Highway 70: Johnny Winter Birthday Jam @ BB King Club NYC

Blues Legend Johnny Winter encores with "Highway 61 Revisited" @ his 70th Birthday Party Jam.
Blues Legend Johnny Winter encores with “Highway 61 Revisited” @ his 70th Birthday Party Jam.

B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York City’s Times Square was packed to the rafters with blues music lovers and musicians on February 23, to celebrate the birthday of guitarist Johnny Winter. Winter is noted for his slide guitar work and cover songs which he invariably makes all his own. Over the last several years the Texas blues legend has played “A Season of Winter” residencies at the BB King club.

Along with recording his own best selling albums, Johnny got his dream of working with Muddy Waters, producing several albums for the Blue Sky/Columbia label that are the best of Waters’ post Chess Records work. It was a labor of love and respect for the seminal blues master that landed Water’s three Grammy awards. Now, at 70 years old and still playing his hard driving brand of blues rock, Winter finds his own stature – like Muddy’s – elevated to blues patriarch. A well earned and deserved recognition.

Johnny Winter and Popa Chubby Get Their Mojo Working @ BB King Blues Club
Johnny Winter and Popa Chubby Get Their Mojo Working @ BB King Blues Club

Amid shouts of “ROCK N ROLL” bursting from the crowd at regular intervals (mimicking Johnny’s patented exhortation) Winter and his band turned in a set loaded with favorites. Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” the Rolling Stone’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Howlin Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” and “I got my Mojo Working” all got workouts augmented by a steady stream of musical admirers, like Popa Chubby, Jon Paris, Joe Lewis Walker, Debbie Davies, James Montgomery, Frank “King Bee” Latorre, and show opener Lance Lopez. Winter turned up the heat and turned out some blistering slide guitar leads, bringing wide grins to the faces of his musical compadres. Though each player is exceptional in his/her own right the gig was about homage to a master and mentor not a head-cutting session.

After confetti blasts and a Texas shaped birthday cake was presented, fellow Texan Mike Zito gifted Winter with a customized guitar. The capacity crowd knew what was coming as Johnny was handed his signature Gibson Thunderbird guitar and the band completed the night with their raucous take on Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”

jwinter_TttBTrue To The Blues Career Retrospective…
A career spanning overview of Winter’s work, called True To The Blues, will be issued February 25, 2014 on Sony’s Legacy Recordings Label. The 4 CD box set will include, new liner notes, kudos from his peer players and two previously unreleased live tracks originally recorded at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival. Here’s how the company describes the package.

“Halfway between the British blues revival of the ’60s and the southern rock renaissance of the ’70s, the six-stringed genius of Johnny Winter has caught countless listeners by the ears, from Houston to Woodstock and beyond. His high-energy approach to the blues – reverent to tradition but fiercely of a style all his own – made him not only one of the most sought-after new artists of his time, but a peer and equal to the blues legends he worshiped from the beginning. This career-spanning box set captures Johnny’s most electrifying performances over four decades of rock and roll and celebrates his 70th birthday which is on February 23, 2014.”

There is also a documentary film in the works called Johnny Winter:Down and Dirty.

SkeletonPete Says…
It was a great night of celebration for an iconic blues player. As usual it’s lots of fun covering a B.B. King Club show along with PiercingMetal’s Ken Pierce. I also got to chance chat about six string things with NY Luthier Joe Kaufman of JKaufman Guitars, and was glad to reconnect with Elmore Magazine photographer Arnie Goodman.


Dust 2 Dust: Classic Bklyn Power Trio Remastered

Both Dust Albums Remastered on 1 Legacy CD
Both Dust Albums Remastered on 1 Legacy CD

Hard Attack/Dust

Release Date: April 16, 2013

Today Legacy Records released both albums by legendary Brooklyn New York band Dust on a single CD remastered from the original analog tape masters. Dust (1971) and Hard Attack (1972.)

Brooklyn: We Go Hard…
Even in the time before Twitter, information could fly like mad bees through high school hallways and such was the case in the early 1970’s when friends started buzzing about a band called Dust. Unquestionably local heroes here in Brooklyn, everyone seemed to know a relative or close friend of one of the members, and that sixth degree of separation from a signed act was an inspiration for an upstart guitarist like myself. Seeing the skulls staring from the cover of their first, self-titled, LP on the racks at Jaime’s Record Store on Flatbush Avenue made the rumors reality. The following year Hard Attack, adorned with Frank Frazetta’s Frost Giants painting, made an even bigger impression. Was their ever an album that better represented its title?

Truth is I owned neither of these albums in their time. You didn’t need to buy them to hear them regularly. In the days of communal listening everyone had a personal stash of records they brought along when visiting friends. At gatherings I was responsible for supplying Black Sabbath’s first, the Who’s Live At Leeds and Screaming Lord Sutch and His Heavy Friends, among others. I did add both Dust albums to my collection a few years later, when they turned up in the “cut-out” bins at Titus Oaks (also on Flatbush Ave).

While most pre-press for the CD points to Dust as progenitors of American metal, (a title I’d personally ascribe to Blue Cheer) that spin actually short sheets the bands talents. They were in fact children of their times, likely listening to friends’ record collections, and being influenced by a wide variety of styles. Across the 17 song disc you’ll get flavorings of Cream, Mountain, The Who, and even Beggar’s Banquet/Let It Bleed era Rolling Stones. That said, the dirge-like “From A Dry Camel” with its extended eastern modal jamming, the instro “Ivory” and the heavy riffing and extended bass guitar solo of “Suicide”, will not disappoint fans of early Black Sabbath.

In this classic power trio line-up Kenny Aaronson’s bass playing at once approximated the styles of both John Entwistle and Jack Bruce, and like them his melodic counterpoint drives many of the tunes. He also peppered the mix with dobro slide and touches of pedal steel guitar ala Led Zeppelin 1. Like early Zep records Richie Wise’s acoustic guitars are used to add texture intermingled with the electric rhythm and lead tracks. Marc Bell’s powerhouse double bass drum tracks are an excellent primer for current 70’s centric skin bashers.

My Vintage Copy of Dust's Hard Attack. Note "Cut-Out" in Lower Right Corner.
My Vintage Copy of Dust’s Hard Attack. Note “Cut-Out” in Lower Right Corner.

Highs and Lows…
I’m extremely happy to have these recordings updated respectfully and available to new listeners, not just bin pickers. The enjoyability of these songs goes deeper than their artifact value. To their credit the band has done an exceptional remastering job. The CD compares quite favorably with the original vinyl pressings adding extra depth and detail without compressing the sonics for the sake of loudification.

Don’t expect arena rock production here. These tracks are from the days before everything became bathe in an ocean of ambiance and it’s refreshing to hear their tight, nearly dry, staging. The remaster reveals more space around the vocal reverb, crispness in the acoustic strums, grit in the electrics, and an all around enhancement of the bass sound, accentuating its gutteral low end. A vinyl version of this release will be available on April 20, 2013 – i.e. Record Store Day.

Based on the striking graphics of the original Kama Sutra LP’s, the CD cover art is a bit disappointing but the booklet is loaded with each band member and producer Kenny Kerner getting their say. The albums have been chronologically flopped for some inexplicable reason and it’s certainly a missed opportunity not to have included at least one live tune from the band’s heyday.

Though Dust dissolved in late 1972 the members did not go gentle into the good night. Marc Bell became world famous as Marky Ramone, and Richie Wise (along with Kenny Kerner) produced the first two albums for a little NY band called KISS. Kenny Aaronson continues to rock the low end and I had the pleasure of hearing him do just that at the Eagle Vision’s Rory Gallagher Tribute a while back.