Johnny Winter @ B.B. King Blues Club (1/11/2010)

Logo - Johnny Winter

Artist: Johnny Winter
Venue: B.B. King Blues Club (New York, NY)
Opener: William Bell with G.E. Smith & The Uptown Horns
Date: 1/11/2009
Label: Epic Legacy

I know what you’re thinking………Johnny Winter’s concert covered as an show on as opposed to being part of the blog content? While this might confuse the diehard reader of our work, it might also make a whole lot of sense based on the impact that this musician has had on a wide number of genres over the course of his career. Brother to equally legendary Edgar Winter, Johnny has been and remains one of the true greats on electric guitar and when the announcement came about his doing a three night residency at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill we knew that we had to catch at least one of the shows to absorb his mastery. The other reason was based on the need to begin the year with a larger sense of musical appreciation and after having clocked in some 95 shows across 2009, I could think of no better way to start the process again in 2010 than with some amazing Blues Rock. Joining me for the show would be’s own Peter Parrella and Joe Kaufman, and opening up the gig would be William Bell, a legendary Soul singer. This was not my own area of expertise, so I let Pete give us the whole introduction about Mr. Bell’s set and here is what he had to say……

What a treat. An awesome double shot surprise for the second of three “Season of (Johnny) Winter” Mondays at BB Kings in NYC. This time the opening act was the great singer songwriter William Bell. On this gig his back-up band was headed by former Saturday Night Live band leader, guitarist G.E. Smith, with the addition of the Uptown Horns. It was a perfect soul revue staging that allowed Mr. Bell to explore the full range of his smooth but powerful voice, even in their too short stint on stage. As one of the earliest recording artists to work for Stax Records, Bell became a seminal figure in the building of southern soul. His “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (which he wrote and recorded as a teenager in 1961) continues to be a blueprint for that gospel tinged, muted horn sound. It is no surprise that this backing band was so perfectly attuned with Bell since the elegiac ending music SNL used throughout Smith’s tenure was solidly based on this song’s style.

Mr. Bell is also co-author of a cornerstone of electric blues “Born Under a Bad Sign”. Originally written with Booker T. Jones for inclusion on the Albert King album of the same name, the song found its way into late 1960’s pop culture when it was covered by Cream. Much to the amusement of the audience, Bell noted that the most recent cover version of the song was done by a newer pop icon, Homer Simpson. The tune was used as an opportunity to stretch out and individual members of the horn section got a chance to shine and Mr. Smith accurately aimed a few short but sweet solos featuring the stinging Telecaster sound he is noted for. Along with his own compositions, Mr. Bell peppered the set with snippets of well known soul sounds, including a bit of Otis Redding’s “Fa Fa Fa Fa Love Song” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”.

Volumes have been written exploring how “Memphis Soul” evolved from the confluence of high lonesome country music, sanctified gospel and gut-bucket blues but if you truly want to understand its force you have to hear it done live. There are few better ways to experience the power of soul then spending an evening enraptured by the voice of Mr. Bell. Here’s hoping he will return to B.B.’s or maybe The Highline Ballroom for a headlining show or two in the near future.

Thanks Pete, so now it was time for a little bit of Winter inside the warm confines of the venue and having never ever seen the musician in action before I only knew that the set would be one of many musical surprises. One of the other key points in my interest in this show tonight was based on the fact that Johnny Winter was part of a five CD collection released by Sony Legacy that actually presented his full Woodstock performance set. Believe it or not, the guitarist while appearing at the historic festival; was not featured in the original movie release of the show and yet did get a nod on that movies special edition cut when they released the upgraded version last year. This evening while totally rocking would not be one filled with Rock music at all and instead a solid set of Blues as delivered by one of its artisans of note and the evening began with an instrumental introduction by Winter’s second guitarist, the axe slinger known as Paul Nelson. This was a great way to lead off this part of the night and if you are scratching your head about the name being familiar then let me clear that up and say that if you are thinking of the guitarist in the influential 80’s Power Metal/Thrash Metal band Liege Lord then you are totally correct. He now delivers the blues and very adeptly at that. After a few minutes of this with the rest of the band, they announced Mr. Johnny Winter and the guitarist was walked out to a chair that was ready for him in the center of the stage. The musicians recent health issues have required him to remain seated for his performances but he sure don’t need to stand up to let his fingers do the magic that they are able to do. The first song would be “Hideaway” and like I said I would be more of the learning observer this evening and boy did I have a lot to learn.

Johnny kept the conversing with the crowd to an as needed minimum which was ok because I felt everyone would rather hear him play than discuss things. There are far too many shows where there is a ton of talking and less music as a result so I was cool with this myself in the end. After a number of standards from the Winter catalog he touched upon a rendition of Hendrix’s “Red House” which has long become a staple and even a number that many of the Harder Rock bands do when they decide to do a heavier edged Blues number. “Boney Maronie” had the audience rocking a little louder when it came up next and while he has long been doing the tune, I was very surprised to find “All Over Now” by the Rolling Stones being done. Either way, it rocked and had the entire audience singing along. After this number it signaled the sign of the end of the main set and after a couple of minutes Johnny was back on the stage for the encore’s which found him sporting his signature axe as opposed to the Steinberger looking one he had been using most of the night and he began to thrill us with “Mojo Boogie”. The final number of the night would be “Highway 61 Revisited” and sadly this would be the end of the show. Some folks said how they counted on him playing all night this evening, and even felt that he was going to show up at Lucille’s next door and jam for awhile, yet I didn’t think this was likely with the health reports and his having played almost two hours as it is. He also had another show in this same venue next week which would close up the “Season Of Winter” for the time being. Johnny’s band also features the rhythm section of Scott Spray and Vito Liuzzi on bass and drums respectively. I also want to mention that guitarist Jon Paris who often plays at Lucille’s came onstage and added a little harmonica to the mix as the night drew to a close.

In the end this show was well worth seeing and proved to me that all I had heard about his talents or enjoyed on some of the albums listened to across the years was nothing but the truth. I think if there were any other guitar players in the room this evening that everyone went home to practice and to up their own game. It was also cool to see Nelson in action and playing outside of the box that brought him into the Metal world’s prominence. It just goes to show you how open minded you should be with your talents and how you never know what you will end up playing even if you are a tried and true Metal head at heart. If Winter comes back soon, and I mean the musician and not the season, be sure to try and catch one of his appearances. Especially if you are a guitarist because it’s an education you would find to be time very well spent.

Johnny Winter Set List:
1. Intro
2. Paul Nelson instrumental
3. Hideaway
4. Sugar Coated Love
5. Boogie Real Low
6. Miss Anne
7. Black Jack
8. Tore Down
9. Lone Wolf
10. Don’t Take Advantage Of Me
11. Red House
12. Boney Maronie
13. All Over Now
14. Mojo Boogie – encore
15. Highway 61 – encore

Below is a shot of the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill marquee, and every now and again I will photograph this if the mood strikes me.  Tonight this would be the case.

The Marquee: Johnny Winter & William Bell @ B.B. King's
The Marquee: Johnny Winter & William Bell @ B.B. King's

Backstage we caught up with guitarist Paul Nelson and drummer Vito Liuzzi who were more than happy to strike a pose in front of the B.B. King’s banner that is hanging back there.

Paul Nelson & Vito Liuzzi

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