Johnny Winter – Progressive Blues Experiment
Currently residing in the “Aptly Titled Album” category: this album.
If—by “progressive”—you mean tearing the shit out of everything else going on at the time, throwing the scraps on the floor, and stompin’ all over them. Next to this record, John Mayall’s “Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton” (recorded just 2 years earlier) sounds like a bunch of bloody nursery rhymes played on ukelele and thumb piano.
The sound here is about as raw as anything committed to LP in the name of the blues, and that’s what makes it so extraordinary. Yes, the talent is there—Johnny Winter is in ideal form, conjuring all the primal spirits of the blues, while steering clear of both the stadium histrionics and the slop-assed wankery that would mar so much of his work in the next decade. With him are Tommy Shannon on bass (later one half of Double Trouble, the famed rhythm section that would propel Stevie Ray Vaughan to the heights), and Uncle John Turner on drums, whose trash can assault, Austin funk, and scattershot reverence for the greased-up Chicago shuffle give the album its wild pocket.
Together, they literally just tear the songs apart without respite. Winter is a case study in how a voice and a guitar can virtually disappear into one another and come out the other side in a blasting unison—imagine Fred McDowell on a Fender Electric XII through an amp on 11.
The familiar songs here, like “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Got Love If You Want It” are still familiar, but they’re also somehow first deconstructed to their primal cores, then rebuilt into things even wilder, funkier, and more raw.
The standout track, in my estimation, is “Mean Town Blues.” It’s everything you want primal, trash-can blues to be—raw, funky, greasy, soulful, and kind of menacing …
There’s some incredible footage out there of Winter & Co. performing this song live, not long after the record was recorded. Check it out, then go buy the whole album. But beware, it’ll go for your throat …
I should note that there are a couple of acoustic pieces on the album as well. They’re cool as hell tracks, but for me, they’re not what the album is about. This is electric blues—served raw.