In the absence of a proper Johnny Winter box set, one that chronicles the best tracks from The Progressive Blues Experiment through his brilliant tenure with Columbia Records and its subsidiaries, one that digs deep into his work as a recording artist as well as a producer of Muddy Waters' fine last recordings, this will have to do. And as such, it does pretty well. Shout Factory has assembled a two-disc collection here; it contains 35 cuts that cross-license music from 1967 through to 2004 on Imperial, Columbia, Blue Sky (a defunct Columbia imprint), Alligator, Pointblank, and Virgin. Some fans might be deeply satisfied with this set because it concentrates on Winter's more ferocious guitar wizardry and his blues and roots rock pedigrees. The set commences with "Rollin' and Tumblin'" from 1967's The Progressive Blues Experiment and then jumps right into the Columbia years with his cover of B.B. King's "Be Careful with a Fool," "Country Girl," and "I'm Yours and I'm Hers" from his raucous self-titled debut for the label in 1969, recorded with Uncle John Turner and Tommy Shannon, who would later become Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble. Tracks from Second Winter, Johnny Winter And, Live Johnny Winter And, Still Alive and Well, Saints & Sinners, John Dawson Winter III, Captured Live!, Together: Johnny and Edgar Winter, White Hot & Blue, Raisin' Cain, and Nothin' But the Blues are included. The final four tracks are from his later labels, and bottom line don't really measure up to the Columbia material.
So what's the problem? For starters, the early records, those recorded between 1969 and 1974, are all rich, deep, and varied. Winter plays acoustic as well as electric, and there is a real lack of the acoustic tracks here. Next, the middle period of the Columbia albums, the ones where Winter really brought the electric blues to what was then the mainstream of hard rock, are given short shrift -- particularly Still Alive and Well and Saints & Sinners. Finally, Winter served as producer and guitarist on two of Muddy Waters' final three records, and sent the great bluesman -- and his inspiration -- out like a lion. These recordings appeared on Blue Sky and there isn't a track from either of them here, which is inexcusable. That said, what is included provides little to complain about. The rock fans will love that the live rock & roll medley is here, as well as the original studio version of "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo," and some may be thrilled to find "Self-Destructive Blues" and the latter-year cover of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" to accompany the version he did of the bard's "Highway 61 Revisited" from Second Winter. So, while it is quite incomplete, it's a solid Winter mix, and one that does get to the real spirit of the artist, even if it doesn't capture the depth and range of his craft.