Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Johnny Winter

  • Johnny Winter And [Columbia, 1970] B+
  • Live [Columbia, 1971] B-
  • Still Alive and Well [Columbia, 1973] B+
  • Saints and Sinners [Columbia, 1974] B
  • John Dawson Winter III [Blue Sky, 1974] C+
  • White, Hot and Blue [Blue Sky, 1978] B-
  • Raisin' Cain [Blue Sky, 1980] B-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Johnny Winter And [Columbia, 1970]
Ex-popstar Rick Derringer represents the North--real McCoy rock guitar, contentless AM songs, dumb vocals (watch out Steve Miller here comes Dino Valenti). Ex-bluesman Winter represents the South--spacey ex-blues guitar, formless FM songs, exalted vocals (and you thought spacey ex-blues was an insult). Result: best metal since Layla. B+

Live [Columbia, 1971]
Except for the eight-minute "Mean Town Blues," which damn near transforms John Lee Hooker's shuffle into a stumble, this is what every live album ought to be and all too few are: loud, fast, raucous, and to the point. But except for an intense "Good Morning Little School Girl" it doesn't get any encores. B-

Still Alive and Well [Columbia, 1973]
Winter will never be an especially personable singer, but I like what's he's putting out on this monkey-off-my-comeback: two late-Stones covers, plenty of slide, and a good helping of nasty. Nastiest: the Delta-styled "Too Much Seconal" and "Ain't Nothing to Me," dedicated to the subversive notion that sometimes the impassivity of country music is a little sadistic. White blues lives: the best and heaviest track is a Hoodoo Rhythm Devils song. B+

Saints and Sinners [Columbia, 1974]
I think what puts me off this otherwise searing assertion of rock and roll prowess is the engineering. Rick Derringer has done the standard live-sound job, in which echo is amplified into unnatural "depth," and theoretically that's fine. The average live-sound band is too busy doing promotional tours for its current album to worry about material for the next, but here the songs are lovingly chosen--there's even a good one from the pitiful Richard Supa. Rock and roll the way Johnny likes it, however, was meant to have a human dimension, and since he has trouble projecting irony or intimacy anyhow, a lot of these die a little when Derringer mixes them into heavy cuts. B

John Dawson Winter III [Blue Sky, 1974]
Those who considered Saints and Sinners a masterpiece or hard rock and roll should find this satisfactory. I prefer to figure out why Helen Reddy's version of "Raised on Rock" scores two out of a possible three on a credibililty scale of ten while Johnny's gets one. (Hint: showbiz kids relate to rock-schlock more authentically than albino bluesmen.) C+

White, Hot and Blue [Blue Sky, 1978]
He was lionized as an authentic bluesman when Rolling Stone discovered him in 1968, and that's how he ended up--only a racist would deny his feeling for this music. Feel is something else. When he's entertaining, he's derivative; when he's original, he sounds shrill. B-

Raisin' Cain [Blue Sky, 1980]
Up against the Blues Brothers soundtrack (a cousin, like it or not), the vocal gifts of this flashy white blues freak turned steadfast white r&b pro come clear--that drawling, high-pitched growl is his alone, and it's bluesier than Jake and Elwood for sure. On the other hand, Muddy Waters and Bobby Bland cut him. Unlike Jake or (especially) Elwood, and also unlike Muddy or Bobby, he doesn't seem to have a sense of humor. And he'll sing his bass player's songs. B-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]