Johnny Winter

 

Nothing But The Blues was recording in 1977 back-to-back with the Muddy Waters’ backing band when he was recording under Blue Sky of CBS when Johnny Winter acted as producer (for details see Muddy Waters’ Hard Again). The same star-studded backing musicians in Muddy’s band were all here : Willie “Big” Eye Smith on drums, James Cotton on Blues harp, “Pine Top” Perkins on piano, Bob Margolin on guitar and Charles Calmese on bass.

The music on Nothing But The Blues was loose at times and frantic at others, it was hard and harsh down home Chicago Blues. The session sounded as if it was recorded in a tin shack and added to overall feel of the session. This was the first time Johnny Winter really went back to his Blues roots and recorded his first real Blues recording. Before this session, most of Johnny Winter’s recordings under Columbia were Rock oriented (undoubted under pressure of the record company) and the odd Blues track was thrown in for good measure. You always feel the odd Blues track was always the highlight of the albums. But on Nothing But The Blues, there was no such pretence, Johnny just played straight Blues, this was really nothing but the Blues.

Johnny Winter has been accused, not entirely without justification, of over-playing at times. But on this session, Johnny simply tidied up his act and put the songs instead of his guitar in the forefront. There were plenty of spectacular solos, but you don’t get the feeling that the vocals were another excuse for another non-stop guitar solos. The playing of Johnny Winter was more controlled and focused than ever. Part of that can be explained I believe by the presence of Blues giants like “Pine Top” Perkins, James Cotton and Muddy Waters. After all, those were some of the giants who inspired Johnny Winter.

The guitar of Johnny Winter was simply magnificent on this session. For shuffle to 8 beat, from standard tuning to slide guitar in open tuning, slow to upbeat tempo, Johnny Winter demonstrated what guitar player he is. Listen to Everybody’s Blues and It Was Raining, endless Blues licks just rained down effortlessly. T.V. Mama just sounded mean and dirty and the slide guitar churns and turns your stomach. Johnny Winter’ singing was spot on. To me, this is the most balanced Blues recording made by Johnny Winter.

Johnny Winter is one the best Blues players around for many years but ironically he never received the recognition and credit that he deserves . More people know about Gary Moore and thought Gary Moore was a Blues guitarist when in fact he is nothing but a Rock guitarist pretending to play Blues. Eric Clapton’s insipid From The Cradle probably sold more copies than all of Johnny Winter’s Blues records put together. Nothing But The Blues may not be the best introduction to Johnny Winter for someone trying to get into the Blues, it is not easy-listening like From The Cradle or B.B. King and Eric Clapton’s Riding With The King. But at least it is not sugar-coated, it wasn’t made for the purpose of mass consumption, it was simply the Blues, music from the heart and soul.

 

Johnny Winter recorded three albums in the 1980’s with Alligator Records ; Guitar Slinger, Serious Business and 3rd Degree. They were all great straight-ahead Blues recordings. You will hear more guitars on any of these than on Nothing But The Blues. They are great if you are guitar player as there is always an element of academic interest in trying find out how on earth Johnny Winter come up with so many tasty licks just on the Blues scale and major pentatonic scale. Nonetheless, in terms of focus and atmosphere and feel, Nothing But The Blues is better. But I highly recommend Guitar Singer and 3rd Degree to anyone who has never heard any Johnny Winter. I should mention that the rhythm section on Gutiar Slinger was absolutely swinging. The bass and drums were one of the best units in Blues. The simple bass line, the no-frills drums provided a thumping steady backdrop. The simplicity was enough drive anyone crazy. On drums was Casey Jones, on bass was Johnny B. Gaydon.

Johnny Winter has released a few live recordings throughout the years : Johnny Winter Live, Together, Captured Live, Live in NYC 97. They are all great releases. There is one lesser know recording of Johnny Winter recorded live which is available that is simply magnificent and that is Johnny Winter Live In Houston 1969. The guitar solos on Walking By Myself, Mother Earth and Johnny Be. Good just blow you top. The cover below is the Japanese P-Vine release of Johnny Winter Live in Houston 1969. The recording was also released by Relix Records under the name of Johnny Winter Walking By Myself.

 

Live in Houstin 1969

 

Together is another great recording. It featured Johnny Winter playing with is borther Edgar Winter recorded live at the Swing Auditorium and San Diego Sports Arena in around in 1976 (or what is 1977?). There were two drummers on stage and Johnny and Edger did a cracking verison of Jimmy Reed's Baby Whatcha Want Me To Do.

Together

 

There is an unoffical release of a show Johnny Winter did at at Central Park, New York City on 27th July, 1980. Man, if you want to know what Johnny Winter is called "the solo machine", just listen to this recording. Non-stop Blues licks, lightning fast runs all based on the Blues Scale and Major Pentatonic Scale. The licks Johnny came up with on these two scales just knock you out flat. How can anyone make so much, squeeze so much variety out of these two simple scales is beyond me. But all the runs and licks are Blues licks, just how the hell he did it, I don't know. He is just mad as a hatter. The show was actually broadcasted on the radio.

Blues Tattoo

Johnny Winter never seems to find commercial success and he has never been given half the credit that is due to him for broadening the horizon of Blues music. Stardom seems as elusive as ever. But to those who are into his music, he is simply one of the best electric Blues player in Blues history. Johnny Winter is not everyone’s cup of tea, but his playing is simply magic. No one can play the simple Blues scale like him, no one can conjure up some many tasteful licks from the Blues scale and the major Pentatonic scale like him. Magical licks seems to flow endless from his finger tips. He can playing lightning fast, but he has soul and feel. He is the real Blues solo machine, and Johnny Winter is the Blues.

 

The Blues solo machine