Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2018 Mar-Apr Contents 16 Rhythms
In edition 23 of Rolling Stone Magazine, published in
1968, Larry Sepulvado and John Burk’s five-page report
on the Texas music scene included this quote: “The
hottest item outside of Janis Joplin still resides in Texas.
If you can imagine a hundred and thirty pound cross-
eyed albino with long, fleecy hair playing some of the
gutsiest, fluid blues guitar you have ever heard, then
enter Johnny Winter.”
Born in Leland, Mississippi in 1944, Johnny grew up in the
small industrial town of Beaumont, Texas, the son of a banjo
and saxophone playing father and a piano playing mother.
With his younger brother Edgar, also an albino, Johnny
performed as half of an Everly Brothers style duo before
the two teenage musicians formed a number of local bands
playing mainly blues and rock.
At age 15 Johnny recorded for the first time with his band
Johnny And The Jammers, releasing ‘School Day Blues’ on
a small Houston label. After graduating from high school,
Johnny hitchhiked to Louisiana, finding work backing
local blues and rock musicians. In the early ‘60s he arrived
in Chicago where he jammed in blues clubs with Michael
Bloomfield and Barry Goldberg prior to their formation of
The Electric Flag. Eventually returning to Texas, he scored
a one-album deal with Imperial Records, recording the
excellent but commercially unsuccessful The Progressive
Blues Experiment in 1968.
Intrigued by Rolling Stone’s article and the accompanying
photograph of this unlikely looking bluesman, New York
entrepreneur Steve Paul travelled to Texas to offer Johnny a
management contract, persuading him to return to New York
where he would secure the young musician a recording deal.
On his first night in the Big Apple, the 24-year-old joined
old mate Bloomfield on stage at The Fillmore East (captured
on Al Kooper And Michael Bloomfield – Fillmore East: The
Lost Concert Tapes) for a show stopping performance of B.B.
King’s classic ‘It’s My Own Fault’.
On the strength of that one show, Columbia Records offered
Johnny a contract and by January of 1969, he’d begun work
on his Johnny Winter album in CBS studios in Nashville.
Backed by bass guitarist Tommy Shannon – who would
later play with Stevie Ray Vaughan in Double Trouble – and
drummer ‘Uncle’ John Turner, Johnny and co-producer/
engineer Eddie Kramer – known for his work with Hendrix –
set about recording the album that would introduce the world
to Johnny’s complete mastery of the electric and acoustic
Fusing his blues roots with the power of rock technology,
Johnny’s major label debut set the tone for blues/rock
recordings for the next 30 years.
Re-released in 2004 with three bonus tracks, Johnny
Winter allowed the guitarist to run the gamut of his
influences on a bunch of blues classics and three originals.
Blessed with an expressive, impassioned voice, he opens
proceedings with his ‘I’m Yours And I’m Hers’, his double-
tracked guitar solo taking flight with blazing speed and
The second of his own compositions, ‘Dallas’, written, no
doubt, from personal experience, features Johnny alone
accompanying himself on a National steel guitar.
“I learned about slide guitar tunings by listening to Robert
Johnson’s King Of The Delta Blues album,” Johnny once
said. He pays tribute to the blues legend on two other
tracks, a second take of ‘Dallas’ featuring acoustic bass and
harmonica and ‘When You Got A Good Friend’.
The last of his own songs, ‘Leland Mississippi Blues’,
borrowed from B.B. King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’, sits comfortably
with King’s ‘Be Careful With A Fool’, both highlighted by
Johnny’s rapid fire soloing.
The album also features the talents of the other Winter
brother, Edgar, who provides horn arrangements on Sonny
Boy Williamson’s ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ and
Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘I’ll Drown In My Own Tears’, while
contributing alto sax and piano respectively.
Johnny’s singing on the latter is exemplary, his soulful
voice complementing the track’s gospel choir.
‘Mean Mistreater’ (with Willie Dixon on double bass and
Walter ‘Shakey’ Horton on harmonica), Lightnin’ Hopkins’
‘Back Door Friend’ and an exquisite rendition of Bobby
‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘Two Steps From The Blues’ (another bonus
track) provide overwhelming evidence to support the case
for Johnny Winter’s inclusion into the pantheon of music’s
truly great blues/rock performers.
Johnny Winter: Down And Dirty, a documentary about the
music and career of Johnny Winter was released on DVD
Colombian music is an entire universe of its own, much
like the other great South American powerhouse nation,
While it might be best known for cumbia, a compelling
layered rhythm laced with syncopated melody, Colombia
boasts myriad music styles that match the country’s rich bio-
diversity, geography and history.
Having coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans
– not to mention terrain and climates that range from
dry desert to snowy mountain peak, tropical highland to
Amazonian basin and Caribbean, African, Indigenous and
Spanish cultural heritage – has assisted the creation of a
cornucopia of Colombian genres.
In my first Connections column of the year, I drew attention
to the extraordinary 95-year-old Colombian singer-
songwriter Magín Díaz, whose belated debut album earned
him international exposure in his twilight years while
simultaneously showcasing music styles of the country’s
Caribbean region like bullerengue and chalupa.
In El Orisha de la Rosa Señor Díaz’s special guests included
legendary Colombian vallenato singer Carlos Vives. Also the
diva Toto la Momposina, whose sound is based on cumbia,
bullerengue and chalupa and other rhythms from Colombia’s
Caribbean coast, such as garabato and mapalé, as well as
Cuban son, guaracha, rumba and bolero, which arrived in
Colombia via the village of San Basilio de Palenque, located
in Bolivar in the north of the country.
The band that pioneered the fusion of Cuban music with
other Afro-influenced rhythms from Colombia’s Caribbean
coast back in the early 1980s, Son Palenque (pictured), has a
new album out. Kutu Prieta Pa Saranguia takes the synthesis
a step further, although steadfastly sidestepping modernity.
Built on traditional dance grooves and call & response vocals,
the band’s 16th album is hypnotic through repetition.
The Latin saxophone fills and solos provided by special
guest Michi Sarmiento, leader of one of Colombia’s premier
1970s/’80s salsa groups (Combo Bravo), embroider the
opening handful of tracks of Son Palenque’s new set, but it is
the two-headed tambora Caribbean drums and singing that
provides the album’s hypnotic heart and pulse.
Another new album out of Colombia, Al Aire, showcasing a
twin sister act from the capital Bogotá known as Las Áñez,
could hardly provide a starker contrast. Yet it, too, draws
on Colombian folklore, albeit blended with contemporary
pop. The music produced by Valentina and Juanita Áñez
on their sophomore release – primarily from their voices in
close harmony on unusual arrangements involving minimal
percussion, electric keyboard and a loop station – is highly
individualistic and innovative, comparable with Laurie
Anderson and Björk at their most adventurous.
Looking back to the early 2000s, Colombian super-star
Shakira’s multi-national chart-topper ‘Whenever, Wherever’
(released as ‘Suerte’ in Spanish-speaking countries) was
significantly influenced by Andean music, and featured
those distinctive indigenous instruments charango and
The country’s current international Grammy-collecting pop
pinup Juanes, who’s performing at this year’s Bluesfest, was
weaned on a diet of boleros, tangos and cumbias and other
Colombian folk music styles such as vallenato and guasca.
His current video hit ‘La Camisa Negra’, for instance, is built
squarely on cumbia rhythm.
Cumbia-flavoured new releases from bands based in France
and the United States underline the growing influence of
Colombia’s national genre offshore.
From Rennes in Brittany, the exotically named La
TchouTchouKa play what they describe as old school electric
cumbia combined with the soul of a Breton traditional
festival. With El Chuchutero, the multi-cultural octet
interprets Colombian repertory mainly recorded in the
1960s, based on the story of Discos Fuentes (the mythical
Colombian record studio) and the tunes of a legendary band
of that era called Los Corraleros de Majagual. The album
kicks off with a coruscating cumbia, ‘Descabezada’.
The latest self-titled album from Oakland-California band La
Misa Negra, a septet that blends heavyweight cumbia and
other high-energy Afro-Latin music, channels Colombia’s
Golden Age. Tracks like ‘Me Voy Pa Porce’ and ‘Acosadora’
drill deep into traditional Afro-Colombian influences such as
currulao, from the country’s Pacific region.
Melbourne’s Cumbia Cosmonauts, La Misa Negra’s
counterpart Down Under, are recognised internationally
as pioneers of so-called ‘Cumbia Digital’. The Cosmonauts
have performed at most leading Australian festivals, toured
Europe and the US and their tracks have graced compilations
such as Cumbia Libertad (2016), The Rough Guide to
Psychedelic Cumbia (2015) and Cumbia Bestial! (2012).
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