version of “Highway” that Johnny recorded on “Captured Live” is beyond the capabilities of mere mortals.
Steve Lukather pitches in for a version of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie Koo that brings the mind back to the days when Johnny and Rick Derringer were, in my opinion, the best blues rock guitar duo in existence. Great backing vocals accompany Edgar’s vocals on this one. Doyle Bramall II performs When You Got A Good Friend in honor of Johnny’s 1969 self-titled recording. Traditional blues, and it’s something that Johnny returned to later in his career. More on this topic shortly.
The familiar licks to Guess I’ll Go Away explode off the guitar of Doug Rappaport and include marvelous vocals by the Foo Fighter’s late Taylor Hawkins. This version sounded as fresh as when first released on Johnny Winter And (studio version).
Edgar takes center stage singing a version of Drown In My Own Tears done in the style of the Charles’s – Ray and Ezra. Another example of the deep blues that Johnny is normally not associated with, but a song that he faithfully recorded on his self-titled album.
Joe Bonamassa returns with a true rendition of Self-Destructive Blues, a song Johnny artfully recorded on ”Scorchin’ Blues.” This song may have my all-time favorite Johnny guitar lick, and I suspect that Johnny is smiling over this version. Well done, Joe, especially recreating the lick that Johnny included in many of his song. “When I get through boogyin,’ they’ll be no more blues around.” Indeed.
Earlier I mentioned that Johnny paid homage to the blues masters. Winning three Grammy Awards for production work with Muddy Waters cemented his legacy with traditional blues. It was through Johnny that I received introductions to both Muddy and James Cotton. Back to the recording, Got My Mojo Working features Bobby Rush, and is evocative of “Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters – Live.” I closed my eyes and felt Muddy and James on this one.
Thank you, Quarto Valley Records, and Edgar Winter, for bringing this recording to life. I won’t be drowning in my own tears, but this recording brought a tear to my eyes, a happy one. Most excellent. Heartily recommended for fans of Johnny. And if you are unfamiliar with Johnny’s work this is a great jump-of point to embark on a marvelous journey of some of the best blues-rock licks every recorded.