Johnny Winter

Step Back
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Johnny Winter

Roots, from 2011, ended an almost 10-year drought for Winter, and in fine style, featuring excellent playing from Derek Trucks, Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, and especially Winter himself. Step Back was to be the second CD in a trilogy, with more guests playing what Winter felt were essential pieces of the blues repertoire. Sadly, his death on July 16 leaves the series one short of a trilogy.

But Winter goes out with the elements that made him a blues-rock sensation when he burst out of Texas in ’69 still intact – his rapid-fire licks, his intricate but always in-tune slide playing, and his soulful, grainy vocals.

Teaming with the likes of Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Dr. John, and Brian Setzer could overshadow any leader, but, thanks in part to producer Paul Nelson, Winter more than rises to the occasion. If anything, it’s a daunting throwdown for the vaunted guests.

The 70-year-old’s unmistakable slide rips through Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love,” and he proves to be one of the best Ray Charles interpreters ever on “Unchain My Heart.” But, always a true stylist, Winter puts his own stamp on every song, no matter how well-worn.


This article originally appeared in VG‘s November ’14 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.