Hearing Johnny Winter and His Chicken-Wire Blues

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I was around ten when I first heard Johnny Winter.  My future brother-in-law gave me a live album to listen to.  I eagerly put it on in our living room and was horrified. I did like my brother-in-law’s other offerings, his Freddie and the Dreamers, Beach Boys, Kinks, Beatles, Frankie Vallie, and other early 60s sounds.  Johnny Winter sounded like he didn’t know how to play guitar or sing. I eventually realized that he just couldn’t get around AM corridors, and—I’m proud to say—his last album proved that he never did learn those ways. Step Back is classic Johnny Winter and is light-years removed from disco mirror balls and screaming teenagers. Though it no longer sounds that removed from the early rock and roll I once thought he contrasted with (I think chicken wire protects the stage and he plays through anything), he’s still playing rock and roll.

Step Back features many collaborative tunes, but this is no meek duets album. Johnny Winter’s last album has that play-through-the-brawl sound, as usual, and has that same raunchy vibrancy that made him a staple of the blues. Songs such as “Can’t Hold Out(Talk to Me Baby)” with Ben Harper, “Blue Monday” with Dr. John,  and “Don’t Want No Woman” with Clapton are some of the best blues to come out this year—though that’s mastering the understatement to say so.  Now that Johnny Winter has   passed on, this posthumously released album may be the last of this great guitarist’s output for us to hear as new.  It’s wonderful that it’s a strong album with great roots-blues tunes, with his sound intact.

Chicken-Wire Blues

The sound of his collaborators is clearly there as well. When Johnny Winter and Brian Setzer get together on “Okie Dokie Stomp,” the result is one of those matchups that just works, works very well.  The same is true for “Sweet Sixteen” with Joe Bonamassa and “Long Tall Sally” with Leslie West (a full 2:53 minutes rather than the 0:48 seconds he pressed back in 1971!).  This list is randomly selective.  These are thirteen solid songs with some of the best musicians in the business, including the Blues Brothers Horns.

It’s rock and roll blues and brilliant, as usual.  “Long Tall Sally” certainly isn’t like The Beatles, but it is exactly what it sets out to be—raunchy rock-blues. So if you are not stuck on seamless harmonies and don’t mind a voice that can roar over brawls, this is a great album to crank and head out onto the road to.


No video at request of Megaforce Records.