DVD Review: Johnny Winter — Live Through the 70s

Johnny Winter - Live Through the 70s

The DVD kicks off with a true oddity, a performance that is bizarre in any number of ways. This excellent-quality Danish TV clip from 1970 finds Winter playing with his original blues rhythm section (Tommy Shannon on bass and Uncle John Turner on drums), but they don’t kick off with a blues tune. Instead they play a new and (then-) unreleased song by Johnny’s brother Edgar, present on keyboards. The jazz-rock fusion “Frankenstein” would eventually become Edgar’s most popular song, and in its released version would prominently feature Edgar’s synthesizer playing. But here with Johnny, it’s all organ and electric piano. The performance is built around a drum duel between Edgar and Turner; Johnny plays an oddly cheap-looking Epiphone electric guitar, not the trademark Gibson Firebird.

The next set–from a few months later–finds Johnny in a setting more familiar to his fans. Easing toward his rock phase, here he performs lightning-fast guitar runs on a trio of songs. Footage from a post-concert appearance on a local TV show called Detroit Tubeworks is interspersed among the clips; this manner of presentation was a good call by the compilers of this set: the full Detroit Tubeworks set airing circulates (in lesser quality) among collectors, but is a bit tedious, and includes some painfully out-of-tune bass playing by Randy Hobbs. Still, fans should be grateful for any footage of Johnny speaking. As this writer can attest (and as this interview/feature on Johnny Winter illustrates) Johnny is a man of few words.

The Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert footage is of a style familiar to anyone who ever enjoyed that program. The canned applause layered on top of actual audience made for a cheesy feel (did every act really have to get a reception like The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl?), but Winter’s performances of “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” and “Stone County” are winners. Performing here fronting his rock trio (Johnny Winter And), his take on “Hootchie Koo” is fast-paced, owing more to Rick Derringer’s version than his own studio outing.

In 1979 Winter appeared on the German Rockpalast program; he’s returned to that show a number of times over the years, most recently in 2006. Here he plays a fiery version of “Walking By Myself” (from White Hot and Blue) plus “Mississippi Blues” and a cover of “Suzie Q”, Dale Hawkins by way of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

This no-frills disc is a worthwhile purchase for fans of Johnny Winter, as well as a good career-sampling introduction for those interested in learning a bit about this unique and splendid musician.