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Johnny Winter: Live Through the 70's DVD
Artist: Johnny Winter
Length: 111 minutes

Johnny Winter: Live Through the 70's is an incredible DVD collection of official archival footage from the '70s that includes performances from Danish TV Gladsaxe Teen Club (Denmark 1970), the Royal Albert Hall in London (1970), the Beat Club in Bremen, Germany (1970), Don Kirshner's Rock Concert - Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT (1973), Soundstage - Blues Summit in Chicago, IL (1974), Musikladen in Bremen, Germany (1974), and Rockpalast in Germany (1979). Intermixed with the live content is interview footage at Detroit Tubeworks in Detroit, MI (1970) with Dennis Frawley.

Each segment represents a stage in Winter's performing legacy. Starting with his performance at a small teen club in Denmark with his four-piece band, we get a nascent version of brother Edgar Winter's 70s monster hit, "Frankenstein." Although he appears in only a few of this DVD's segments, Edgar's versatility and skills are evident. He plays drums, organ, harmonica and saxophone as well as singing backup to brother Johnny. Choice is Edgar duking  it out with Uncle John Turner on a well rehearsed drum battle. As far as the video quality and setting, this section is quite intimate with a "local" feel--two cameras, nice color, but little audience response for such a personal setup. Wonderful perspective of an early '70s rock show. Here, as throughout the entire DVD, the sound is quite good, with an occasional loss of Edgar's sax. Tommy Shanahan's bass often sounds thin.

The UK Royal Albert Hall segment is the antithesis of the Denmark shoot. It's big and glitzy, grainy with in-studio name cards and such. However, the sound is somewhat better. As always, Johnny Winter's playing is fiery and loaded with feeling--the nice thing is that they left in a few miscues.

The Beat Club, a long-running German show that featured their acts actually playing live versus similar programs' lip-syncing methods, is pretty much a showcase for Winter. Drummer Uncle John Turner gives him a basic beat to follow and off Johnny goes! Toward the end of "Mean Town Blues," the band joins in, and there is a shot of Edgar's organ, and he is credited. But it is mainly Johnny, and he has no problem carrying it all--a much more friendly feeling than Royal Albert Hall--actually quite nice.

Don Kirshner's Rock Concert is next. Winter has become a major star, with platform shoes, top hat and a new band. Richard Hughes has his name plastered on his double drum set heads. Randy Jo Hobbs sports a glittering glam outfit on bass. Though blues based, this is power trio rock and roll. "Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo" never sounded better! Winter's lead is incendiary!

Next is the star-studded Blues Summit at the Soundstage in Chicago, 1974, with Michael Bloomfield, Dr. John, Junior Wells, and Buddy Miles. Phil Guy and Al Radford join Winter's version of Muddy Waters' "Walking Through the Park." Winter humbly introduces the Muddy Waters song by saying that he will never sing it as good as Muddy.

"Boney Maroney" was shot as part of a German rock documentary, Musikladen. At this point, Winter had added another guitar player.

The Rockpalast show in Essen, Germany is a favorite on this DVD. Moving back to the blues in this 1979 show with a three-piece group features the excellent harmonica and vocals of Jon Paris. Of all the players on this set, Paris seems to connect best with Winters--and his bass playing is inventive as well.

Winter has long been teaching his audiences the history and importance of the blues and, together with Paris on the track, "Mississippi Blues," they brave a language barrier to demonstrate in music what they could get across in the language: the whole history of the blues from Delta, Texas, Chicago and beyond and back to Winter's own high-voltage style. Bobby Caldwell is an interesting choice as drummer. Surrounded by a massive drum kit--I counted 10 cymbals--clad in a tank top, shorts, athletic socks and tennies, Caldwell bashes along behind with none of finesse shown by Paris and Wilson. There are fine shots of the band and excellent sound. Paramount throughout the set is Winter's vocals. It seems strange to hear the very authentic sound coming from such a waif-thin albino man.

Interviews at Detroit's Tubeworks and conducted by Dennis Frawley divide each segment and offer an interesting look at the blues devotee. Subjects include everything from levitation, the current culture, rock and roll, and, of course, the blues.

Track Listing/features:

  • Danish TV Gladsaxe Teen Club, Denmark 1970: "Frankenstein," "Be Careful Of The Fool," "Drop The Bomb"
  • * Royal Albert Hall, London, UK 1970: "Johnny B. Goode," "Talk To Your Daughter," "Tell The Truth"
  • * Beat Club, Bremen, Germany 1970: "Mean Town Blues'"
  • * Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Palace Theater, Waterbury, CT 1973: "Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo," "Stone County"
  • * Soundstage, Blues Summit, Chicago, IL 1974: "Walking Through The Park"
  • * Musikladen, Bremen, Germany 1974: "Boney Maroney"
  • * Rockpalast, Grugahalle, Essen, Germany 1979: "Walking By Myself," "Mississippi Blues," "Suzie Q"
Bob Felberg  December 11, 2008


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