Saturday, 19 July 2014

RIP John Dawson Winter III. The heroin finally got to you, but then you were 70, so I suppose you win on points

NB These soundfiles won’t play in Opera, but Firefox, Safari and Chrome are fine and maybe other browsers. But not in Opera, I’m afraid.

There was only one item of news which could knock the Ukrainian air crash, the Hamas/Israel squabbling and Kim Kardashian’s latest shopping trip on the head and that is surely the death of John Dawson Winter III. (Incidendtally, someone recently pointed out that most wars can almost always be settled by treaty in which a bit of give and take is involved, but you could never bring harmony to a family feud, and that is more what the trouble in Gaza is – ever heard one sibling rail against another? Bitter doesn’t begin to describe it and rhyme, reason, rational thought don’t ever get a look in and its always the other’s fault. Always.) To be honest there are 101 different guitar players and singers of the ilk of Johnny Winter and many are just as good. But he’s the only good one I know and whose LPs (NB to younger readers: an ancient, much revered form of CD, much missed. Have you ever tried spliffing up and a CD case? Once perhaps, then never again.) I can still remember the first time I heard him. I was in my last year at Dundee University just waking up to the sounds of Radio 1 (it was probably a Saturday) and the DJ played Funky Music (from the LP/CD Johnny Winter And) and I was hooked. Here it is:

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That was in 1972 and I began collecting more and more of his records. OK, compared to guitar players I have since come to appreciate such as Joe Pass, Grant Green, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Billy Bauer, John Scofield and the rest, Johnny Winter was a tad limited. But in his own context, raw rock of his kind, he was tops. Then there is his voice and his singing. And I also liked his sense of humour. He battled heroin addiction for most of his life, and after one particular spell in rehab wrote this, Still Alive And Well (from the album of that name). I particularly like the lines ‘Did you ever take a look to see who’s left around / every one I thought was cool is six feet underground’:

Still Alive And Well

Then there’s Too Much Seconal from the same album, about an addict friend with a great flute blues solo:

Too Much Seconal

This one I like a lot, for no other reason than I just like it a lot. It’s All Tore Down:All Tore Down

I don’t really have ‘favourite tracks’ but this one, Ain’t Nothing To Me. He’s giving advice to another guy in the bar not to chat up a particular woman. Her boyfriend is exceedingly jealous and carrying a gun. I like the lines: ‘Ah well, that’s life / or at least it was’:

Ain't Nothing To Me

Johnny Winter also covered songs, especially by the Stones and Dylan, and to my mind his versions of the Stones songs are better than those by the Stones which sound oddly anaemic once you have heard Winter’s. As for his versions of Dylan songs, he almost makes them his own. Here’s Like A Rolling Stone which, in my view, is as good as the original Dylan version:

Like A Rolling Stone

According to the Guardian Rolling Stone magazine named him ‘the 63rd best guitarist ever’. I’m really not too sure how great a compliment that is. He was obviously rated higher than whoever came 64th, but had it been me and I wasn’t in the top five, I would have told them where to stick their list of Best Guitarists Ever, then set light to it. And here’s the Telegraph’s take on his death. Here’s a clip of him playing live:


And his version of the Rolling Stones’ Stray Cat Blues (in view of recent stories about child abuse - the girl involved seems to be about 15) now a rather uncomfortable song. Ignore the title shown at the top of the video.

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