Flashback–>Johnny Winter

Caroline Rohner

More than three decades after its release, “The Progressive Blues Experiment” remains one of Johnny Winter’s most innovative albums. A fierce guitarist with a raspy voice, Winter first showcased his pure blues sound on this independent release. Previously, he had been playing with his equally talented brother, Edgar Winter, around his home of Beaumont, Texas. The record garnered great attention from a variety of record labels and foreshadowed both of the brothers’ upcoming success.

“The Progressive Blues Experiment” became available nationally after the release of Winter’s self-titled major label debut in 1969. Comprised of six covers and four originals, the LP primarily spotlights the musician’s brilliant dexterity on his National steel-standard guitar. While his rough-hued vocals and backup musicians are featured, Winter’s guitar playing is the undeniable attraction.

The album’s back cover sums up the guitarist’s approach saying, “Winter is hard and heavy in his hypnotic blues bag. Before the recording session, there was Johnny Winter and his guitar. During the session, Johnny became the guitar.”

In many ways, Winter did fuse with his guitar on this release. Clear, distinctive solos permeate the album, highlighting his steely, bell-like sound. On an inspired rendition of B.B. King’s “It’s My Own Fault,” Winters even vocally mimics his metallic guitar riffs.

His expert skill also comes to the forefront on Slim Harpo’s “I Got Love If You Want It.” Rather than randomly stringing his solos together, Winter deftly intersperses them in a fashion that retains the song’s primary elements, but also adds his own distinctive stamp.

Winter’s original material proves to be just as strong as his covers. The explosive introduction on “Black Cat Bone” establishes the guitarist as a songwriter in his own right. The track also features a buoyant bassline supplied by Tommy Shannon, who would go on to play with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble.

The slow blues number, “Bad Luck And Trouble” stands out as Winter’s most intriguing piece. With a mandolin and harmonica accompanying his guitar, the song adopts a slight country vibe that complements the track’s traditional blues structure.

“The Progressive Blues Experiment” was a great beginning to Winter’s celebrated career. He went on to record dozens of albums and his latest release in 2004, “I’m A Bluesman,” received a Grammy nomination. Winter is also a member of the Blues Hall of Fame and has performed with many legendary players including B.B. King and the late Muddy Waters. At 61, Winter still tours and currently plays about four shows per month.

Although he has achieved great success throughout his career, “The Progressive Blues Experiment” will continue to be remembered as one of Winter’s most memorable accomplishments.