The Class of 1970: Johnny Winter And — One Studio and Two Live Albums
Johnny Winter burst onto the scene in 1969 with a no-holds-barred blues trio featuring Tommy Shannon and Uncle John Turner on bass and drums, respectively. He took the festival scene by storm, including an electrifying set at Woodstock. By May of 1970, however, the trio had decided to call it quits. Winter said:
“We came to the conclusion that we couldn’t possibly do anything further; there was just nowhere we could go except the same way we’d been going, and all of us were tired of that. I wanted a band where everybody could be contributing something as much as possible, in every way, other people who could write, who could sing. Something where there could be so much more projection of personality and talent on the stage and in our records.”
Winter’s manager, Steve Paul, suggested The McCoys, the band who hit the top of the charts in 1965 with “Hang On Sloopy.” This quintet were no longer a pop group, turning far more psychedelic with Infinite McCoys (1968) and Human Ball (1969). Three of the members of the band were chosen to join Winter: Rick Derringer (originally Zehringer), guitar, vocals; Randy Jo Hobbs, bass; and Randy Z (Zehringer), drums. He could not have selected a better set of musicians to achieve his stated goals.
By September, Columbia released Johnny Winter And, which was recorded 06/09/70! At one point they were going to be Johnny Winter and The McCoys, but Derringer et al. had relinquished that name by then. Immediately after the album came out, the group went on tour, but with a personnel change. Powerhouse drummer Bobby Caldwell (who would soon form Captain Beyond and then Armageddon) replaced Randy Z. Two live albums came out of those performances: Johnny Winter And Live (released March 1971) and Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70 (released 04/20/10). JWALive was recorded partly at Fillmore East as well and also at Pirate’s World in Dania, Florida. [Ed. note: I caught both sets on 10/30/70 at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia with Seals and Crofts and Tin House.]
Understand also that these three albums followed Winter’s blistering blues work on The Progressive Blues Experiment (1968), Johnny Winter (1969), and Second Winter (1970), the last of which was certainly heading in a rock & roll direction.
Johnny Winter And
[Guess I’ll Go Away (Winter), Ain’t That a Kindness (Klingman), No Time to Live (Winwood, Capaldi), Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo (Derringer), Am I Here? (Randy Z), Look Up (Derringer, Supraner), Prodigal Son (Winter), On the Limb (Derringer), Let the Music Play (Nicholls, Stephens), Nothing Left (Winter), Funky Music (Derringer)]
The moment they quartet launch into “Guess I’ll Go Away,” you can sense the vibe. The rhythm section is rock solid, there are two guitars swirling in the mix, Derringer’s harmony vocals on the choruses are sweet, and those trippy guitar effects indicate a new level for Winter. This song rocks!
“Ain’t That a Kindness,” a Mark Moogy Klingman tune, is a rockin’ soul blues with more great harmonies. The uncredited piano sure sounds like Brother Edgar. The ballad “No Time to Live” comes from the eponymous album by Traffic. Winter’s voice is clear as a bell and so soulful.
There is no grey area when it comes to which version of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” you prefer: this original or the one Derringer featured on his first solo album, All American Boy. Most know and love Derringer’s later version; we love them both but lean toward the original. The twin guitars here are pure fire, and the growl in Winter’s voice is his signature.
Another fine ballad, “Am I Here?” is Randy Z’s composing contribution. Fabulous harmonies again. Delicious slide guitar dominates “Look Up,” again spotlighting the ever-so-tight rhythm section. The gospel chorus on this uptempo rocker is great. It sounds as if extra voices are involved.
“Prodigal Son” is the nastiest and best song on the album. Those guitar effects (Leslie cabinet?) and wah-wah abuse are killer, and Winter’s voice is on point. Winter’s and Derringer’s voices mesh just as well as their guitars, nowhere more obvious than on Derringer’s “On the Limb.”
“Let the Music Play” is the tenderest of ballads, rendered in beautiful slow blues style (think “While My Guitar…,” “25 or 6 to 4”). Great vocals, harmonies, gospel chorus, and plenty of guitars. Then they jump back into trippy rock with Leslie-ized guitars (well, some effect). The dueling guitars give a good indication of what would happen on stage. Finally, “Funky Music” is precisely that, wrapped up in blues and rock, the fourth of Derringer’s compositions.
Very few Winter fans or rock fans in general had heard the new studio album by the time the fall tour began (late September?). In addition to the re-energized Winter, this band on stage kicked major ass and had a blast doing it. At places such as The Electric Factory in Philadelphia and The Fillmore East, each of the groups for the evening played two sets, which means there were four sets from The Fillmore from which to select songs for both live albums.
Johnny Winter And Live
[Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Level, Love), It’s My Own Fault (King, Taub), Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Jagger, Richards), Rock & Roll Medley: Great Balls of Fire (Blackwell, Hammer) > Long Tall Sally (Blackwell, Johnson, Lewis) > Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On (David, Williams), Mean Town Blues (Winter), Johnny B. Goode (Berry)]
Bobby Caldwell jump-starts the Sonny Boy Williamson gem “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” and instantly it is obvious that the entire evening will be a guitar rave-up. Winter would take the lead, but then he and Derringer would battle back and forth, often together, such a joyous sound.
“It’s My Own Fault” is just down and dirty blues courtesy of B.B. King. It starts on simmer before the heat gets cranked all the way up. Caldwell is the right man for the job. Each guitarist takes a shot before they romp off together. These blues tunes were stretched out much longer than the others, this one clocking in at 12 minutes.
Yes, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is a Rolling Stones song, and Peter Frampton later turned in one hell of a fine cover. This one is cranked up to 11, the pace absolutely blistering. Hobbs and Caldwell push this one so hard.
The “Rock & Roll Medley” was a centerpiece of each set, Winter turning Derringer loose to feed on the crowd. They used these two Jerry Lee Lewis smashes and one from Little Richard to amp up the crowd; we all knew the songs but had never heard them at such an energy level. And Winter would encouraged Derringer, who had rips in the derriere of his jeans, to “show you how to shake it one more time!”
“Mean Town Blues” is a Winter composition in the traditional blues style, way uptempo. It appeared on The Progressive Blues Experiment and the deluxe edition of Second Winter, but this is definitive. Caldwell’s bass drum is relentless as the guitarist once again launch guitar salvos at each other. Incredible!
The album closes with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” the perfect vehicle for Winter, who recorded it on Second Winter. Hobbs is excellent here. This song and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” were mixed at the famous Criteria Studios in Miami Beach, suggesting that those two came from the Pirate’s World shows.
Given the limitations of vinyl, JWALive clocked in at 40 minutes. By comparison, the 2010 CD 10/3/70 is bursting with 66 amazing minutes of from this short-lived band. There were no songs from the studio album on JWALive, two make it on to the second album.
Johnny Winter And Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70
[Guess I’ll Go Away (Winter), Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Level, Love), Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo (Derringer), It’s My Own Fault (King, Taub), Highway 61 Revisited (Dylan), Mean Town Blues (Winter), Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Morganfield)]
“Guess I’ll Go Away” is the studio version on steroids. The difference Caldwell makes is immediately obvious. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” is the same version as on JWALive (surely there were others?!?). The live version of “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” (no comma?!?) clearly let fans see that Winter was expanding from straight blues to rock & roll, which Second Winter had indicated. The twin guitars are so good.
Two tracks on this album fill more than 40 minutes — the two extended blues outings that were also on JWALive. “It’s My Own Fault” clocks in at 22:24 and deserves every second of that. As noted, most of the songs in the setlist were in the 4- to 7-minute range, but not these massive explorations. The solos and duets are wonderfully stretched out, lots of wah-wah and tandem guitar. They both just had so much to say, and neither seems to want it to end! They were perfectly matched.
On Second Winter, he covered Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and redefined it the way Hendrix redefined “All Along the Watchtower.” There’s a world of slide guitar going on here. Blistering. Also, given that this is now Rosh Hashanah, that first stanza is of particular relevance:
Oh, God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe said, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God said, “No” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want, Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’, you better run”
Well, Abe said, “Where d’you want this killin’ done?”
God said, “Out on Highway 61”
Another, longer version of “Mean Town Blues” also shines for 18 minutes. This one is just stunning. We noted that the other one was definitive; this one is even more definitive. The album closes with the song that drew many of us immediately into the Johnny Winter cult: Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Waters was Winter’s childhood hero, and their eventual intersection in 1974 led to a great relationship and four superb albums produced by Winter for Waters. Hobbs and Caldwell crush this. Again.
Winters’ descent into heroin use brought an all-too-quick end to this chapter in Winter’s career, but fortunately he would pick himself and go on to great recognition and success until his passing in 2014.
Spotify does not list the second live album; our playlist includes the studio album and Johnny Winter And Live. For Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70, we have provided the album on YouTube.