Edgar Winter Celebrates Brother’s Legacy With All-Star High-Octane Tribute Album

To any more frequent visitors of the blog or folks who know my music taste otherwise, this post shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. As somebody who digs blues and blues-rock, I simply couldn’t ignore Brother Johnny, Edgar Winter’s blazing new tribute to his older brother and Texas blues legend Johnny Winter, which came out last Friday (April 15). Sure, packing an album with impressive guests like Joe Bonamassa, Keb’ Mo’, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr doesn’t automatically guarantee a great outcome but, man, this album truly cooks!

In addition to renditions of Johnny Winter originals Mean Town Blues, I’m Yours and I’m Hers, Stranger, Guess I’ll Go Away and Self Destructive Blues, the 17 tracks on Brother Johnny feature a number of classics the guitar slinger from Beaumont, Texas covered, such as Johnny B. Goode, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Got My Mojo Workin’. There are also two new songs written by Edgar Winter.

According to this Rock & Blues Muse review, the idea for a tribute album first emerged in the wake of Johnny Winter’s death in July 2014 at the age of 70.  “Many people immediately started trying to convince me to do a Johnny Winter tribute album,” Edgar recalled. “But I was totally devastated, and the timing just didn’t feel right to me.”

Edgar added, “It wasn’t until after I completed the Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest, a tour we were meant to do together with our respective bands, that the idea of a tribute record started to take form.” Looks like from there it still took quite a bit of additional time for the project to materialize, but the wait was certainly worth it. Let’s check out some of the goodies!

The fireworks start with the opener Mean Town Blues, featuring Joe Bonamassa on badass slide guitar. First released on February 18, the track is one of three songs that appeared as singles ahead of the album. Johnny Winter originally recorded Mean Town Blues for his 1968 debut album The Progressive Blues Experiment.

On Lone Star Blues, one of the tunes penned by Edgar Winter, things turn acoustic, sparse and personal. Keb’ Mo’ does a neat job on what sounds like a resonator guitar and also shares vocals with Edgar. “I don’t think this album would be complete without at least one, heartfelt, personal tribute from me to my brother–in the form of a song,” Edgar wrote in the album’s liner notes, as separately reported by Rock & Blues Muse. Well, I was born in Beaumont left when I was in my teens/I hit the highway, going down to New Orleans/I was playing music, searching for just what life means

One of Brother Johnny’s standouts is I’m Yours and I’m Hers, featuring Billy Gibbons and Derek Trucks. Winter included this original tune on his eponymous sophomore album that came out in April 1969. With Trucks arguably being one the best contemporary slide guitarists and Gibbons being no slouch either, you just know this rendition has to be good. Well, check it out!

This review wouldn’t be complete without highlighting Johnny B. Goode, a track Winter recorded for his third studio release from October 1969, a double album somewhat misleadingly titled Second Winter. Johnny B. Goode became a regular of Winter’s live set. On Brother Johnny, the Chuck Berry classic is delivered with help from Joe Walsh (lead vocals), David Grissom (lead guitar), Bob Glaub (bass) and Gregg Bissonette (drums). Meanwhile, Edgar Winter demonstrates his saxophone chops with a nice solo. Additional vocals are provided by guitarist Phil X. Yes, Johnny B. Goode has been covered a million times, but this is just a killer rendition.

Let’s do one more: Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Winter included what is one of my all-time favorite Rolling Stones songs on his first live album Live Johnny Winter And, released in March 1971. Johnny Winter And was actually the name of Winter’s band at the time. This new version features the above-mentioned Phil X.

Some additional comments about the other musicians on the album. The above-mentioned Gregg Bissonette provides drums on all tracks except Stranger, which features Ringo Starr. Sean Hurley and Bob Glaub share duties on bass. Other guests include Doyle Bramhall II, John McFee, Robben Ford, Warren Haynes, Steve Lukather, Michael McDonald, Doug Rappoport, Bobby Rush, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Waddy Wachtel.

The album also features the late Taylor Hawkins who provides lead vocals on Guess I’ll Go Away. This marks the ex-Foo Fighters drummer’s first posthumous recording following his untimely death on March 25, as reported by Rolling Stone.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album.

The album was produced by Edgar Winter and Ross Hogarth. According to Discogs, his previous production credits include artists, such as Melissa Etheridge, Ziggy Marley, Rita Coolidge and Gov’t Mule. The album appears on Quarto Valley Records. According to Rock & Blues Mule, label founder Bruce Quarto was and remains a loyal and enthusiastic fan of Johnny, classic rock, and blues music. It was his positive energy that made Edgar realize that the time to pay musical respects to his departed brother had finally arrived.

Brother Johnny is a true labor of love. The one thing I find a bit unfortunate is the total absence of female artists. It certainly cannot be for lack of talent. Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Shemekia Copeland, Ana Popović, Dani Wilde and Sue Foley are some who in my mind could have been great fits. I understand Raitt and Wilde have shared the stage with Johnny Winter. Of course, there could be legitimate reasons for what on the surface does look a bit surprising.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; Rolling Stone; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

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Jackson Browne Still Strong And Far From Running On Empty

Vonda Shepard delivers soulful opening

Jackson Browne must have a secret, and I wanna know what it is. While the man supposedly has been running on empty for the past 40 years, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After I had heard the song for the first time on the radio in Germany in the late ’70s, Browne quickly became one of my favorite artists. Not surprisingly, I was really psyched when I finally saw him for the first time Sunday night at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in the former steel town of Bethlehem, Pa.

After a 45-year-plus recording career, Browne’s voice still sounded just as great as it did back in the days of Running On Empty. Heck, he even largely looked the same with the same hairstyle – okay, now with grey hair and glasses, but overall, time has been relatively kind to Browne. And what an ace backing band! But let’s start from the beginning.

Jackson Browne Concert Poster

Have you ever been to a rock & roll show that started on time? I don’t recall any, but this one actually did! At 7:30 PM on the dot, Browne walked out on stage to personally introduce his opening act: American singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Frankly, I had never heard of her before. Browne called her a great songwriter who for sometime had been part of his band. Oh, and he also allowed her to use his current backing band – what a class act!

I have to say I was impressed with Shepard, who reminded a bit of Sheryl Crow. Her voice has a nice soulful vibe. She also is a musician, playing the piano, bass and guitar.  Shepard started out as a backing singer, eventually got a record contract, and released her eponymous debut album in 1989. After her third record had appeared in 1996, she was hired for the TV sitcom Ally McBeal, for which she recorded two companion soundtrack albums. She scored a hit with Searchin’ My Soul, a catchy pop rock tune she co-wrote with Paul Howard Gordon. To date Shepard has released 14 albums. Here is a clip of Searchin’ My Soul, which was the closer of her 25-minute set.

Then the time had finally come for Jackson Browne. From the opening bars of Before The Deluge to the final notes of the encore, I was amazed by Browne’s voice and his musicianship. With a 45-year-plus recording career, he certainly had an enormous catalog he could pull from and he did. I wasn’t familiar with all of the tunes he performed, but with the help of Setlist.fm, I figured out the entire set except for one song.

The first tune I’d like to call out is The Long Way Around, a track from Browne’s last studio album Standing In The Breach, which appeared in October 2014. One thing I liked about the song was the great solo by Browne’s lead guitarist Val McCallum, whose guitar work shined throughout the evening. I just dig the clear and transparent sound he got out of his Fender Telecaster. Here’s a nice clip.

Another highlight was Lives In The Balance, the title song from Browne’s eighth studio album released in February 1986. The stripped back version prominently featured his terrific backing vocalists Alethea Mills and Chavonne Stewart, who added a dose of gospel and soul. Check it out.

Amid all his songs, Browne also threw in a cover of I’m A Patriot, a tune written by Little Steven for his second solo album Voice Of America from May 1984. Again, backing singers Mills and Stewart featured prominently in the laid back tune and did a beautiful job.

In addition to being a great songwriter and vocalist, Browne is a pretty decent guitarist. One standout in this context was Your Bright Baby Blues from his fourth studio album The Pretender released in November 1976. It featured some nice slide guitar work by Browne. You can watch it here.

Speaking of The Pretender, here is the great title track of the album. It was one of the tunes Browne played on the piano.

Running On Empty was the last track of the regular set. I still love this song after all these years. Greg Leisz did a beautiful job on pedal steel guitar. Like the amazing David Lindley, this guy is an impressive multi-instrumentalist.

Browne waited to the encore to play one of his other major hits: Take It Easy, which he co-wrote with Glenn Frey. It became the first single for the Eagles in May 1972. Browne included the tune on his sophomore album For Everyman, which came out in October 1973. On Sunday night, he blended it into Our Lady Of The Well, the second tune on that record. Leisz provided more beautiful pedal steel guitar. It’s all nicely captured in the following clip.

In addition to McCallum, Leisz, Mills and Stewart, Browne’s excellent backing band included Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums) and Jeff Young (keyboards). Here is the entire set list.

  • Regular
    • Before The Deluge
    • Some Bridges
    • You Love the Thunder
    • The Long Way Around
    • The Dreamer
    • Lives In The Balance
    • Doctor My Eyes
    • These Days
    • Shaky Town
    • Never Stop
    • I’m A Patriot
    • Somebody’s Baby
    • Looking East
    • Your Bright Baby Blues
    • World in Motion (together with Vonda Shepard)
    • Unknown song
    • I’m Alive
    • Sky Blue and Black
    • Shape of the Heart
    • The Pretender
    • Running on Empty
  • Encore:
    • Take It Easy
    • Our Lady Of The Well

Source: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Jackson Browne/Running On Empty

Jackson Browne has been one of my favorite artists for many years. When I recently learned he is touring, I simply couldn’t resist and got a ticket for a show on May 13 in Bethlehem, Pa. I was lucky, since the concert was almost sold out, though the ticket wasn’t exactly cheap. Still, I’m completely psyched!

Running On Empty was the first song by Browne I ever heard in the late ’70s/early ’80s. The title track of his fifth album from December 1977 immediately grabbed me and still does. The entire record is amazing and is one of the best ’70s albums, in my opinion.

Apparently, the above clip was captured during a gig in Adelaide, Australia in March this year. It shows Browne’s current touring band, which consists of Bob Glaub (bass), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Shane Fontayne (guitar), Alethea Mills (vocals), Chavonne Stewart (vocals), Jeff Young (keyboards) and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). While it is perhaps impossible to replace the amazing David Lindley, who played lap steel guitar on the original recording, it surely sounds like Leisz is doing a great job.

Browne’s current tour schedule shows some 40 dates across the country between early May and early August.

Sources: Wikipedia, Jackson Browne official website, YouTube