FAME Review: Johnny Winter - Live at Rockpalast (DVD)
Johnny Winter - Live at Rockpalast (DVD)

Live at Rockpalast

Johnny Winter

MVD Visual - MVD5184D (DVD)

Available from MVD Entertainment Group.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

The Winter brothers were unique in all of rock and roll, albino siblings who took the rock world by storm more than once in their uneven careers, survivors purely through a love of music, chiefly black musics, and the will to hold forth on stage regardless of what the times portended. Johnny started well before Edgar, lasted the longest, and forever held strong to his love of the blues despite sometime improvidential excursions elsewhere…which this very performance intended to set back to rights, and certainly achieved that lofty goal. Now we have a permanent record of the event.

Winter was hailed from the moment his debut LP touched ground in 1969, an effort still regarded as landmark, and that soaringly staccato style of his stood out for its rough but fluid insistence. Here, in a trio format, he covers a number of old songs from Freddie King, Jimmie Rogers & Walter Horton, Junior Wells and others, the centerpiece of which is the 17-minute cover of Willie Brown's Mississippi Blues, a rendition that starts out down home just south of Macon until the mid-point, where Johnny cranks into it and heads for the blue side of Saturn, incandescent and scorching. Not only was the stadium packed but millions across Europe caught the platinum-haired axe-slinger from Texas on TV in 1979.

Every cut here is exemplary, with Winter displaying his impeccable improv skills, inventive as all get out. Between cuts, he appears a mite distracted, some discontent on his mind, but as soon as he counts off the next track, it's back to business, and the outside world disappears, leaving the mangroves, bayous, and deep to take its place. That heat doubles as he tackles Dale Hawkins' Susie Q, lighting a match to the funky baseline and riding the song for all its worth. For 90 minutes, the band never flags—except perhaps as Johnny lets bassist Jon Paris take on the vocal chores in I'm Ready, not the wisest decision—Winter resplendent in non-stop mastery.

The show, though, is also a testament to a time that was about to cease as punk came stumbling in the side door; it's one of a number of memorials to the hippie / Woodstock / LSD / love & peace era collapsing under the weight of a twin assault by the new generation coming up and an increasingly oppressive mercantile milieu. Having caught Winter at the Hollywood Bowl in the 70s (with, if I remember correctly, Lee Michaels and Blood, Sweat & Tears, though, as loaded as I was, I may well be mixing things up), I remember the atmosphere and wide open vibe, the feeling of communalism, love of the arts, and free-spiritedness. Live at Rockpalast brought back memories of that whole experience. As time goes on and things get worse than ever…man, is stuff like this ever a shot in the arm!

Track List:

  • Hideaway (Freddie King)
  • Messin' with the Kid (Mel London)
  • Walking by Myself (Rogers / Horton)
  • Mississippi Blues (Willie Brown)
  • Divin' Duck (Sleepy John Estes)
  • Susie Q (Dale Hawkins)
  • I'm Ready (Waters / Dixon)
  • Rockabilly Boogie (Burnette / Mortimer / Hawkins)
  • Medley (various)
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash (Jagger / Richards)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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