Remembering Johnny Winter – Exclusive Concert Review and Photos
Blues guitarist Johnny Winter was remembered last weekend with a high-energy tribute show at New York’s B.B. King Blues Club. The comfortable venue, where many blues artists and classic rockers have appeared, was an ideal spot for the concert, since King was an early influence on Winter.
Like guitarists Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Winter was a pioneer of blues rock in the late '60s, when skeptics were still asking, “Can white men play the blues?”
The Johnny Winter Band – guitarist Paul Nelson, bassist Scott Spray and Tommy Curiale on drums – was fronted by Jay Stollman, whom Nelson credited as one of Winter’s favorite singers. (Nelson, Spray and Curiale toured with Winter and played on his last LP, ‘Step Back,’ which was released last month.)
Veteran blues artists -- including singer James Montgomery and guitarists Joe Louis Walker, Debbie Davies, Arlen Roth and Jeff Pitchell -- dropped in to honor their friend and mentor who died on July 16 at the age of 70. The evening kicked off with a screening of the documentary ‘Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty,’ which tracks the guitarist on tour. Johnny's brother Edgar Winter and various band members describe Winter’s rough-and-tumble life that included bad management, heavy drinking and smoking and an addiction to heroin and then methadone.
The film begins with Winter at home as he listens to ‘Crossroads’ by Robert Johnson, a giant influence on the guitarist. Winter says that the blues standard “wasn’t near as good” when Cream covered it in the late '60s. The blues legend also reveals that listening to Chuck Berry inspired him to learn the guitar, and is visibly moved as he talks about the death of his friend and blues legend Muddy Waters.
The Winter Band quickly changed the mood as it launched into ‘Bony Moronie,’ the Larry Williams hit that Winters recorded on ‘Captured Live!’ The blues dominated the first half of the set, which featured ‘Don’t Want No Woman’ from Winters’ last studio LP, ‘Step Back.’ Harpist Frank Latorre joined for the Ray Charles chestnut ‘Blackjack.’
In the film, Winter revealed that he felt he had sold out when he shifted to rock in 1970, the year joined Rick Derringer and members of the McCoys in the short-lived band Johnny Winter And.
Winter's rock numbers kicked off the show's second half as guitarist Gary Hoey contributed a scorching solo on the Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’ The crowd was energized by the band’s take on ‘Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,’ a song Derringer first wrote and recorded with Johnny Winter And. After the breakup of that group, Derringer recorded a solo version that reached No. 23 in 1973.
The band kept up the pace with ‘It’s All Over Now,’ Bobby Womack's classic covered by the Stones, and Johnson’s ‘Dust My Broom.’
All of the night’s performers took the stage for the show closer, a raucous rendition of ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ The Chuck Berry classic, which Winter covered on the ‘Live Johnny Winter And’ LP, had become his signature songs at concerts over the years.
Take a look at some exclusive photos from the show.