Johnny Winter, The Wilma Theater, Missoula, MT – 3/29
Photo by Matt Riley
Johnny Winter is a living legend, surpassing time and turmoil and the prejudices of life to amass a career of not only great importance but iconic significance. At 67 years of age the Grammy winning bluesman who helped resurrect Muddy Waters’ musical career and has mastered Texas, Memphis and Chicago Blues, is still out on the road non-stop, touring the world and still putting out new albums. His stopover in Missoula was one to be remembered, as he showcased his love of pure blues at its roots and core.
The show opened with his backing band led by rhythm guitarist Paul Nelson delivering thick and soulful blues riffs for about 10 minutes before Winter, with his Cowboy hat and Laser (his white guitar without a headstock….and his favorite to play) came on stage. A banner simply saying “Johnny Winter” appeared behind the band as he took his seat center stage and commenced. Always a bluesman, Winter stuck to traditional and personal favorites throughout the first forty-five minutes of the show. First playing off the the amazing guitarmanship of Nelson and the rapid fire and solid bass-lines of bassist Scott Spray, he moved his quick fingers up and down the fretboard. Moving deeper into the set, his eyes shadowed by his Texas Cowboy hat, Winter let loose with some of the most impressive blues vocals heard this way in recent memory.
As the songs came and went the show continued to a standing, cheering dancing crowd at The Wilma. Johnny thanked everyone for coming out and then asked if he could play a little rock and roll. To joyous cheers he led the band into a very personal and Winter-esqe version of “Johnny Be Goode.” The band had a certain chemistry about them, with Winter fixed at the center, who shined the most when he focused on songs that were rooted in Chicago blues.
Paul Nelson who is in the mist of producing the latest album by Winter, to be called Roots, was a solid rock upon which the band stood. Johnny was the leader of this bandwagon and his amazing talent was not to be overlooked, although at times his age and weathered body seamed to almost disappear behind his amazing and liquid fast guitarmanship. Before the end of what was a short show by some standards, Winter broke out his custom made Gibson “Firebird” slide guitar to drift further into the realm of Texas blues to close out the evening.
With a tour that is currently taking him to Hawaii for a few shows, then to already sold-out shows in Japan, and on to Europe, Johnny Winter is an icon of the blues world who has passed through a gauntlet of tribulations yet is still a showman and bluesman at his core. He doesn’t stray from his roots, and that is why the upcoming album, with guests like Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and his brother Edgar will be a testament to the music he performs live.