30 years ago today: Johnny Winter rips it up at the Commodore Ballroom

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      Thirty years ago today--on September 18, 1987--legendary guitarist Johnny Winter played the Commodore Ballroom.

      I remember cramming up to the front of the stage, on the venue's then-bouncy dancefloor, to see the albino bluesman rip it up.

      Here's my original review which, I gotta admit, isn't nearly as impressive as the photo of Johnny taken by then-Georgia Straight managing editor Charles Campbell.


      Texas is famous for a few things. Lonestar beer. Redneck sheriffs. The Dallas Cowboys. It’s also famous for an albino guitarist named Johnny Winter, who grew up in Beaumont, Texas, with a keyboard whiz brother named Edgar. When Johnny was just 15, the two released their first single, “Schoolboy Blues”, and the stage was set for Johnny to become one of the most prominent white blues players in the U.S.

      He may not sell as many records or draw the crowds that fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan does, but you gotta remember–before Stevie Ray could even copy the Ventures‘ “Pipeline”, Johnny was knocking people dead with lightning fast blues licks and searing slide guitar.

      And he was doing just that at the Commodore last Friday (September 18) too. After a well-received opening set by local party band The Fins, Winter took to the stage in his trademark black cowboy hat, jeans, and a sleeveless jean jacket that revealed arms full of fancy tattoos. Johnny headed straight into a rockin’ 12-bar blues jam, with just a drummer and bassist-harp player providing the backdrop for his speed-demon riffs. Winter may have the fastest right thumb in rock, and when you buy a ticket to one of his shows, you get every nickel’s worth of notes.

      For his second selection, Johnny went all the way back to 1945 for Bill Broonzy’s “Rock Me Baby”, a tune he also covered on the excellent Still Alive and Well album of ’73. After a few more blues-drenched numbers he pulled out his trusty Gibson Explorer and reached into his pocket to snag a slide for “Shake Your Moneymaker”.

      Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie” had the sellout crowd bellowing for more of the same, and he gave it to them with his famous rendition of “Johnny B. Goode”, the same one that made me wear out my copy of the landmark Johnny Winter And Live LP.

      For his encore Johnny played another cut from Still Alive and Well, his version of the Stones’ “Let It Bleed”. “Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo” would have been a nice finisher as well, but nobody was asking for a refund.