Edgar Winter, Brother Johnny

Edgar Winter and Various Artists, Brother Johnny, (Quarto Valley Records)

Several years in the making, Brother Johnny is a labour of love, a warm tribute by Edgar Winter to his brother, who passed away aged 70 in 2014.

Johnny Winter was a virtuosic guitarist, excelling on slide guitar, who had a long performing career after releasing a series of acclaimed albums in the 1960s and ‘70s, winning Grammy awards along the way. He played the same piece of pipe for 30 years on both electric and acoustic guitars – “it’s just a piece of plumber’s pipe that just fits my finger real good.”

He had a close relationship with Muddy Waters, who came to think of him as a son, after producing three studio and a live album for him in the mid ‘70s, and helping to revive Waters’ career. Winter said that, as a child, he dreamed of playing the blues with Muddy Waters. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1988, the first non-African-American performer to be inducted, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 63rd its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list.

Johnny’s brother, Edgar, isn’t perhaps as well known, but has had a successful career as a multi-instrumentalist since the 1970s, playing in The Edgar Winter Group and a variety of other bands, including Sir Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. He is also a successful composer of music for film and television

Edgar speaks warmly of his brother: “When we were kids, we both loved music, but Johnny had this drive and determination. He had the dream, that burning ambition. He wanted to be a star! I loved music in and of itself, just for the beauty of rhythm and harmony; it was a deeply personal and private world for me. But Johnny wanted to be famous… He was Johnny `Cool Daddy’ Winter, with the guitar, the pompadour, the shades, and the girls. Not only did we learn to play music together, but because we were both albino, we shared a unique personal perspective on life different than anyone else’s.”

Brother Johnny features a star-studded cast of musicians, including Keb’ Mo’, Ringo Starr, Joe Bonamassa, Robben Ford, Warren Hayes, Billy Gibson, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. With 17 tracks and clocking in at 76 minutes, it’s a huge treat of an album and a fine tribute to one of the giants of blues rock. It’s packed to the gills with rocking version of some of Johnny Winter’s best-loved songs, including staples of his concerts, like Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode and Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.

Things kick off with Joe Bonamassa’s insistent slide driven riff against Gregg Bissonette’s outstanding drumming on Mean Time Blues. You know you’re in for a treat and there’s sixteen more tracks to come. We get some more of Joe on Johnny Winter’s Self Destructive Blues, this time adding his vocals to some tasty guitar work.

Talking of tasty guitar work, it’s all over this album. Kenny Wayne Shepherd adds some fireworks on Highway 61 Revisited, and flies up and down the fretboard, bending and sliding into notes on Rick Derringer’s Still Alive and Well, which appeared on Winter’s 1973 double album of the same name. Keb’ Mo’s resonator and slide take the heat level down a bit on Lone Star Blues, but it hits the spot nonetheless. Johnny Winter was a fine exponent of the resonator – check out the second side of his 1984 album with Sonny Terry, Whoopin’.

There are some very fine vocal performances as well. Edgar Winter does a great job throughout, and Warren Hayes on Memory Pain is exceptional.

Three songs that everyone knows – Johnny B. Goode, Jumping Jack Flash and Got My Mojo Working are all hugely enjoyable. Winter’s piano rocks Johnny B. Goode, aided and abetted by Joe Walsh’s characteristic singing. Got My Mojo working, with Bobby Rush on harp and vocals is a fine tribute both to Johnny Winter and his hero, Muddy Waters.

It’s hard to go wrong with so many exceptional musicians crammed into one album, with songs as strong as these, and so many of them. Edgar Winter has delivered an exceptional tribute to his brother, one of the giants of late 20th century blues.