There are few bluesman today that can live up to the legend of Johnny Winter. Having played his way through Woodstock in 1969, and producing three Grammy-winning Muddy Waters albums, the man is still out on the road proving to his fans that he still can play the blues.
Last week, Johnny made a stop here in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was a sold out show at the local Theatre Workshop of Owensboro’s Empress Theater, which may seat around 300 or so people.
As the band took to the stage, they started out with an instrumental, without Johnny. As they power through, showcasing the raw energy that the band carries, the song comes to an almost abrupt stop. Johnny had slowly taken the stage with some help!
While settling in his chair for the show, he quickly makes a quip that put the crowd into an uproar. “Where is all the fucking blue grass? It all looks green here in Kentucky!” And with that, he rips into the opening of “Johnny B. Goode”, the classic Chuck Berry song.
His incendiary guitar playing lit up not only the stage, but the room as a whole. Johnny and his band played through a variety of songs, and all of them covers. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, “Got My Mojo Working” (a rendition of the Muddy Waters cover), “Blackjack”, and many more classic blues covers were played, showcasing the powerhouse talent that is Johnny and his band.
After “Killing Floor” and “Bony Maronie”, a relatively unexpected cover followed. Having taken a well known tune, applying some blues flourish, they cranked out an incredible rendition of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Although having the melody as recognizable as ever, his bluesy embellishment overtaking it and making it something entirely new. The band continued the theme with a medley of “Don’t Take Advantage of Me” and “Gimme Shelter”, another well known Rolling Stones song.
Finishing up the set, a decadent version of “It’s All Over Now” by the Valentinos, was given to the fans. As the song finished, and Johnny got up from his seat, I realized that we haven’t seen ANY of his incredible slide-work on the guitar. As much as I enjoyed the show, I had begun to feel somewhat disappointed in not seeing his infamous slide-guitar skills.
With the crowd clamoring for more, Johnny once again took to the stage. Only this time, he was well armed with his instantly recognizable Gibson Firebird V. If I’m not mistaken, it’s also the Firebird that he played at Woodstock! The encore consisted of his hot and bleeding slide with Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom”, and Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”.
For a nearly-70 year old man, Winter still stands proudly with his prowess as a blues guitarist. To witness such a legend… Well, it’s something that I’ll never forget. If you can catch Johnny on his current tour, do it! Click here for the dates.