Johnny Winter's First Winter (The Original Album)
LP: Buddah Records BDS 7513
Sitting in the darkness of The Fillmore East watching a musician perform in the warmly lit halo of the stage, I have often thought that the experience must be visually and emotionally similar to what the apostles perceived looking up on the mount to see Jesus nailed to the cross. After all, rock concerts are religious experiences and today's rock musicians and audience vie with the church in the regalness of their robes and mystical trappings. But whatever my own magical perceptions, I can still remember the earthy reality of Johnny Winter Walking onto the Fillmore stage for the first time.
His set came between the enthusiasm of Terry Reid and the blues mastery of B. B. King. As he began to play I wondered how similar his sound might be to that accomplished by an IBM computer playing a fifty string guitar. I guess I'll never know. The rest of the audience wasn't even considering my fantasy for their rapt attention and quick erection into a standing ovation formation showed how clearly they were concentrating on Winter's guitar virtuosity.
Not long after that concert Columbia Records signed Johnny Winter and almost before you could say, "1-4-5", the first Johnny Winter album was released by Imperial. I think, probably, everyone was a little taken aback. Here was a white blues guitarist who had a past. Man, he'd been kicking the blues around for more than the ten minutes prior to his going onstage.
As near as I can tell, everyone survived, the Columbia Winter album came out with a follow-up Ip from GRT. Sure the traffic was a little hectic, but, as I said, Johnny Winter has been playing for more than the last ten minutes.
Which brings me to the album you're holding.
Some of you may remember hark to the days of "She's About A Move" and the honky tonk hardwood floor sound of The Sir Douglas Quintet in the era when a hit record meant you got to appear on "Shindig". Well, the man who produced that country and western pop-rock sound was Huey Meaux. I became friends with Huey through an album called "The Best Of The Sir Douglas Quintet" on Tribe Records. The music was earthy yet appealing to my sense of the melodically commercial. It had a beat, was exciting, and I knew my milkman could whistle it if he had a mind to.
This album is also the work of Meaux. Recorded in the days when The Beatles were being discovered for America by Time Magazine, the sound is Johnny Winter in a country and western pop-rock commercial mood. The blues is there, the guitar and voice are also present, but there is that little extra polish which pleases me to no end. That polish glistens in my ears as something which is the result of a variety of experiences, Winter's, Meaux's, and the public's.
The rock press and rock people in general have become suspicious of labels, to them a car is a car even if it is a '49 Ford and music is music even if it is country and western pop-rock. So I won't attempt to define where cuts like "Birds Can't Row Boats" and "Bad News" go. I'll just tell you what they do for me, tick me over better than a cold bowl of raisin bran.
If you have some faith left in liner notes, I have a message for you. This Johnny Winter album is more than a historical study of a musician and producer working something out. It is an enjoyable album with some fine blues, some real rock and roll, and some of that honky tonk hardwood feeling I was talking about before. Sometimes Johnny gets on a Don Covay double tracking harmony kick and some -times I hear Roy Head doing "Treat Her Right", but when I've been through all eleven sides I admire Johnny Winter more than I did
when Rolling Stone rather innocently exposed him to his recently erect audience.
I played this album for my old lady the other day, she was uptight because here was another album that wasn't on Columbia, but when she got finished listening she said that she liked it. I think it will do you the same way. Richard Robinson