Thursday, July 17, 2014

Johnny Winter, RIP

Johnny Winter Dies At 70, Blues Legend Was On Tour In Europe:


It was easy to play the cynic when first confronted by the fact of Johnny Winter when he appeared on the national music  scene back in  in  1968. It was a an era where one of the ironic novelties that happened to be a money maker for record companies and concert promoters was white guys playing the blues. Bear in mind that it wasn't all a gimmick, as time has shown that some of the early Caucasians taking up the black man's art form     were legitimate contributors to the tradition. Still, it was a gimmick and it still was a money maker , a lure for the larger rock audience, and it was easy, too easy to dismiss Winter as a contrived, the ultimate White Guy Playing the Blues, an albino. This had the makings of an Al Capp caricature. And then there was the witnessing, the revelation.

 I saw Johnny Winter at the Detroit Rock and Roll revival at the Michigan State Fair Grounds in Detroit at about 1969, and what he did was transcendent; vicious, slashing slide guitar, fast, fluid , wickedly insinuating slow blues, manically accelerated boogie and shuffles where his swarming notes attacked from all sides and showed a musician who had learned his lessons from the master guitarists he learned from--T Bone Walker, Freddie King, Elmore James--and combined it with the volume and electronics of rock and roll and in doing so made it his own. Winter was singular in his devotion to blues and roots music, he had an    aesthetic that basically to serve up music that was raw, honest, unadorned, the basic elements for his guitar work, which     was, often times, simply stunning its speed,  rawness, the occasional bit of delicacy .

 And always, its ability to channel emotion , to lift the spirit from the greatest pain, to make you want to dust yourself off and pick up a guitar, a harmonica, to sit behind the drum set and get into the groove. Yes, Johnny Winter could play the guitar, that was all he had to do. Few ever did it so well and I doubt very much few will ever match him as a distinct voice in a    genre where duplication of traditional licks is the norm. Johnny, thank you.

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