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Nothing But The Blues: Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters

Doug Collette By

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Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Johnny Winter vied for the pinnacle of guitar heroism with the legendary likes of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. In retrospect, it's not just his own technical expertise or his inspired loyalty to his roots, but also his willingness to experiment, which makes him such a significant figure in the development of contemporary rock and roll as well modern blues.

While Johnny Winter's much ballyhooed Columbia Records debut comprised a veritable textbook of blues styles, the albino's followup, aided and abetted again by sibling Edgar Winter on keyboards, sax and studio production, stood up and surpassed that album, still often criticized as sterile in comparison to the more visceral predecessor The Progressive Blues Experiment.

It's important, however, to separate Johnny's own performance on this eponymous album, from the recording and production of the album itself: while on the primarily solo track, "Dallas, Winter's national steel bottlenecking bristles with fiery venom, his playing is no less explosive than on electric tracks with his band such as "Mean Mistreater." The difference is that the backing sounds flat and over-rehearsed especially on the big production numbers with horns such as "I'll Drown in My Own Tears and "Be Careful with a Fool.

The bonus cuts included on the expanded Johnny Winter don't alter that impression. In contrast, the extra material included on the double disc version, its successor, Second Winter, actually muffles its impact. On its own terms, the original album runs the gamut from Little Richard ("Miss Ann ), blues staple Percy Mayfield ("Memory Pain ) and Bob Dylan ("Highway 61 revisited ), and in this Legacy Edition, also contains a complete recording of Winter live in England with his touring trio of Tommy Shannon on bass(eventually to work with another Texas legend Stevie Ray Vaughan) and drummer Uncle John Turner.

Just a single hearing of the sonic experimentation in the studio along the lines of "The Good Love, "Fast Life rider and the equally autobiographical duality of "I Love Everybody'/I Hate Everybody would be meaningless and perhaps next to impossible with the solid foundation laid by the likes of "Mean Town Blues and "Johnny B. Goode. Winter brings an equally elemental drive to those two stage performances and most of the rest of the live set, though the momentum is somewhat destroyed by Edgar's showboating on "Tobacco Road as well as the inclusion of his future hit and signature song "Frankenstein. (complete with drum solo?!?!).

Johnny Winter
Second Winter

The glossy blue-hued graphics of this deluxe package carry on the theme of the original visually stunning artwork just as the recording of the British concert expands upon the outline set forth on the first album. Flashy and fast as is his guitar playing, Johnny doesn't wastes notes no matter how blinding the flurries are and, when slowing down to the more deliberate pace of "It's My Own Fault, where the precision and reliability of the Turner/Shannon rhythm section is equally crucial as at high speed, Johnny displays a restraint that is no less earthy for its discipline.

Originally released in the novel configuration of a three-sided vinyl lp on the premise Winter & Co. had used everything they recorded, this remastered version nonetheless contains two unreleased tracks, "Early in the Morning and an instrumental titled "Tell the Truth, the jazz oriented-likes of which would've changed the tone of Second Winter dramatically, making it seem more of a piece with its predecessor, though no less adventurous. It was almost a decade before Johnny returned to his roots having joined forces with Rick Derringer and the rest of The McCoys later that year to delve further into the hard rock arena and the eventual commercialism that diluted his music; working with Muddy Waters reinvigorated Winter's devotion to the blues, but even then he couldn't but touch the panorama and depth of these early albums.

Muddy Waters
Hard Again

Nevertheless he made a niche for himself playing and producing for the blues Buddha (two years before Muddy went on tour opening in for Eric Clapton in 1979 from which eventually came the double-cd version of Muddy "Mississippi Waters Live in 2003. On Hard Again, with Waters' soulful, guttural invocation echoed by Winter, a cross-section of familiar tunes are reinvented with all the virility, humor and sense of play that earmarked Muddy Waters as a icon of the blues. And this, whether acoustic or electric, for the soul of Muddy, as the music itself, carried its own intrinsic dynamics such that volume was no mere indicator of passion.

A composite of Muddy's own band plus members of James Cotton's group, including the leader himself on fire and ice harp, played on this album as well as its Grammy-winning follow-up: I'm Ready is as salty, saucy and stylish as its predecessor if not more so. Liner notes by guitarist Bob Margolin, participant in all the sessions (plus the live dates subsequent to the release of the albums), illuminates the growing camraderie of the musicians which made songs such as familiar as "I'm Ready and "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man sound like spanking new epiphanies of the blues; not surprisingly, considering the continued verve in the playing, these sessions included other blues stars of the first magnitude in the form of Jimmy Rogers(returning to Muddy's fold from early in both their careers) and Walter "Shakey Horton(who had appeared on Winter's Columbia debut).

Muddy Waters
King Bee

Extra cuts unreleased at the time of original issue adorn each of these remastered expanded editions including (and perhaps benefiting most of all) the final studio set King Bee. Less polished and polite than its predecessor, but nowhere near as animalistic or exultant as Hard Again, there's nevertheless an intimacy to it that both the others lack: perhaps it's because it so deftly balances the point between the acoustic and electric styles that Waters traversed within the blues idiom when he moved to Chicago from the delta. Yet it's Waters' album through and through: the solos support the mood he sets on such staples and "King Bee and relatively unknown gems like "Champagne and Reefer on both of which his delivery is equal parts instinct and attitude, the combination of which his grandchildren of the blues like Mick Jagger still cannot surpass.

Muddy Waters
I'm Ready

Johnny Winter himself probably could not have upstaged Muddy Waters on this or any of the other albums if he had wanted to and, to his enormous credit he does not try, preferring to act behinds the scenes in both studio supervision and musicianship. "Sad Sad Day for instance, contains a solo that is the definition of understatement. These projects acted as a conduit back to the deep feeling for the blues Winter had lost touch with and he could have had no better traveling companion on the journey than Muddy Waters.

Visit Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Johnny Winter

Tracks: 1. I'm Yours and I'm Hers; 2. Be Careful With a Fool; 3. Dallas; 4. Mean Mistreater; 5. Leland Mississippi Blues; 6. Good Morning Little School Girl; 7. When You Got a Good Friend; 8. I'll Drown in My Own Tears; 9. Back Door Friend; 10. Country Girl; 11. Dallas (With Band); 12. Two Steps from the Blues.

Personnel: Johnny Winter: lead guitar,slide guitar,harp and vocals; "Uncle" John Turner:percussion; Tommy Shannon:bass; Willie dixon: acoustic bass; Walter "Shakey" Horton:harp; Edgar winter: piano,alto sax; Stefan Ralph Sefsik: alto sax; Albert Wynn butler:tenor sax; Norman Ray:bartone sax; Karl Garin:trumpet; Peggy Bowers/Carrie Hossell/Elsie Senter: vocals.

Second Winter

Tracks: Disc One: 1. Memory Pain; 2. I'm Not Sure; 3. The Good Love; 4. Slippin' and Slidin'; 5. Miss Ann; 6. Johnny B. Goode; 7. Highway 61 Revisited; 8. I Love Everybody; 9. Hustled Down in Texas; 10.I Hate Everybody; 11.Fast Life Rider; 12.Early in the Morning; 13. Tell the Truth. Disc Two: 1. Help Me; 2. Johnny B. Goode; 3. Mama Talk to Your Daughter; 4. It's My Own Fault; 5. Black Cat Bone; 6. Mean Town Blues; 7. Tobacco Road; 8. Frankenstein; 9. Tell the Truth.

Personnel: Johnny Winter: vocals,guitar and mandolin ; "Uncle" John Turner: drums and percussion; Tommy Shannon:bass; Dennis Collins: bass on "Good Love"; Edgar Winter: piano,organ,harpsichord and alto sax.

Hard Again

Tracks: 1. Mannish Boy; 2. Bus Driver; 3. I Want to Be Loved; 4. Jealous Hearted Man; 5. I Can't Be Satisfied; 6. The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2; 7. Deep Down in Florida; 8. Crosseyed Cat; 9. Little Girl; 10. Walking Through the Park.

Personnel: Muddy Waters: guitar,vocals,slide guitar; Johnny Winter:guitar,slide guitar; James Cotton:harp; Bob Margolin:guitar; Chrles Calmese:bass; "Pine Top" Perkins:piano; Willie "Big Eyes" Smith: drums

I'm Ready

Tracks: 1. I'm Ready; 2.33 Years; 3. Who Do You Trust; 4. Copper Brown; 5. I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man; 6. Mamie; 7. Rock Me; 8. Screamin' and Cryin'; 9. Good Morning Little School Girl; 10. No Escape from the Blues; 11. That's Alright; 12. Lonely Man Blues.

Personnel: Muddy Waters: guitar,vocals,slide guitar; Johnny Winter:guitar,slide guitar; Jimmy Rogers:guitar; Bob Margolin:guitar; Jerry Portnoy:harp; Big Walter Horton:harp; "Pine Top" Perkins:piano; Willie "Big Eyes" Smith: drums.

King Bee

Tracks: 1. I'm a King Bee; 2. Too Young to Know; 3. Mean Old Frisco Blues; 4. Forever Lonely; 5. I Feel Like Going Home; 6. Champagne & Reefer; 7. Sad Sad Day; 8. (My Eyes) Keep Me in Trouble; 9. Deep Down in Florida, No. 2; 10. No Escape from the Blues; 11. I Won't Go On; 12. Clouds in My Heart.

Personnel: Muddy Waters: guitar,vocals,slide guitar; Johnny Winter:guitar,slide guitar; Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson: guitar; Bob Margolin:guitar; Jerry Portnoy:harp; Calvin Jones:bass; Charles Calmese:bass; "Pine Top" Perkins:piano; Willie "Big Eyes" Smith:drums.


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