At The Carling Academy, Newcastle, U.K., May 7, 2008

In a world where the term “Legend” is thrown around at anyone who has a fleeting brush with fame, it is rare to come across someone who actually deserves such a plaudit. Texan Bluesman Johnny Winter is one such man.

Few people can claim to have worked with Blues icon Muddy Waters to the extent of resurrecting his career in his twilight years, earning a Grammy or two on the way; or who have played alongside Jimi Hendrix, or have appeared at the most famous Rock festival of them all, Woodstock. How many people have the Rolling Stones and John Lennon written songs for? Johnny Winter can lay claim to all of these. If that wasn’t enough, he also received the biggest advance in music history on signing his first record deal with Columbia in the late ’60’s, along with a clutch of Grammy’s in recognition of his own work.

Johnny Winters’ long and well documented battle with substance abuse and health problems would have floored a lesser man, yet Winter is back, fitter than he has been for many years and touring the world to show off just why he is truly revered as a guitar giant in both the Rock world and Blues community.

johnnywinter Back at the start of the his lengthy career, Winter had a phenomenal band comprising Rick Derringer, Tommy Shannon (later of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band), and Uncle John Turner, along with his brother Edgar. Fast forward 40 odd years and the potency of Winter’s backing band is every bit as vibrant as that of his classic years with Scott Spray on bass, Tony Beard on drums, and the excellent Paul Nelson, of Power Metalers Liege Lord, on guitar.

It was these that opened the show with a fiery Blues jam showing the six string virtuosity of Nelson in full flight with the accompanying Beard and Spray locked tightly together. Winter had clearly chosen wisely.

Winters’ entrance was as low key as you could possibly get. No rocket ship spewing flame throwers across the stage here, just a very frail looking man helped on either side by members of his crew to a chair in the centre of the stage where he sat for the whole of his performance but don’t be deceived by this as all the fire and brimstone over the next 90 minutes came from the long bony fingers of Johnny Winter.

johnnywinter With a set comprising a potent mix of Blues standards, covers and his own compositions, Winter dazzled the crowd with his soulful fretboard magic. The Little Richard penned Blues shuffle of “Miss Ann” from his groundbreaking Second Winter album still sounds vibrant and fresh almost 40 years on. “Black Jack” written by Ray Charles was a slow, smoking Blues number with a swagger that really gets to the very soul of his music.

Freddy King’s “I’m Tore Down” gave Winter a timely break from singing as the spotlight centred on drummer, Tony Beard for his moment with the microphone. Winter returned with a dazzling version of Hendrix’s “Red House” before coaxing notes out of his guitar that you never knew existed on his very own “Johnny Guitar”. With Paul Nelson returning to the stage after performing his managerial duties during the bulk of the set, the sound is beefed up to the next level with Nelson and Winter trading licks like there’s no tomorrow during the standard “All Over Now”. Now this is what guitar playing is all about.

johnnywinter On returning to the stage for the encores Winter, armed with his trademark Gibson Firebird lets off some ferocious slide guitar work during “Mojo Boogie” that has even the stage side roadies cranking up their air guitars. Quite a sight indeed.

Closing the show with a frantic “Highway 61” has the place rocking like there’s no tomorrow. Winter has taken this Bob Dylan number and made it his signature tune in much the same way as Hendrix did with “All Along The Watchtower”. Isn’t it strange how all of Dylan’s greatest tunes are better when performed by other artists?

He may be less mobile these days, preferring to remain seated and pretty much motionless during his performance, but Winter still dazzles with his playing and he possesses more soul and energy in his fingers than most guitarists have in their whole bodies. Tonight was a master class by one of the true legendary guitarists of all time.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

    View all posts

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.