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The Brook, Southampton 28 April 2007
Back in the 70's albino guitarist Johnny titled one of his albums 'Still Alive & Well'. Written by Rick Derringer the title was as much a thinly veiled account of surviving the relentless rock and roll lifestyle, as it was a way of heralding one of several career comebacks. Three decades on, Johnny has overcome bigger battles, including being poisoned, and royally ripped off by his late ex manager, (see interview on GRTR!) as well as overcoming hip surgery and ill health to claw his way back to both playing and recording.
So in truth it was not so much a surprise to see the frail figure being led to his chair at the front of the stage at the packed Brook in Southampton. What was a pleasant surprise however, was that all things considered Johnny seemed content and happy to be playing and even managed something of a smile at the ecstatic reception he received at the end of a straight no frills blues set.
The show was neatly topped and tailed by his current guitar playing manager Paul Nelson who backed by a thunderous rhythm section opened things with a bruising instrumental.
And so, cometh the hour cometh the man. Led to his seat, Johnny cut a skeletal figure but over the course of the next 75 minutes or so, he went about his task with some resolve, gradually building up a succession of signature solo's full of crisp toned repeated note flurries with the occasional string bend, and he even came close once or twice to his trademark growl.
In the event he boogied, shuffled, bluesed it up and happily hit a rock solid groove on 'She Likes to Boogie Real Low', and added a muscular solo to his trademark 'Johnny Guitar'. But perhaps the most telling moment of the evening was the way he tackled Ray Charles' 'Blackjack'. Taken as an uncompromising blues that demanded much of Johnny's vocals, he came through in flying colours and deservedly received a great reception. Much was made by larger than life drummer Wayne June of Johnny's connection with Muddy Waters, as he proceeded to rap out Johnny's biographical info re his late 80's 'Hard' sessions with Muddy as a clever intro to 'Hoochie Coochie Man'.
Johnny himself seemed oblivious to either the intro or the mentions of his new Grammy nominated album 'I'm A Bluesman' - of which only 'Lone Wolf' featured as part of the set. But the evening's momentum grew as Johnny himself introduced 'Sugar Coated Love' as 'here's a song by my old friend 'Lazy Lester', and the place really rocked on the twin guitar assault on Bobby Womack's 'It's All Over Night' - a favourite from 'Captured Live' and one of many Stones covers Winter has made his own down the years.
The crowd roared him on to a stirring finale, and he came back to strap on his Thunderbird for a brace of slide outings, of which 'Mojo Boogie' - complete with Johnny yelling out an exclamatory 'call and response' style invocation, 'yeah!' - actually eclipsed the final 'Highway 61 Revisited'. On the latter John brought his slide to bear up and down the fret board, and only a surprisingly ponderous arrangement meant it was just short of the highlight of the evening that everyone wanted to hear.
The days of Johnny Winter the rocker may be long gone, but it's good to have him back as an elder statesmen of the blues whose fleet fingered mastery of the guitar belies his fragile countenance.
Earlier on the high octane and humorous Larry Miller Band recalled the heyday of rockaboogie and Rory Gallagher in particular in a well received guest slot.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Johnny Winter interview
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