Johnny “the Texas Albino” Winter cut his second record for Columbia Records in 1969 titled Second Winter, an 11-song, 3-sided album (2 LPs, the fourth side was left blank) that some consider to be his finest work. It shows the famed bluesman in something of a transitional move towards rock and roll, honky-tonk, and swing, with raging energy and imagination that is an improvement from his self-titled album Johnny Winter, of the same year.
The record opens with a raw, blistering eruption of Percy Mayfield’s Memory Pain that has Winter blazing away on one of his many Gibson Firebirds, (likely his preferred Firebird V from ‘63), over a funk-filled bassline. His voice, full of crushed rock and pitch perfect range is simply awesome here. His band features his younger brother Edgar Winter on piano, organ, harpsichord and alto sax, Tommy Shannon on bass, (Dennis Collins plays bass on The Good Love), drummer “Uncle” John Turner, while Johnny man-handles lead guitar, mandolin and vocals. They also cover Chuck Berry’s, Johnny B. Goode in a rock and rolling romp that would make the author proud. The song is clean and crisp, peppered by some of Edgar’s honky-tonk piano licks, and JW rips riffs that would put most guitarists on alert. Other reworked classics are Little Richard’s Slippin’ and Slidin’ and Miss Ann, plus the aforementioned The Good Love by Dennis Collins, which contain such scorching, searing solos on Johnny’s axe, “I don’t want to wreck nobody’s soul, I just want to rock & roll...groove me”. Winter’s own concoctions such as the raucous swing of I Hate Everybody, the machine- gunned guitar licks on Hustled Down in Texas, and the salty blues/rock bite on I Love Everybody attest to the man’s commitment to fine-honed sound and groove.
Not unlike what Jimi Hendrix did to Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, (made it his own), Winter brings the Beaumont Texas (his hometown) blues punch to another of Dylan’s masterpieces: Highway 61 Revisited. Here the throbbing cadence behind incendiary riffs and barking vocals mix to blues/rock perfection, so delicious that Dylan himself adapted the style for his live performances.
Johnny Winter was the first non-African American to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988, an honour befitting this frettage arsonist; new word - guitarsonist! He could light a fire with the best of them, like the night he was reluctantly called up on stage, at age 17, with none other than B.B. King, “He didn’t know if I could play or not, and I showed him. I got a standing ovation for it. It was the first time I ever played in front of a black audience. Me, my brother and a couple of our bandmates were the only whites in the audience.” (Jam Magazine).
As with many astounding guitarists, he struggled to find a fit between his emotional and technical prowess, but at the end of the day, he could spray notes down like rain on the hot Texas black-top. His sizzling fingerwork rode the guitar like a champ.
Second Winter was reissued in 2004 with 2 new tracks, a cover of Early in the Morning by Louis Jordan, and an instrumental cruise through Tell The Truth by Lowman Pauling. In addition, the package includes another set of jaw-dropping material from Live at Royal Albert Hall in April 1970, showcasing such classics as, Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson, a slow glowing groove on B.B. King’s It’s My Own Fault, his brother’s Frankenstein, and Tobacco Road by J.D. Loudermilk, to mention a few.
Second Winter sounds just as fresh and arousing as when it was first put to vinyl back in 1969. It is truly a touchstone blues/rock masterpiece that endures the passage of time.