Legends are rare. In fact, there are so few of them (in reality), that we can almost count them down. When it comes to guitar, there are solid choices out there, no doubt. But there are some that even stand above the rest, that make even other legends themselves revere them.
One of those is Johnny Winter, or John Dawson Winter III.
Johnny Winter originated from the Texas area, where, at an early age, he, along with his brother Edgar, began performing. Before Johnny was sixteen, he had recorded with important Blues men. That set the stage for what Johnny would eventually become, an important bluesman himself. But not before he signed a hefty (for the time) contract with Columbia Records, and recorded stunning guitar works of covers and original material. His steaming version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is still a go-to version of the classic song. If you want original, you go to Chuck Berry. But if you want a true rock ‘n’ roll version of the song, why nothing less than Johnny Winter’s cut of the song will suffice.
Johnny Winter started Columbia Records off with his rollicking self-titled album covering Sonny Boy Williamson (“Good Morning Little School Girl”), James Gordon (the classic “Mean Mistreater”), Robert Johnson (“When You Got A Good Friend”), and Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Back Door Friend”), and few originals of his own (“I’m Yours & I’m Hers”, “Dallas”, “Leland Mississippi Blues”). That was followed up with the classic Second Winter, with its controversial fill of only three sides of vinyl. It was Second Winter that gifted us with “Johnny B. Goode”. From that point, it was all love with the accumulation of Winter fans.
Johnny gave us quite the collection of albums, not all with Columbia Records. Eventually, he hit the road with Alligator Records (after a stint with Columbia Record’s imprint, Blue Sky Records), MCA Records, Virgin, and a few Point Blank (Virgin) issues.
Legacy has gone deep with a 4CD Box collecting together a wealth of Johnny Winter classics called True To the Blues. And while nothing but the complete album collection of Johnny Winter does the full justice, this box assembles a fine selection of 57 tracks, live and studio, from across the labels mentioned that Johnny recorded for.
The songs are chronologically compiled and reflect the entire life of Johnny Winter thus far. On February 23, Johnny Winter turned 70 years of age. And while his ability to stand for long periods of time is no longer there (I see him when I can), he can still set the strings afire. On February 25, Sony’s brilliant Legacy Recordings celebrated that 70 years with this box. What adds to this set are two unreleased live performance tracks from his 1970 Atlanta Pop festival appearance (“Eyesight To the Blind”, “Prodigal Son”, as well as a introduction to Johnny Winter at the festival).
All of the essential Johnny Winter tracks are included here. I’m always a little jealous that Johnny Winter’s version of “Frankenstein”, the song that lifted Edgar to the top, is never included in any collection. And while it IS included in the Legacy Edition of Second Winter, I have to understand that it was Edgar who elevated that song to where it is, and that to tread on that would be a brotherly misconduct. Still, True To The Blues, with its remasters of Winter classics from across the board, and a beautifully stuffed booklet with photos, liner notes, etc, make the collection an essential add to a library. Even if you currently own NO Johnny Winter albums (What?!), it could be the ‘go-to’ collection that does the trick.
What validates the claim that Johnny Winter is perhaps one of our highest grade of guitarists are the many statements from solid players that include Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Angus Young (AC/DC), Eddie Van Halen, Gregg Allman, Robby Krieger (Doors), Pete Townshend, who said of this set, “…so worth waiting for.”, Pat Travers, Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest), Carlos Santana, and others.
No one will ever be completely pleased with inclusions in any set of this kind. (That’s why I say nothing works best but the entire collection of albums.) But, to have such a musical snapshot of Johnny Winter that True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story provides is more than an excitement, it is truly a celebration of one of Rock’s greatest guitarists.
Thank you, Johnny, for all of those years, and all of those songs found within this 4CD Box. And thank you, Legacy, for bringing it to us.
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Label: Legacy Recordings
Availability: 4CD Box