Almost every contemporary, Western genre of music in some fashion owes a great debt to the blues. And if you know about rock and in the blues, you’d know about one of rock’s greatest guitarists and producers, Johnny Winter. Throughout Winter’s incredible career, a lot of ink has been spilled – but what I will say is that his work with Muddy Waters and James Cotton is legendary as it captures old pros playing rowdy, raucously boozy, braggadocio-filled blues; in fact, on my favorite Muddy Waters album, King Bee, the album sounds as though it captures a bunch of guys drinking, jamming and carrying on through the night.
The guitar legend died shortly before the release of his latest album, Step Back. And interestingly enough, the effort which features collaborations with Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Dr. John, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and others landed at number 1 on Billboard’s Independent Album chart, number 1 on the Blues chart, and number 17 on the Billboard Top 200 — all of which were career highs. But perhaps in death, it will mean some folks will be re-introduced and introduced to one of the great blues guitarists …
Eerily, one of Winter’s last studio recordings was a cover of the great Son House song’ “Death Letter Blues,” which Winter performs on an acoustic guitar and with a grizzled and slightly hoarse voice, as though he were trying to embody one of the old time blues legends. Adding to the eerie feel of the cover, is the fact that this footage is some of the last footage you’ll see of Winter, shot some time before his passing and it captures the guitar legend playing one of the most haunting and complex songs in one take.
Just as important, it brings things back to the very beginning – the Mississippi Delta in a way that’s presciently fitting.