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

John Mayall’s New Album is a Sizzling Late Career Blues Gem

They don’t call John Mayall “The Godfather of British Blues” for nothing. If you’ve paid attention to the blues legend, which I admittedly haven’t as much as I probably should have as somebody who digs the blues, you realize the now-88-year-old has been on an incredible late-stage career roll. Between 2014 and 2019, Mayall has released four albums and just came out with yet another one. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not only about quantity but more importantly, it’s about quality. In my book, Mayall sure as heck continues to deliver on both!

The Sun is Shining Down, which appeared last Friday, January 28 via Forty Below Records, is Mayall’s close-to-70th record overall, including his releases with The Bluesbreakers. Even if you leave out the live and compilation records, you still easily get to 50-plus albums, which have come out over a 57-year recording period. The picture below taken from Mayall’s website captures his remarkable catalog.

Sure, The Sun is Shining Down, is blues and there are only so many ways you can play the blues. While as such it’s fair to say Mayall doesn’t reinvent the genre, he still has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, which I will get to when taking a closer look at some of the album’s tracks. Mentioning the guest artists may give you a hint or two: Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera, Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro.

Mayall (vocals, keyboards, harp) is also backed up by his longtime Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), along with Austin-based guitarist Carolyn Wonderland who has been part of Mayall’s band since April 2018. And let’s not forget about the neat horn section featuring Mark Pender (trumpet), Richard Rosenberg (trombone) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone). I’d say ’nuff with background and let’s get to some music, and it’s going to be great!

John Mayall and his core band (clockwise from top left): John Mayall, Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport

Here’s the album’s first track, Hungry and Ready, one of six tunes written by Mayall. The remaining four songs are covers. Mayall couldn’t have picked a better opener, which features Chicago blues guitarist Melvin Taylor. The title says it all. Mayall and his backing band clearly were ready to play some sizzling blues, and it all sounds incredibly fresh. The vibe of the tune is somewhere between Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and the soulful Sweet Home Chicago, Blues Brothers-style. If you dig the blues, how can you not love this!

Since I previously wrote about the excellent Can’t Take It No More featuring rising roots and blues rocker Marcus King on guitar, I’m skipping it here and go right to I’m As Good As Gone, one of the aforementioned covers. Written by Bobby Rush, the tune was first recorded for his 2011 studio album Show You a Good Time. Mayall’s rendition features Americana artist and guitarist Buddy Miller. Nice!

Next, let’s get to something you don’t frequently hear when it comes to the blues – a tune featuring a violinist playing fill-ins commonly provided by a guitar. And we’re not talking any violinist here, we’re talking Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976 concert tour. Among others, she played that great violin part on Dylan’s Hurricane. Here’s Got to Find a Better Way, another Mayall composition. The title surely doesn’t refer to the music- check out how cool a violin can sound playing the blues!

Another highlight on the album is Chills and Thrills, a tasty funky tune written by Bernard Ellison as the title track for his 2008 album. You can check out the original here. Now let’s listen to Mayall’s rendition. I think he wisely chose to stay close to the original – why mess with something that’s perfect! This cover features the talented Mike Campbell on guitar. This is some groovy shit with a great guitar solo!

I guess by now you’ve noticed I love this album and could go on and on. The last track I’d like to call out presents another surprise. How ’bout a blues solo played on an electric ukulele? Enter Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. The song is One Special Lady, another tune penned by Mayall. The ukelele solo action starts at around 2:14 minutes. The tune also showcases Mayall’s fine skills on keyboards. Amid all the first-rate artists he has played with throughout his career and, frankly, helped nurture, Mayall oftentimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a musician. My only criticism here is Shimabukuro should have been given a bit more room. That ukelele blues action is super cool!

Here’s the entire album pulled from Spotify.

The Sun is Shining Down was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mayall has lived since the late ’60s, at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitudes studio. And, yep, that’s the Robby Krieger who used to be with The Doors. The album was produced by Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records. According to his website, apart from Mayall, Corne’s impressive credits include Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (of Heart) and Krieger, among others.

“I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” said Mayall in a statement. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each one of these special guests brings something unique to the album and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music.” I couldn’t agree more!

Unfortunately but quite understandably, Mayall separately announced he will substantially scale back his touring schedule, citing the pandemic and his age. Fans will still be able to see him at local shows “and the occasional concert further afield.” Southern California is a bit far for me, but if Mayall will ever return to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tristate area or Philadelphia, I’d seriously consider seeing him – unfortunately, I never have. Heck, I might even return to Boston where I saw Neil Young solo in July 2018!

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mayall website; Eric Cone website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify