NEW YORK: Johnny Winter Disappoints This Fan - by J. Blake

Posted on 9/19/2009 by J. Blake

Patrons walking into New York City’s B.B. King’s Bar & Grill on Thursday night (September 17, 2009) found the venue packed wall to wall with enthusiastic blues fans eager to see Texas blues legend Johnny Winter.

The evening’s festivities began around 8pm, with blues veteran, guitar goddess and former member of Albert Collins’ band The Icebreakers, Debbie Davies. She and her trio entertained the rowdy audience with 45 minutes of blues standards, well-written originals and swinging instrumentals. Her display of guitar skill and the command she held over her sunburst Stratocaster was most impressive and certainly comparable to her more iconic male counterparts (i.e. players like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan). Her vocals were clean and their delivery seemed authentic and informed, like they were coming from a woman that knew what she was singing about. Her rhythm section was tight and Davies’ performance was one of the highlights of the night and an act that I will definitely check out again.

Just after 9pm, Johnny Winter’s band took the stage with a hard-driving instrumental that worked the crowd up into a frenzy. As their opening number came to an end, the 65 year-old/ailing albino guitar legend was helped to a seat at center stage. With big black cowboy-hat in place and his custom Erlewine Lazer guitar in hand, Johnny Winter and band set the pace for the evening by launching into a blistering rendition of Freddie King’s instrumental masterpiece, Hideaway. High octane blues shuffle after shuffle followed, with so little change in feel and tempo from song to song that in hindsight, they all seem to blur together into one extended jam; only broken up by sloppy slow blues renditions of Ray Charles’ Black Jack (featuring NYC blues regular John Paris on harmonica) and Jimi Hendrix’s Red House.

Though the crowd was thoroughly entertained and excited by the night’s performance (especially the encore of Highway 61 Revisited), I can’t say that I found it all that impressive. I am a long time fan of Johnny Winter. His first few albums are about as good as the blues gets in my opinion and his work with Muddy Waters is near perfection. I’m aware that he’s been battling all kinds of medical issues over the years, including extreme sight loss that has left him near blind, but unlike most fans, I refuse to excuse an aging artist’s mediocre performance because of their past accomplishments. Winter overcomes a lot to take the stage almost nightly year round and for a guy that can barely see, he plays amazingly well, but let’s face it…he is so far past his prime that seeing him perform today is almost sad. His vocals are often unintelligible. His phased out guitar tone went out of fashion in the 1980’s and his playing, though still technically proficient (when he’s in key) lacks any kind of real feeling or passion. He’s going through the motions and when you take all those factors into account and combine them with the fact that he is backed by a high volume/overly distorted glorified bar band, it makes for a night of music, that more often then not, seems more like noise than blues.

I’m sorry to say that Johnny Winter is not an artist I will be making an effort to see again and by writing this review, my intention is not to negate any of the accomplishments of his long and well-respected career. He’s an icon, a legend and arguably one of the best blues rockers to ever pick up a guitar, but there is something to be said for “going out on the top of your game” and unfortunately Winter is decades past the top of his.

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

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Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
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Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
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Jim Stick in Colorado
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Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

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