Rock Doctor Reviews Johnny Winter’s Box Set

TRUE TO THE BLUES: THE JOHNNY WINTER STORY  Johnny Winter (Sony) *****One of the whitest men on the planet playing some of the bluest blues you’ll ever hear- who’da thunk it?  True To The Blues is an ambitious though by no means complete 4 disc study of Winter’s amazing career.  Usually, when I spin a single disc album for review, it gets one or two spins.  I’m already on my 4th listen here in as many days with this, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.Johnny Winter starting playing early- first at 7 on a ukulele from his dad, them on to guitar by age 12.  At 15 he had a band that played around the local bars in Beaumont Texas (the town in Footloose), The Jammers, with his 12 year old brother Edgar on keyboards.  Flash forward to 1969 and, after moving to New York, he was signed to Columbia Records and the rest is history.  Jimi Hendrix was a good friend, and they jammed together a few times so yeah- the cat could play.If you want a history lesson on Johnny himself, will tell you everything you need to know, and the discography section lists 36 albums, not including his latest (Roots) or today’s box set.  I have a preview digital copy of True To The Blues to consider here and so don’t have access to the liner notes, but will be purchasing a physical copy on payday- that’s how much these blues are speaking to me.So many highlights of Johnny’s already amazing career in here, from the slide acoustic workout Bad Luck And Trouble that opens disc one to the spellbinding version of Elmore James’s Dust My Broom that closes out disc 4, it’s hard to know where to start.  if you’re not familiar with Johnny’s early recording career he was, and continues to be, a thrilling slide player.  His first attempt at slide involved using his watch, but that just ruined the crystal.  He tried making his own bottleneck slides, but readily admits he could never get the glass to break in just the right way.  He even tried test tubes, but they were too fragile.  He settled on metal tubing because it had a “brighter, meaner sound”, and there is evidence of that on nearly every track here.Despite record company pressure to rock out, Winter has stayed true to the blues.  Still, he likes to flirt with the form.  Included in these 4 discs are live takes of Johnny B. Goode, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Harlem Shuffle, plus an early version of Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo from when guitarist Rick Derringer was a part of his band, and a song that seems to be an answer to that record company pressure called Rock & Roll People.  But man, there’s just something about shuffling through that Texas sand that put the blues in his blood from the very beginning.  Just think of some of the other great blues artists that have come out of The Lone Star State like ZZ Top or The Vaughan Brothers for starters- the state is almost as important to the blues as Chicago itself.Any discussion of the best blues guitarists of all time must surely include Johnny Winter, and this box set contains 57 compelling arguments for just that.  From a slow burning blues like Be Careful With A Fool to a full tilt boogie like Self Destructive Blues I daresay there are few players, past or present, that can lay it down like Johnny does.  I had the pleasure of seeing The Johnny Winter Band live on the Roots tour in Lloydminster (Alberta) a couple of winters ago and was spellbound by the performance- not just Johnny, but his band too.  After the show, some lucky fans (including Mrs. Rock Doctor and myself) were allowed to pop into his RV and say hi, where we took a couple of photos and he signed my vinyl copy of Winter Of ’88.  But I digress…To sum up everything I’ve said between here and the first sentence, True To The Blues is a thrilling, rip-roaring blast through Johnny Winter’s career, and he ain’t done yet.  This box absolutely belongs in every blues collection, and if you want to sample before you buy, TTTB will be the sole focus of the March 9th edition of my radio show, How Blue Can You Get, noon Alberta time at and, including several choice cuts and some great interview clips I found on You Tube.  If you only listen to my show once in your life, make it this one- I promise you won’t be sorry!COOL CUTS: Bad Luck & Trouble, Be Careful With A Fool, Mean Mistreater (live), Honest I Do, Highway 61 (live)Illustrated Man

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