Classic Rock n’ Blues Fest – (concert review)

Classic Rock n’ Blues Fest – Fraze Pavilion – 8/29/12 – I’ve just seen one of the true legends of the guitar – Johnny Winter, as part of the Classic Rock n’ Blues tour.  Here’s a guy who played Woodstock, befriended Jimi Hendrix, dated Janis Joplin, and is still around to tell about it all these years later.  And man can he still play!

The evening began with Kim Simmonds, guitarist for Savoy Brown, backed by Edgar Winter’s Band.  He came out in a Gibson Flying V and hat.  At one point, he addressed the crowd and gave some history of his band, saying he didn’t want to be referred to as “that guy that opened the show.”  His soloing was fierce, with an extended jam of their song “Poor Girl,” from 1970.  The crowd responded best to “Tell Mama,” a track off their 1971 album Street Corner Talking.

After a short break,  Rick Derringer took the stage to the appropriate “Still Alive and Well.”  He spent a great deal of his set talking to the crowd, first giving the long story behind his track “Real American,” which was first used by wrestler Hulk Hogan to open his matches, but has since been nabbed by politicians on both sides of the fence for use in their campaigns.  He followed that up with the classic party anthem, “Hang on Sloopy,” which is the official Ohio state song, and only makes sense, since Derringer grew up not far from Dayton (he talked about the McCoys, his first band, getting their big break at a club in Forest Park, close to Dayton). His set closed with an all-star jam featuring Edgar Winter, and Simmonds riffing to his “Rock n’ Roll Hoochee Koo,” which featured an insane guitar solo at the end courtesy of Derringer, which was equal parts Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix.

Leslie West of Mountain actually was ill and did not play this evening, so the third performer was Edgar Winter, who opened with two tracks off his latest CD, “Rebel Road,” and “Eye on You,” before giving way to a long jam of the classic “Tobacco Road,” which saw Edgar pick up sax, keyboards, and then engage each band member in a scatting match – he’d sing a line, then dare each musician to mimic on their instrument – resulting in a 20 minute spirited jam of the song.  Between tunes, Edgar talked of how he was the first musician to come up with the idea of strapping the keyboard around your neck – which he did for a killer version of his instrumental monster, “Frankenstein.”  Edgar switched back and forth between keyboards, sax, and drums, flitting, almost like a bee would, but each time delighting in his prowess over these instruments. He ended his set with another all-star jam, where he brought up Derringer and Simmonds for his hit “Free Ride.”

Then, after a short set change, came older brother Johnny Winter, looking frail and needing help to get to the front.  Yet, when he sat down and put a guitar in his hand, it was pure magic. The first thing he tackled was a blistering version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”  Johnny may have a little trouble getting around, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with his fretwork, which was dazzling throughout the show.  Most of what Johnny put out was classic blues – which, after the mostly blues-rock infused sets, was a welcome change.  He did a searing version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” before slowing things down for Ray Charles’ early blues number “Blackjack.”

Yes, Johnny Winter sat down during most of his performance, but he still did things that none of the others could do.  For one, his guitar tone was big and fat – meaty beyond words.  The other thing is that his supple playing was a true delight – his hands flew over the fretboard like a teenager.  He did two songs near the end that have been associated with the Stones – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (their song), and “It’s All Over Now,” (a song the Stones recorded early on, which was actually done by Bobby Womack and his band the Valentinos).  During the latter song, Winter brought out everyone for a rousing jam – Edgar honking away on sax, while Derringer and Simmonds traded licks with Johnny.  After a quick break,  Winter launched into a spirited rendition of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” for the encore, which he originally did for his Second Winter album.

Each musician had their own unique take on the blues, with most of the earlier guys leaning more toward the rock side, which allowed Johnny Winter to really shine in classic blues fashion.  He never had a hit song, like either younger brother Edgar or Derringer, but Johnny is no less of a talent.  The Classic Rock n’ Blues Fest was a rare opportunity to see an under-appreciated artist that can still bring the heat.  –Tony Peters