ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 23, 2004
By Steve Newton
The saddest thing I think I’ve ever seen on-stage was Johnny Winter‘s performance at the Commodore Ballroom a few years back. In his heyday, the albino blues-rocker was an absolutely amazing guitarist–easily up there with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan–and a growly-voiced singer with passion and soul to burn.
But that night his once-fleet fingers were flubbing notes left and right, and it looked as though the mere effort of singing was causing him physical pain. He was clearly ill and should never have been up there. I left after five songs, went home, and blasted his Still Alive and Well CD of ’73 in a vain attempt to purge the disturbing image from my mind.
Judging by the sound of I’m a Bluesman–Winter’s first collection of new material in nearly eight years–he’s still on a decidedly downward slide. There are no obviously botched guitar licks, and he’s accompanied by some sturdy backup players, including former Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans on one track, but you don’t pick up a Johnny Winter CD to hear run-of-the-mill boogie arrangements sung without fire and conviction.
Time has taken a severe toll on the 60-year-old artist, and that’s all there is to it.
The good news is that thanks to the wonders of digital technology, the righteous music of Winter in his prime is sounding better than ever. Check out the new reissue, on Legacy Recordings, of his stellar, self-titled 1969 debut. It features guest appearances by Willie Dixon, Walter “Shakey” Horton, and younger brother Edgar Winter and sports two versions of Johnny’s signature slide-guitar opus, “Dallas”.
Now, that’s a bluesman.