True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story (4 CD Box Set)
Review by David Bowling
Johnny Winter will celebrate his 70th birthday, February 23, 2014, and in recognition of that milestone, Columbia/Legacy will issue a career spanning, four CD box set that collects 56 tracks culled from 27 albums released on eight different labels, 1968-2011.
Johnny Winter has been a force of nature on the music scene for close to 50 years. His technique as a blues/rock guitarist is impeccable and his speed of play and aggressive nature have made him one of the best guitarists of the last two generations.
True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story not only chronicles his career but is a nice ride through the music and times of the last half-century.
The Johnny Winter story begins with two tracks from his long out-of-print 1969 Capital album, The Progressive Blues Experiment. “Bad Luck And Trouble” and “Mean Town Blues” catch the young Johnny Winter in the process of developing his signature style. It’s raw but glimpses of his talent are already apparent. Just a few months later he played at the Fillmore East with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and organist Al Kooper. Playing as an equal with Bloomfield is something very few guitarists were able to do but they roll through a 10 minute version of “It’s My Own Fault.”
When you reach the tracks taken from his classic Columbia albums; Johnny Winter, Second Winter, and Johnny Winter And; you find a fully developed artist with a unique style and sound. His classic take on Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” the guitar virtuosity of the live “Black Cat Bone” and “Johnny B Goode,” the fire of “Mean Mistreater,” and the slide guitar of “Dallas” are all dazzling examples of his skill.
Johnny Winter on stage is always a treat and his soloing on such tracks as “Good Morning Little School Girl,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and the previously unreleased “Eyesight To The Blind,” and “Prodigal Son” from his 1970 performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival do not disappoint.
His 1970’s albums Still Alive And Well and John Dawson Winter III find him moving closer to a harder rock sound. Backed by bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and drummer Richard Hughes; he ably fronts what would be considered a power trio with such tunes as “Rock & Roll,” “Bad Luck Situation,” “Rollin’ Cross The Country,” and “Bad Luck Situation.”
He has performed with many of the leading blues artists of the last century. The six minute live version of “I Done Got Over It” with Muddy Water and James Cotton is a lesson in old-style electric blues.
The box set comes to a fitting close with a live version of “Highway 61 Revisited” from Dylan’s 1993 30th Anniversary Concert and “Maybelline” and “Dust My Broom” from his 2011 album Roots. They prove that his skills have lost little with the passage of time.
The sound is excellent and the extensive liner notes provide a nice biography of his career and the music. All in all it adds up to one of the better compilation box sets of the past several years.