The long awaited video compilation produced by Val Minett (with Johnny's manager Teddy Slatus acting as Executive Producer) is now available, and it is nothing short of a beautiful thing. Previously unseen photos of Johnny taken by his wife Susan open the program, with various audio clips of Johnny talking interspersed. The only drawback, if there is one at all, is the choice of type font used for the photo captions and history clips throughout the tape. The fancy typeface is hard to read on a standard television set, at least for these 43-year-old eyes. Still, these are some mighty fine pictures of our guitar-slinging friend, and a fitting prequel to some pretty amazing video footage of Johnny in action.
I myself have been a fan of Johnny- as well as brother Edgar- since 1972, and have only dreamed of a video tape such as this. While I would have loved to have seen more vintage rock and roll Johnny, like his appearances on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and things of that nature, "Bits and Pieces" provides a very nice overview of a career that could fill a ten-video set easily.
First up are three live songs from the same show, with Johnny pulling out the Firebird for "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo," and one of my old favorites by Johnny Winter And, a J.W. original, "Stranger." Also from the same concert is the J.W. blues original, "Sweet Papa John." Awesome.
Next up, we get a rare clip of Muddy Waters, doing "Mannish Boy," followed by a clip dedicated to the memory of Edgar and Johnny's dad, John Dawson Winter II, who passed away in January of this year. The clip is rough and grainy, but hey, it's from 1970! It is Johnny and his band, with Edgar on keyboards and sax, playing "Life is Hard," and boy does it ever rock, with Uncle John Turner on drums and Tommy Shannon on bass.
Dr. John teams up with Johnny for "Love, Life and Money," and the results are absolutely timeless. Nobody does piano like the Doctor, and nobody burns across a fret board like Johnny. Together, they are magic. There is also a nice clip of Johnny jamming with B.B. King, and King talking about the first time Johnny joined him onstage.
The next few tunes appear in letter box format, pro-shot for sure, and Johnny is as hot as ever. The clips are from 1984, and feature Jon Paris on bass and harp. The red-hot "Bad Dog" opens the set, followed by "When You Got a Good Friend," introduced by Johnny as an old Robert Johnson tune. This one features an jaw-dropping guitar jam, and some of the finest footage of Johnny I have ever seen.
The next two clips come from Spain, 1984, with the very excellent Jeff Ganz on bass, and Bobby "T" Tortello on drums. The band smokes through "Don't Take Advantage of Me" and "Mojo Boogie." At this point, I was mesmerized. Winter's fingers just fly across the strings of his Laser. Johnny Guitar lives!
The final clip is taken from the 1992 Bob Dylan celebration in New York, and features Johnny in top form, rocking his way through "Highway 61 Revisted," backed by the all-star band that included Steve Cropper and G.E. Smith. Breathtaking.
Taken as a whole, "Bits and Pieces" provides a highly intense, extremely collectable, thoroughly enjoyable one hour and 18-minute compilation, and an indispensible tape for any Johnny Winter fan- or anyone who just loves good music.
(Available through www.johnnywinter.com)
-Michael Buffalo Smith