Johnny Winter - guitar, vocals; Randy Jo Hobbs - bass; Richard Hughes - drummer
Following a nearly two-year leave of absence from recording and touring, a time devoted to rehabilitation from his well-publicized heroin and alcohol addictions, Johnny Winter was poised to return to the musical world in 1973. Now healthier and stronger than he had been in many years, Winter entered the studio and with the help and encouragement of his longtime cohort, Rick Derringer, delivered Still Alive And Well, serving notice that he had indeed survived. While still deeply rooted in the blues, this new album was a stripped down rock 'n' roll affair, filled with cautionary tales of survival. Production was held to a minimum, serving to focus attention on Winter's masterful rip-roaring guitar and trademark gritty vocals, and in retrospect, the album would come to mark one of the high points of his recording career.
When Winter returned to the road in 1973, he was accompanied by the powerhouse rhythm section of Randy Jo Hobbs and Richard Hughes. Together, this trio delivered a set that was distinctly different from the lengthy blues improvisations that initially established Winter's reputation. The songs were more compact, precise and clean, full of blistering guitar work, but with much of the fat trimmed from the bone. This recording exemplifies this new approach and features Winter now playing a modified Gibson Firebird, which would become his guitar of choice over the next decade. This set includes several of his trademark classic rock covers, a couple of tracks from Still Alive and Well, in addition to several sneak previews of tracks destined for his next album, Saints And Sinners.
When Winter took to the stage at Manhattan's Palace Theatre on Broadway and performed this set for Don Kirchner's Rock Concert television show taping, he was ready to prove himself all over again. The band wisely chose two of the best tracks from Still Alive And Well, both blazing with energy here. "Can't You Feel It," the album's single, penned by Dan Hartman, who worked with Johnny's brother, Edgar, is a prototypical riff monster and Winter's cover of the Jagger/Richards tune, "Silver Train," simply leaves the Stones' own version smoldering in its ashes. In all fairness, Jagger and Richards wrote this song specifically for Winter and his arrangement and sizzling slide work fulfill the promise of this song as they knew only he could.
However, it is the stripped down trio arrangements of the forthcoming Saints And Sinners material that may be the most engaging. From the opening crunch of "Bad Luck Situation" to the fast rockin' "Thirty Days" later in the set, Winter's blistering leads and lightning fast rhythm work are in abundance, without ever becoming too self indulgent. However, it's the pulverizing lead on "Stone County" that kicks the hardest, with Winter's fingers flying up and down the fret board. All three surpass the energy level and have more immediacy than the studio versions soon to be recorded.
Also of note is the rarely played, "Trying So Hard (To Get You Off My Mind)," which was not included in the TV broadcast, and of course his ultimate crowd pleasers, "Rock And Roll Hoochie Coo" (unfortunately not completely captured on this soundboard recording, but featured in its entirety on the actual broadcast), and the double-whammy set closers, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Johnny B. Goode," both taken at a frantic and furious pace.
The parts of this set that were included in the TV broadcast went a long way in reestablishing Winter's prominence as one of the most exciting and original guitarists on the planet. Much like his albums of this era, this material is clearly geared toward the rock side of the rock/blues equation, and in retrospect, magnificently represent some of the spiciest guitar-oriented rock music of the early 1970s. The long self-indulgent blues excursions of the past were now replaced with a tight focused approach. What remained were the juiciest parts, maintaining the energy level at a consistent extreme, often pummeling in its sheer intensity.
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