He's never been widely acknowledged as being in the same league as the Big Three–Clapton, Beck, Page–but anyone who's followed the career of Johnny Winter knows that he totally deserves to be included among the world's greatest living rock guitarists.
I remember first getting turned on to Winter via the Live Johnny Winter And album of '71, which saw him joined by guitarist Rick Derringer on blues standards such as "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and rockers like "Johnny B. Goode" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash". The first big concert I didn't go to occured around 1975, when Winter was playing the Pacific Coliseum at the height of his rock popularity. A few buddies from Chilliwack Senior High made the trek, but for some reason I jammed out. Hard to believe considering Black Oak Arkansas were also on the bill. "Go Jim Dandy, go Jim Dandy!"
I finally got to see Winter when he started regularly playing the Commodore Ballroom in the mid-'80s, touring behind Alligator Records releases like Serious Business and Third Degree, and at the time I believe he was playing a headless Lazer guitar, having moved on from the Gibson Firebird he was known for. Either way, man, he was smokin'!
But not all the time. Johnny lost something after 1992's Hey, Where's Your Brother?—a reference to his younger brother Edgar of "Frankenstein" fame—and the last time I saw him at the Commodore, ten years or so ago, he was in terrible shape, flubbing notes and singing off key. But more recently he's made a comeback healthwise, and when he played the Yale a couple of years back he was in much better form, especially when he pulled out a slide for his rollicking rendition of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited". Afterwards impressed fans queued up alongside his RV to score autographs, and though he wasn't meeting anyone in person, I was still thrilled to get his John Henry on my prized vinyl copy of Still Alive and Well.
It's hard to say for sure how the 66-year-old Winter will perform when he plays North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre on September 16—tix $48.50 at 604-984-4484—but even if he's not up to snuff there's a good chance his opening act, Nanaimo's David Gogo, will be.
For a taste of Winter in his prime, here's a cool video from '71 in which he casually shows his former bassist, Randy Jo Hobbs, how to play the Big Bill Broonzy classic, "Key to the Highway".