The Johnny Winter Story

Johnny Winter's Progressive Blues Experiment / Austin Texas

Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter's Progressive Blues Experiment / Austin Texas

Most Johnny Winter Fans consider "The Progressive Blues Experiment" one of Johnny Winter's best albums if not the best.

Originally "The Progressive Blues Experiment" was recorded on the Sonobeat label during October 1968 and the rights were obtained by Imperial which released the album in March 1969, just before Johnny released his self-titled (aka Black Album) in April 1969.

 

 

In 1968, Johnny began playing in a trio with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner. Their shows at Austin's Vulcan Gas Company and Houston's Love Street Light Circus, attracted the attention of a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, who had been writing an article about the Texas hippie scene.

The author devoted three paragraphs to Johnny, whom he referred to as "the hottest item outside of Janis Joplin". The article brought nation wide attention to the album "The Progressive Blues Experiment", a collection of songs that Johnny's trio had recorded live at the Vulcan Gas Company, which was quickly picked up for national release by Imperial.

Johnny Winter had grown up in Beaumont, Texas, and recorded many records for local labels in the early '60s, but real success had eluded him. In 1968 he decided to try the blossoming hippie scene in Austin with at a hard-driving blues/rock band called simply "Winter", Tommy Shannon and John Turner supplied the backing and the group played many shows around town.

Bill Josey heard of this terrific band and in checking with Johnny found he was free of contracts. Josey immediately signed him to a short term deal and recorded several tracks at the Vulcan Gas Co.. A single was released, #197 "Mean Town Blues/Rollin' N' Tumblin'", but other people were amazed by this incredible guitar player and the Johnny Winter publicity campaign started rolling.

Rolling Stone did a story on Texas that featured Johnny (Larry Sepulvado of Mother Magazine wrote quite a bit of that Texas issue for R.S.). Steve Paul, of NYC, got interested and put Winter under an exclusive management contract, then the record company bidding began. Meanwhile Sonobeat pressed up a couple hundred demo LPs of "Winter" and passed them around.

Some were sold thr0ugh local stores and the mail, but it was a simple white jacket advance album designed to stir up record company interest. After the dust had settled, Johnny was with Columbia and the Sonobeat LP had been bought by United Artists. It was issued on Imperial as "The Progressive Blues Experiment" and several years later reissued on UA as "Johnny Winter -- Austin, Texas"

 

Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter

Photos from the back cover, click on the thumbnails of Johnny Winter to see the full size high quality photos

Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
The Progressive Blues Experiment (PBE) and related albums/recordings

12" LP Vinyl Record Releases

Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Imperial LP-12431, note the Imperial logo in the bottom left corner.
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Liberty LBS 83240 , note the Liberty logo in the bottom left corner. Note at at least two different label prints exist.
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Liberty LBS 83240 UK Blue label pressing
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Sunset 50 264 (UK)
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Sunset 50 301 (France)
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Sunset 50 301 (France) Actually the title of this album has been mistitled as "Progressive Blues"
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Sonobeat RS-1002 Progressive Blues Experiment: advance copy of the LP Release (very rare)

 

Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Toshiba LP-8706 White Label Promo of the Progressive Blues Experiment . Test pressing in black vinyl
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
Toshiba LP-8706 This is a rare release of the Progressive Blues Experiment in Japan on Red Vinyl.
Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter
MACH 7 DMM Direct Metal Mastering version, Rock Machine Johnny Winter with Fender Mustang on the front cover of: Progressive Blues Experiment from England.
Johnny Winter Austin Texas

TOCP-7069 Johnny Winter Austin Texas

Liner noted by: Lester Bange - CREEM Magazine

Album cover photography by Robert Failla, Rainbow

7" LP Vinyl Single Releases

This is the list of 7" Vinyl singles which have been released with tracks from the Progressive Blues Experiment recordings. Detailed descriptions of each of these singles can be found the in "Singles Section"

Sonobeat Progressive Blues Experiment on Sonobeat Progressive Blues Experiment on Sonobeat Progressive Blues Experiment on Sonobeat
Imperial    
Liberty
  Johnny Winter Rare Japanese EP      

Liner notes from CD release

The liner notes of the CD-release of The Progressive Blues Experiment

Give the press a lead on an up-and-coming blues musician who isn't black, and you can be sure that someone, somewhere is going to use the phrase 'Great white hope'. And, to be fair, it's hard to resist it when your up-and-comer is Johnny Winter, whose whiter shade of pale is the first thing you notice about him. Until he starts playing, that is. Then, the only thing that strikes you that has anything to do with colour is how naturally this man turns blue.

The blues was not exactly in the doldrums in the late '60s, but it was hardly a booming business. The time was ripe for new heroes, and during the winter of 1968-69 Rolling Stone devoted at least two articles to placing bets on one such. In a feature on Texas music, Larry Sepulvado and John Burks invited the magazine's readers to 'imagine a 130-pound cross-eyed albino bluesman with long fleecy hair playing some of the gutsiest blues guitar you have ever heard,' a trailer that hauled the 24-year-old Johnny Winter to prestigious New York gigs and lengthy contractual negotiations as several labels scuffled to sign him.

CBS won and his debut album, simply called Johnny Winter, arrived in the spring of '69, sparking a long fuse of gigs that ended in explosive summer performances at Woodstock and Detroit's Motor City Rock Festival. Over the next five years Johnny Winter's records and appearances would establish him as one of the biggest draws on the blues-rock circuit. After several gear-changes and some stops on the road, not to say crashes, he still commands a substantial fanbase and his career is carefully charted at at least one extensive website.

Just before the 'official' debut album hit the shops, another piece of Johnny Winter's work was exhibited by Imperial Records: an album he had made earlier for a small Texas label, Sonobeat, under the provocative title The Progressive Blues Experiment. Although the CBS release occupied most of the fierce spotlight that was being trained upon Winter, and prompted even hardline critics like Blues Unlimited's Mike Leadbitter to call him 'the best male, white blues guitarist there ever was', some reviewers - among them Rolling Stone's Pete Welding - preferred the rawer production of the Imperial set, and it has continued to find admirers ever since. 'As murky as hell but fresh and powerful in approach,' wrote Charles Shaar Murray recently. And here it is again.

It's Johnny Winter's earliest album as such, but by no means his first recording: he'd been in that game since his mid-teens. Born in 1944, he grew up partly in his father's hometown of Leland, Mississippi, and partly in his mothers, the Texas Gulf Coast city of Beaumont. As a youngster he played clarinet, then ukulele, before taking up guitar. With his three-years-younger brother Edgar he had a preteen group modelled on the Everly Brothers, then in high school in Beaumont they formed Johnny & The Jammers, with Edgar playing keyboards, and recorded a rock 'n' roll single, 'School Day Blues', for the Dart label, which got them some attention. Johnny quit technical college to go into music fulltime, and for most of the next ten years he was in and out of studios in Houston and Beaumont, making singles for local labels under a variety of names, or playing guitar on sessions with other artists - blues, R&B, rockabilly, pop, whatever.

Meanwhile the club work went on and on, sometimes in white joints, sometimes black. Johnny had loved blues since he was a kid, had hung out with Beaumont's Clarence Garlow, of 'Bon Ton Roule( fame, and had spent some time visiting the blues clubs in Chicago, and he took every opportunity of playing both with local black artists and with visiting out-of-towners like Jimmy Reed. Johnny & The Jammers were transformed into other entities: around '65/'66, they were Johnny Winter & The Black Plague, wearing black, playing in black light.

By '67 'Uncle John' Turner was in place as the group's drummer, and soon afterwards Tommy Shannon (later a charter member of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble) joined on bass: this is the rhythm section heard on The Progressive Blues Experiment. The album was recorded at the Vulcan Gas Company, a club in Austin, Texas, in 1967 or '68. Though a version has circulated with crowd-noise on it, implying a live recording, the original tapes, as heard here, indicate that the only audience in the club was the guys doing the recording.

The influence of Muddy Waters (whom Winter would later produce, in a fine series of albums for Blue Sky) hangs over the proceedings like a dark blue cloud, from the opening 'Rollin' and Tumblin" through the tribute track - actually 'Still a Foot, Muddy's take on 'Catfish Blues' -to the acoustic 'Bad Luck and Trouble', which is pretty plainly modelled on Muddy's early sides with Little Walter. On this track Johnny plays the harmonica and mandolin as well as the National steel guitar. The National is also heard on 'Broke Down Engine', where Johnny seems to apply the style of Robert Johnson to a theme by Blind Willie McTell. 'I Got Love If you Want It' came from Slim Harpo, 'Help Me' from Sonny Boy Williamson II, 'It's My Own Fault' from B.B. King and 'Forty-Four' from Howlin' Wolf.' Mean Town Blues' uses the riff from Slim Harpo's 'Shake your Hips' - or Little Junior Parker's 'Feelin' Good', or John Lee Hooker's 'Boogie Chillun', take your pick. Johnny sounds as if he has Hooker in mind: listen to his guitar solo, especially the passage from 1.52 onwards.

But the sources of Johnny Winter's material are much less the point than the skill with which he shifts his technical gears, from the throbbing slide lines of the Muddy tracks, through those Hookeresque chords, to the lissom single-string picking of 'It's My Own Fault'. 'In my own mind, I was the best white blues player around,' he would say later. A lot of white players have corne down the blues highway in the last 30 years. Some of them, no doubt, have had chops to rival his. But how many of them give you live blues action as incandescent as this?
Tony Russell July 1999

Producer: Bill Josey and Rim Kelley
Recorded: Vulcan Gas Company nightclub, Austin Texas 1967.

Original album liners: Winter is hard and heavy in his hypnotic blues bag. Before the recording session, there was Johnny Winter and his guitar. During the session, Johnny became the guitar.

Vulcan Gas Company 

 

The Progressive Blues Experiment has been released at six times. One of them being Austin Texas

Austin Texas: this album has the same tracks as "The progressive blues experiment. UAR united artists records-produced by Bill Josey & Rim Kelley.

It has the Rollin' Stone famous article in the back.

Tom mentions: Progressive Blues Experiment. That album started out as a promotional only LP on Sonobeat records in 1968. There were about 125 copies pressed, with plain white covers adorning 4 rubber stamps saying The Progressive Blues Experiment, Winter, Sonobeat Stereo, and Advance Copy. On the first 100, a number appeared in hand written felt tip by Advance copy stamp. The remaining 20 or so were not numbered. I don't know if any one out there has had records pressed, but they usually run about 10% more than the number pressed, to allow for pressing mistakes, ie; no label on one side, handling error, pressing flaws (the first couple of copies) etc..

So the customer gets 100 good copies, and they usually ship everything and let the customer decide what is good. This does differ from the amount stated on the Sonobeat site, which says "a couple hundred". Regardless, no numbered copy has ever been found over 100, and the un-numbered copies are far more rare. This rare promo lp was done to try and finally get Johnny discovered. Although it had a few copies distributed around Texas for sale, the single put out was the only thing intended for commercial consumption.

The original single actually had a picture sleeve. In fact 2 different versions, one has a head shot of Johnny on the front and a white back. The other has the same head shot on the front, and film strip like shots on the back. Too small to really see, and I am told Johnny abandoned the rear cover photos because he could not see them at all. One thing is certain, far less of either version of the picture sleeve survived than the album. I was told the film strip rear cover was a prototype, and Johnny canned it.


 

A 60 second commercial with Johnny Winter for the release of the progressive blues experiment is available on a vinyl single.

Photographer Burton Wilson on the Vulcan Gas Company


Review of PBE, most likely from New Musical Express (Germany) 1979

Progressive Blues Experiment Johnny Winter

JOHNNY WINTER: "The Progressive Blues Experiment" (Sunset). Nice one, Andrew Lauder. This is an elderly goodie which has been deleted for far too long, and now, thanks to LIA"s A & R department, you can now purchase it at an absurdly low price. This was recorded one night down at the Vulcan Gas Company, a club in Austin.

It's really a live album without an audience, because apart from the two acoustic tracks, it has a sweaty, intense feel, just like a young band blowing for the hell of it, rather than a bunch of seasoned superstars doing their greatest hits for the 14th time. The rhythm section are Red Turner (drums) and Tommy Shannon (bass), who also played on "Johnny Winter" and "Second Winter" before being discarded in favour of Rick Derringer et al, and they cook, despite being some-what limited.

But then the material on this album is 100 per cent blues, and within that framework they do it just fine. The great thing about Winter is that though his work was as deeply felt and finely crafted as even the most demanding listener could demand from a white bluesman, he really rocked out. His music always had all the depth and emotional power of good blues, but he played it with all the high-energy freneticism and drive that is inseparable from the essence of rockanroil.

Just listen to his work on "Help Me" ' "Black Cat Bone", "Got Love If You Want It" or "Forty-Four" for a taste of what I mean. Or try "Tribute To Muddy", "It's My Own Fault" or "Broke Down Engine for some cooler blues. "Broke Down Engine" is, in fact, an old Robert Johnson number, played on a steel-bodied National acoustic, as is "Bad Luck And Trouble but in the album's sole lapse of taste, Winter has cluttered things up somewhat by over-dubbing immaculately played but totally superfluous mandolin and harmonica parts.

But no matter. "The Progressive Blues Experiment" is a great album at any price, and at budget rates it's a steal.
Charles Shaar Murray

 

See: The early years as well as the Johnny Winter Story's ImperalSingles Section as well as the Liberty Singles section

See also all the lyrics of this album.

Reviews

Rolling Stone 19-Apr-1969, p.28
"...There's an urgency and bite to every track...As an electric guitarist, Winter is explosive, fluid, percussive, and driving..."

NME 17 Feb 1973:
"This as recorded one night down at the Vulcan Gas Company, a club in Austin. It's really a live album without an audience, because apart from the two acoustic tracks, it has a sweaty, intense feel, just like a young band blowing for the hell of it, rather than a bunch of seasoned superstars doing their greatest hits for the 14th time."

This CD issue of an Imperial album is one of Winter's best, with Tommy Shannon on bass and Red Turner on drums. It includes "Black Cat Bone, " "It's My Own Fault, " "Rollin' and Tumblin', " "Mean Town Blues" and six other tracks. Check this out -- it's a great album. --

Roundup Newsletter

  1. Rollin' And Tumblin'
  2. Tribute To Muddy
  3. I Got Love If You Want It
  4. Bad Luck And Trouble
  5. Help Me
  6. Mean Town Blues
  7. Broke Down Engine
  8. Black Cat Bone
  9. It's My Own Fault
  10. Forty-Four

Wednesday 30 April 1969 Oakland Tribune , Teen Age!

A lengthy review of the "Progressive Blues Experiment" by Michael Joseph Heinrich

The transcript of this review

Today's column is by Michael Joseph Heinrich, a senior at Encinal High in Alameda. Readers are invited to submit reviews of pop albums to the column each week_ Those whose columns are published each receive a copy of a recently released stereo pop album. Address all correspondence to: "Guest Album," Teen Age, Oakland Tribune. P.O. Box 509, Oak-land, 94604.

Johnny Winter was once referred to as "the ultimate white bluesman" — he's an albino — but perhaps the statement is not without other motivation. Winter is an excellent performer; however, this Liberty re-release only hints at his talent. "The Progressive Blues Experiment" was recorded about a year ago in Austin, Texas.

 

The sound is hazy. the blend could be better, and Winter's two sidemen are just barely competent. Winter himself keeps his vocals well in control, with good phrasing for the most part, and his guitar work is impressive save for one fault: Winter may start a phrase on his guitar 'way up on the neck, playing little whining notes, then work all the way down to the bottom, then bang, suddenly he's right back up on top again. It's a very unnerving thing, one that gives a feeling of dis-continuity. Nonetheless, Winter is a masterful guitarist, and even in view of the poor acoustics of the LP, it's a good idea to pick up on it.

The set has good things, bad things, all kinda funny stuff, but they should be experienced as an essential part of the fabric of the blues. Examining individual cuts:
"Rollin' & Tumblin' " leads off the album; it's been done many times before, but it's , still fresh here, and the track establishes two things about the set: one, the similarity in atmosphere to a live performance, and two, Winter's ability to breathe new life into a song you've heard over and over. He plays a very solid slide guitar here, a style which can also emphasize percussion as well as chording. "Tribute to Muddy" is a retitled and slightly altered "Two Trains Running." another song we've all heard at least once.

It's done in a slow 6-8 time, with the beat just driving on and on. and Johnny's guitar shin-as usual. It's paradoxical, listening to Winter's style_ He's lifting riffs from all the blues before him, and you think, "Him, I've heard Eric Clap tan doing that... " while Clapton probably lifted it at the same time — he just got it on record first. Winter often sings in unison to his guitar lines; it certainly leaves no doubt as to who's playing guitar. "Got Love if You Want It" sounds like a Magic Sam song — good for dancing, fun to listen to. It leads into "Bad Luck & Trouble," a rural blues multi-tracked by Johnny on guitar, mandolin, and harmonica.

The effect is crowded, cluttered, like three individuals sitting around working out for their own pleasure. It doesn't make for the greatest music. "Help Me" is done surprisingly close to the way Cream might have done it. The guitar dominates the track, right to the end. Then the guitar work really comes across on "Mean Town Blues," Winter's strongest original in this set. The rhythm is heavily syncopated, pushing forward all the time — the break goes just about as far as possible playing straight slide style. "Broke Down Engine" is a hard-four blues with just Johnny and his righteous old National The mood is light, both in lyric (" . . . You're like a broke down engine, mama — ain't got no drivin' wheel . ") and in music: Winter constantly breaks tempo and meter to get in another line or two on his guitar before the lyric comes around, showing a rare lack of reliance on musical rules in the form of a crutch.

There's nothing that livens up a set like a good workout on "Dust My Broom" or the like, and "Black Cat Bone" backs that up beautifully. Winter plays his Elmore James thing meticulously, and the song rolls along — far too swiftly for my taste. "It's My Own Fault" is the slow blues of the set; more or less like any good slow blues, but here it's apparent more than any other place on the album that the band needs another guitarist to fill the gaps left by the guitarist's breaks: They sound awfully thin. "Forty-Four" starts out a lot like a Jimi Hendrix song, and the feeling sometimes peeps out throughout the cut. In view of all that went before it. the cut was a weak choice with which to close the album. that's Johnny Winter's first LP. It's refreshing, tiring, promising, exciting, and just a little down-homish, and if you think you can catch it better yourself at the Fillmore with your t w o -tr ack Sony, fine. The all-important thing is to hear Winter. He's well worth it now, and is probably getting. heavier every day.

9 August 1969 Oakland Tribune

The Progressive Blues Experiment is reviews as Guest Album by Frits Kuder

Fritz Kuder of Danville reviews Johnny Winter's new album in today's column. Readers are invited to submit reviews of their favorite albums and interviews with pop music entertainers to the column each week. Those whose columns are published will each receive a copy of a recently released stereo pop album. Address all correspondence to: Guest Album, Teen Age, Oakland Tribune, P.O. Box 509, Oakland, 94604.

"The Progressive Blues Experiment" is truly one of the sleeper albums of the year. The feature artist is Johnny Winter. Winter recently signed a new contract with Columbia Records. The contract calls for $600,000 spread over a period of five years, plus royalties from records. This contract shows that some one obviously thinks quite a bit of Winter, but that is another story, so let's get on to the album. Johnny Winter is not alone on this album either. Johnny heads a group called WINTER. The other members of the group are Tom Shannon, electric bass, and Red Turner, drums. Shannon plays a booming, driving bass.

Turner's off beat drumming is perfect for the songs on the album. The album starts out with a classic blues song, Muddy Waters' famed "Roling and Tumbling." Winter and his group give it a fine treatment. Perhaps most pleasing is Winter's searing lead guitar. Next on the first side is "Tribute to Muddy." This is a heavy bass pattern and contains some of the fastest guitar work on the record. The third cut is called "I Got Love if You Want It" and is a rather typical blues song. The fourth number really shows Winter's versatility. On this triple taped song he plays the guitar, mandolin, harmonica and does the vocal. Quite a talent.

The first side ends up on a Sonny Boy Williamson number called "Help Me." It is masterfully done. Winter's ability to sing the blues shows that he has worked out with people like B. B. King and Mike Bloomfield. He does all the vocals on the album. He possesses the classic voice of a traditional blues shouter, which is very nice if you like blues. Now on to side two. The first song on this side is a not so original Winter composition called "Mean Town Blues." This number is based on a John Lee Hooker song "Boogie Children." As the title would, suggest the song features a heavy boogie and Winter's brilliant guitar work.

In the next song 'Vinter displays his style on the slide guitar. The song called "Broke Down Engine" literally explodes in your face. The next song is a Winter original called Black Cat Bone. It has a rousing lead guitar and must have been recorded at higher volume level. Winter pays tribute to B. B. King on the fourth cut. It's a seven minute song from King's own pen called "It's My Own Fault." The album ends on a song called "Forty Four." This last song was written by Chester Burnett, better known to his fans as Howlin' Wolf.

So there it is, an album drenched in the blues. If you enjoy the blues the album is a real treat, If you don't know about the blues it may open your eyes to them.

 

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