Johnny Winter

Beginnings: 1960-1967

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Texas albino blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter was hardly an overnight sensation, and truthfully, he didn’t start out as a blues guitarist, either. He was just 15 when he first stepped into a Lone Star recording studio in 1960, and for the next seven years he was a complete studio rat, releasing dozens of regional singles in an impressive range of styles for local labels like Dart, Frolic, Diamond Jim, and Todd Records. Columbia Records discovered him in 1968 and groomed him as the next big rock guitar god, but Winter's pre-fame recording story, presented here over 40 tracks on two discs, is an interesting legacy all on its own. First, listeners shouldn’t expect a bunch of guitar fireworks here -- Winter was song-oriented, and these early sides find him trying out swamp pop, doo wop ballads, garage rock, nascent psychedelia, and Ventures-styled instrumentals (and interestingly, very little blues) with professionalism and verve. The sheer diversity of styles is impressive, highlighted by energetic instrumentals like “Ice Cube,” the intriguing “Geisha Rock,” and the shivery “Creepy”; fiery remakes of Bo Diddley's “Road Runner” (complete with trombone!), James Brown's “Out of Sight,” and Mose Allison's “Parchman Farm”; and side diversions like the very Dylanesque “Avocado Green” and the sleek garage psych of “Birds Can’t Row Boats.” No, Columbia turned Winter into and marketed him as a sideshow guitar genius (which he was -- it just wasn’t all he was) and Winter simply ran with the ball. These early sides, all tracked between 1960 and 1967, show a diverse and revealing other side to him. Most of these tracks have appeared on different quicky collections over the years, but this set brings them all together and makes for a fascinating hidden portrait of a guitar god who was really so much more.

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