Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Johnny Winter already had a few records out when he signed with Columbia in 1969. None of the early releases got much attention. But Rolling Stone had been more than kind, and that got Columbia's attention. They quickly signed him, and their push behind his first album on their label was immense. Soon, heads were listening, and there was a real buzz about the "new" American blues man.

With Columbia's push came big budgets, and excellently art directed LP covers. The first was a solemn portrait with a black background, self-titled with white stenciled letters. The follow-up, "Second Winter," was photographed by Richard Avedon, in his psychedelic style (as he had for the Beatles). The third, was with his newly constructed four piece, featuring former members of the McCoys ("Hang On Sloopy"), Rick Derringer among them. That cover was shot by Norman Seeff, the soft-focus hot shot photographer at the time. The cover of the fourth, "Johnny Winter And Live," consisted of live shots by Seeff, with a band portrait on the inside, also shot by Seeff.

I remember all of seemingly inconsequential trivia because my brothers and I bought his first four albums, and once the music was consumed, the liner notes were devoured; all due to the long wait for the fifth LP. (Unbeknown to us, the wait was due in part to Winter's attempt to kick heroin.) Each of the first four LPs was distinctly different, ranging from acoustic blues to straight-up seventies guitar rock. Because I know them inside and out, those first four Columbia records remain my favorite.


Listen to the "When You Got a Good Friend," from the first Columbia LP. It's just Winter playing acoustic bottleneck slide, with one guitar overdub. Recording wise, it doesn't take rocket science to get that down. Yet the song is full, and the playing so traditional, the only clue to its vintage is the clarity of the production. On "Highway 61 Revisited," from "Second Winter" he's transformed, becoming the rock n' roll slide guitarist. He's really all over the place, almost to the point of showing off. The last one, a cover of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," is from the live album, and it is seventies teenage guitar freak Godhead.

Johnny Winter - When You Got Good Friend (1969) mp3 at Cover Me
Johnny Winter - Highway 61 Revisited (1969) mp3 (via MediaFire) at Metal Bastard
Johnny Winter And - Jumpin' Jack Flash (live, 1971) mp3 at Southbay Ampworks
Johnny Winter - Be Careful With a Fool (1970, Danish TV) at YouTube

Johnny Winter - Mean Town Blues (1970) at YouTube
Johnny Winter - Jumpin' Jack Flash (1974) at YouTube

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