Album review: JOHNNY WINTER – True To The Blues

True To The Blues - The Johnny Winter Story

Sony 4-disc set [Release date 24.02.14]

In a year that sees the legendary blues guitarist – John Dawson Winter III – reach septuagenarian status, a 4-disc retrospective befitting of his stature.  From the late-1960s, Winter has been influencing his peers and the quotations littered through the accompanying  50 page summary provide suitable testimony.

Winter’s eponymous debut album (1969) illustrates his guitaring prowess as he rung every last ounce of grit from his trademark Gibson Firebird.  In 1968 he had performed at the Fillmore East (captured on the ‘Lost Concert Tapes’ set released in 2003) and was immediately signed to the label for a reported record amount.  Mike Bloomfield’s introduction (included here) says it all: “…here is the baddest motherfucker, man…this cat can play!’

The first two discs take in these early recordings including the follow-up ‘Second Winter’ (1969), ‘Johnny Winter And’ (1970, including the anthemic ‘Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo’ ), ‘Johnny Winter And/Live’ and include some previously unreleased material from the Atlanta Pop Festival in July 1970.

The title of Winter’s next album in 1973 was profound – ‘Still Alive And Well’ – the guitarist had fought heroin addiction.  If the ensuing albums for the remainder of the seventies were somewhat patchy the nuggets are all present and correct on Disc 3 including – from 1974 -  ‘Rollin’ ‘Cross The Country’ and ‘Bad Luck Situation’ (‘Saints And Sinners’) and ‘Self Destructible Blues (‘John Dawson Winter III’).

By 1977 Winter had moved back to more of the pure blues style with ‘Nothing But The Blues’ represented here by three tracks.  This disc is rounded out with live tracks including ‘Harlem Shuffle’ that featured on the ‘Together’ album with his brother Edgar in 1976, a couple from ‘Captured Live’ (1976), and one from his collaboration with Muddy Waters and James Cotton.

Winter’s later recorded history is included on Disc 4 which chronicles his work for several labels including his excellent Alligator releases in the mid-eighties.  His production work with Muddy Waters in the late-seventies marked something of a turning-point and perhaps a realisation that Winter should follow his original blues-based calling.   On many of the subsequent recordings the Firebird was exchanged for the Resonator.

With a new generation of blues guitarists evident at the turn of the eighties (including Jeff Healey), Winter produced ‘Let Me In’ in 1991 which marks a return to the more commercial blues rock fusion he does so well, although only one track – ‘Illustrated Man’ – is included here.  This disc is rounded off with two more recent tracks featuring Derek Trucks which show that Winter’s slide playing has lost none of its cutting-edge.

There have been many compilations but this well packaged collection gives a more complete picture by including the later albums (although nothing from 2004′s ‘I’m A Bluesman’) and will suit those who are not that familiar with the guitarists’ recorded output over the years.  It strikes a sometimes difficult balance between the studio and the more incendiary live material, with some previously unreleased live material thrown in.

Mike Bloomfield’s words in 1968 still hold true.  In his seventieth year, Winter may well be mellowed but his legacy and influence remains as distinctive as his trademark flowing white hair.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.


The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 20 December., imbued with a festive flavour to raise the spirits

More about Josh:

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 December 2020 and announces the results of the Popular Poll for Best of 2020.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 20 December 2020 and includes Pete’s best of the year selections

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