Collectors' Choice Live
All Access Review: A-
It was a curious decision to say the least. After Johnny Winter split with the band – bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer “Uncle” John Turner - that had backed him on 1969’s Johnny Winter and 1970’s Second Winter, an album that also boasted the instrumental multi-tasking of brother Edgar – the Texas blues guitar dynamo took a flyer on three members of The McCoys. That’s right, those McCoys, the same gang responsible for the 1965 smash hit “Hang On Sloopy.”
Playing matchmaker, it was Johnny’s manager, Steve Paul, who suggested the pairing, and what an inspired union it was. At first blush, the trio of guitarist/vocalist Rick Derringer, drummer Randy Zehringer and bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and the roughneck, garage-flavored R&B they were known for seemed unlikely to push and prod Winter to new heights. But, by the late ‘60s, the McCoys were experimenting more and more with psychedelia, and their performances at Paul’s Scene club in New York indicated to Paul that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t so different that they couldn’t make a go of it.
Immediately, Winter and his new band mates fell into lockstep. A couple of weeks of jam sessions led to the recording of 1970’s brilliant Johnny Winter And, an edgier, more rock-oriented record than anything Winter had previously done, though still thoroughly basted with Lone Star state blues. Many consider it to be the high point of Winter’s recorded output, and the former McCoys, now sharing musical recipes with Winter, were now getting their just due.
The very month Johnny Winter And, doubling also as the name of this new super group, was released Winter and company invaded the Fillmore East and burned the place to the ground, as this seven-song concert document, one of the first rare vintage live recordings being issued by the Collectors’ Choice Live label, of that fiery performance proves. With Derringer and Winter trading wild, uninhibited solos, their duels like Old West shootouts with bullets, or, in this case, notes, flying everywhere, Johnny Winter And sizzle on the opener “Guess I’ll Go Away” and follow it up with the equally potent “Good Morning Little School Girl” – two simmering blues numbers that rapidly are brought to a boil.
After showcasing the Derringer-penned, slash-and-burn rocker “Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo,” a song he would later score a Top 30 hit with and a featured track on the then-newly released Johnny Winter And, the foursome downshift into the tantalizing, smoky blues workout “It’s My Fault,” which flies off into an extended jam that could have gone on forever … and almost does. Anyway, the slide-guitar frenzy of “Mean Town Blues” and the locomotive power of “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” close out the proceedings in breathless fashion, following a completely unhinged, ramshackle deconstruction of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” that’s deliciously blasphemous.
As entertaining as it is to witness Winter and Derringer play with reckless abandon, without the sure, confident, and often combustible, movements of a well-oiled rhythm section binding it all together, their efforts would have resulted in a chaotic, self-absorbed mess. Bounding to and fro, Hobbs and Zehringer, bashing it out with controlled violence, are a force in and of themselves. While the playing is smoking and white-hot, there’s also a loose and carefree vibe that comes across clearly, and the occasional rebel yell signals just how much fun this hastily put together, if short-lived, unit was having at the time. Now, those who weren’t at the Fillmore East back then can beat their heads against the wall with regret over missing seeing them in person.
- Peter Lindblad