News came today of the passing of guitar great Johnny Winter. In his hotel room in Zurich. He was a true original and I’ll miss him.
I first heard Johnny Winter play in 1971 on what turned out to be an historic bill at the irrepressible Bill Graham’s Fillmore East. This was a time when I was living in a luxury apartment building on Dr. Seuss’s famous Mulberry Street in Springfield, Mass. My pals at the Mulberry House were hip entrepreneurs, dope dealers, or both. We thought nothing of jumping into a car, driving nearly three hours to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, parking on the street, catching a show at the Fillmore, then driving back home afterward. Road-tripping Seventies stoners.
That March 11, 12, 13, 1971 run at the Fillmore is known for the classic Allman Brothers two-record live set that was released four months later. Few people who owned the original vinyl or bought any of the subsequent re-issues and re-masters realize that the Allmans were not headlining on those shows.
The Brothers were an “Extra Added Attraction,” and they performed in the middle slot. At the top of the bill was a blues band that also featured a devastating twin lead guitar assault: Johnny Winter And.
For years I’ve referred to that evening as The Night Of The Five Killer Guitars. Leading off was Elvin Bishop, a guitarist who had logged five years with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, worked with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper on their hit Live Adventures album, and who now was fielding a funky R&B-influenced ensemble called the Elvin Bishop Group.
The Allman Brothers played next, with the double-threat of Dickey Betts and Duane Allman trading memorable guitar solos, as documented on their best-selling double album. But it was guitar monster Johnny Winter – aided by Rick Derringer, his second guitarist – who closed the show. Loud, rowdy and spectacular. Called Johnny Winter And, the band also included Randy Jo Hobbs on bass and vocals and Bobby Caldwell on drums and percussion. One of Johnny’s best lineups ever.
A few years ago I had an opportunity to see Johnny Winter perform here in Paris at the Olympia Music Hall. The tickets were in hand, our friend Warren Haynes was sharing the bill, I was amped. Then I collapsed on the bathroom floor of our apartment and wound up in the hospital for five days. Severely anemic as the result of a bleeding ulcer. Show night rolled around and I was still recovering in a hospital bed. I convinced Marti to go to the concert anyway. She phoned her gal pal Ileana and they went together. Our friend Ron Holloway, who plays sax with Warren, picked up the ball and hooked Marti up with backstage passes. (Marti didn't get to meet Johnny Winter. He'd opened the show, wasn't well, and had already returned to the hotel.) Left to right in the above pic: Marti, Warren, Ron’s friend Deborah and Ron.
During the show, Marti texted me a few song titles from Johnny’s set: “Something about a school girl.” Right, honey. ”Good Morning Little School Girl.”
And Good Night, Johnny. I’ll catch ya on the flip side.