Johnny Winter: The Woodstock Experience
(Columbia / Legacy)
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2009, Volume 16, #10
Written by John Metzger
Wed October 28, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Johnny Winterís performance at Woodstock was as overlooked then as it is now. He lacked the name recognition of Jefferson Airplane, and he never found fame as great as Santana. Likewise, his unabashedly straightforward approach left no room for gimmicks, such as Country Joe McDonaldís "F-U-C-K" cheer, which has been etched in stone for decades, even though it also has mutated from an act of rebellion into a farcical moment of novelty. Still, itís quite clear that when he took the stage in Bethel, New York in August 1969, Winterís star was on the rise.
There is no denying the fact that the dirty truth about Woodstock has long been clouded by the utopian ideals that have since been projected onto the event. To put it bluntly, Woodstock was designed with capitalism in mind. Like many of the artists on the bill, Winterís appearance was intended to elevate his profile and plug his new albums. His blues-soaked, self-titled debut for Columbia had been issued in June, and his rock ínĎ roll-infused sophomore set Second Winter was being readied for release in October. Winter, then, was flying high as he parlayed his youthful exuberance into a forceful, sonic assault.
It didnít matter whether Winter was barreling through J.B. Lenoirís Mama, Talk to Your Daughter or stampeding through Chuck Berryís Johnny B. Goode. All of the tunes that he tackled at Woodstock collectively exhibited an off-the-cuff quality that was as raucous and raw as a bar band with everything to prove. Not only did Winter combine the urban grit of Chicago with the eerie, rural holler of Texas, but with help from his brother Edgar, he also spiked his headstrong concoction with southern-fried boogie beats, jazzy textures, and swinging R&B grooves.
At times, Winterís freewheeling, take-no-prisoners approach inevitably devolved into the monotonous, impromptu flurries of his egotistical improvisations. His flashy technique may have been dazzling, but the momentum of Mean Town Blues was severely deflated when his backing band faded from the picture. In a similar fashion, the steamy heat of J.D. Loudermilkís Tobacco Road was undercut by its extended segment of scat singing.
For the most part, however, drummer John Turner and bass player Tommy Shannon leant Winter exactly the kind of support he needed by altering the scenery that unfurled behind their front manís stinging lead. On Leland Mississippi Blues, for example, Turner and Shannon accented Winterís explosive outbursts of guitar with well-timed cymbal crashes and peals of rolling-thunder bass. Elsewhere, augmented by Edgar Winter, the collective transformed Bo Diddleyís I Canít Stand It into a Muddy Waters-inspired stomp.
The highlight, however, undeniably was Winterís stirring rendition of B.B. Kingís You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now. Although it began as a solo showcase for Winter, the tune soon evolved into a slowly smoldering emotional outpouring that trekked through the heart of the bluesí urban revival. In one fell swoop, Winter traced an arc across several generations of musicians ó from Robert Johnsonís tortured backwoods howl to the amplified essence of í60s revivalists such as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Cream. Winter would soon expand his horizons and embrace a different persona, one that was dominated by rock ínĎ roll, but the exploration of old blues songs was always his true passion. Itís no wonder he sounds so at home here. He succumbed to the music and stopped trying to be anything more than a conduit for the sources of his inspiration.
Of Further Interest...
Johnny Winter: The Woodstock Experience is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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