"Born cross-eyed and albino, Johnny Winter (John Dawson Winter III) disregarded Mother Nature's unkindness to forge a career as one of the few great white blues-rockers."
I thought that this quote from The Johnny Winter Story website summed it up quite nicely.
I have not followed Johnny Winter's career as closely as I should have, although I did recently pick up the remarkable new legacy edition of Second Winter, which includes a Live At Royal Albert Hall 1970 bonus CD. MVD Visual's excellent new Live Through The '70s DVD is my next step towards redeeming this shameful oversight.
Live Through The '70s features some incredible archival footage of Winter performing at various TV shows and concert venues during his peak performing years of the 1970's. Interspersed between all of the different shows are segments from an interview Winter did on the Detroit Tubeworks TV show, with host Dennis Fawley, where all participants appeared to be gleefully stoned off their gourds.
At one point Winter goes off on an extended expose on how badly he wants to be able to levitate: "Can you imagine how cool it would be just to sit up there, just float around and play your guitar?" Yes I can Johnny, yes I can. This was almost as entertaining as the music.
The DVD begins with a three song Danish TV performance from 1970 that was filmed in some tiny, smoke-filled Danish club, and captures a young and energized Johnny Winter backed by his original rhythm section of Tommy Shannon on bass and Uncle John Turner on drums, as well as his brother Edgar on keyboards, drums, and sax. Although the video looked like standard TV fare for that era, the audio tracks were surprisingly clear and robust.
The performance features an amazing stripped-down version of "Frankenstein" that laid the foundation for the monstrous version that Edgar would make a #1 hit of in 1973. While Johnny hammers out the main riff on a barely distorted electric guitar, Edgar transitions from keyboards to percussion to partake in an extended drum dual with Uncle John Turner, of which a large part would be snagged for his famous 1973 version. A jaw-dropping performance of BB King's "Be Careful Of The Fool," along with a sax-driven "Drop The Bomb," round out this killer set, making it well worth the price of the DVD by itself.
Although the 1970 Royal Albert Hall footage captures Winter's emergence as a bonafide blues-guitar superstar, it is by far the worst quality recording on this DVD. It essentially looks like one of those old 8mm films, from the '60s, that your parents broke out during family reunions, but it was definitely still worth including on this DVD.
During one part of the Tubeworks interview, Winter launches into an impromptu jam on "Key To The Highway," inviting his bassist Randy Jo Hobbs, who had never heard of the song, to join him. It starts of kind of awkward as Hobbs slowly figures out the chords, but eventually turns into a fiery 9-minute jam.
The 1970 Beat Club, German TV performance finds Winter laying down some pretty mean slide-guitar during "Mean Town Blues." Unlike the Dutch TV performance, this one was performed on a sterile TV soundstage without an audience, but the audio was again impressive.
Don Kirshner's Rock Concert ran from 1973 to 1981 on American TV and was one of the only ways you could see a live concert performance on TV at the time. I remember, as a young kid, being completely intoxicated by the magical live performances I saw, the few times I managed to stay up that late and catch a show. Johnny Winter performed on one of the first shows back in 1973 and two songs, "Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo," and "Stone County," are shown here. Johnny looked larger than life dressed in a black suit, black top hat, giant platform shoes, and sporting a bushy white beard.
The 1974 Soundstage, Blues Summit footage from Chicago is probably the prize possession of this DVD considering that it features such legends as Michael Bloomfield, Dr. John, Buddy Miles, and Junior Wells all backing Johnny on a smoldering performance of "Walking Through The Park." Also from 1974 is a performance of "Boney Maroney," from the German TV show Musikladen, which was marred by some very jumpy camera work, and an annoying interruption by the host midway through the performance, but it was still an essential inclusion on this DVD.
In 1979 Winter appeared on the German music TV show Rockpalast where he performed a stunning two hour set. Unfortunately this DVD only includes his performances of "Walking By Myself," "Suzie Q," and a mind-bending, 17-minute, rendition of "Mississippi Blues." This is easily the best quality footage on the DVD, and it is a shame that this entire show could not have been included.
The audio and video quality were about what you would expect from a hodgepodge of 1970's footage collected mostly from TV show performances, but it was good enough to put a huge smile on my face. There were no extra features on the DVD, but a two-page insert is included that lists all of the songs and performers from each of the different shows. It also features a short essay by Dave Rubin of Guitar Edge Magazine.
Live Through The '70s captures one of the greatest white blues guitarists in his prime, and is a must have for any serious Johnny Winter fan.
1. Danish TV, Gladsaxe Teen Club, Denmark (1970):
"Frankenstein," "Be Careful Of The Fool," "Drop The Bomb"
2. Royal Albert Hall, London, U.K. (1970):
"Johnny B. Goode," "Talk To Your Daughter," "Tell The Truth"
4. Beat Club, Bremen, Germany (1970):
"Mean Town Blues"
4. Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Palace Theater, Waterbury, Connecticut (1973):
"Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo," "Stone County"
5. Soundstage, Blues Summit, Chicago (1974):
"Walking Through The Park"
6. Musikladen, Bremen, Germany (1974):
7. Rockpalast, Grugahalle, Essen, Germany (1979):
"Walking By Myself," "Mississippi Blues," "Suzie Q"