Johnny Winter Band – Sage Gateshead (2013)

Johnny Winter Band
Sage Gateshead

16th April 2013

16th April 2013

Opening act The Mitch Laddie Band, a classic three piece from Consett in Co. Durham got the evening off to a rocking start with 45 minutes of Blues Rock; with the one time Walter Trout guitarist skipping around the stage as he theatrically strangled the notes out of his Fender guitar.

In common with many young rockers these days, he spent most of his showcase on long intricate solos, with no note left unplayed, rather than concentrate on what sounded like some really interesting songs; which were really rather good, especially Paper in Your Pocket and Getting it Right. I’ll certainly look out for the band when they are playing a smaller, sweatier club when I expect they will sound a whole lot different.

When he made his entrance, Johnny Winter looked uncomfortably frail as he was guided across the stage; but when he began playing his futuristic looking teardrop guitar the old magic was definitely still there as he majestically joined in the rocking instrumental of an intro.

Sporting a big black Stetson Winter soon took to a seat in the unlit front of the stage; where he remained for the remainder of the concert. As soon as he was comfortable he launched into Johnny B Goode with no introduction; and none was needed as the audience roared their recognition and many sang along with gusto (as they did all night).

While he wrote many of his tracks himself, Johnny Winter is probably most famous for interpreting Classic Blues and Rock songs; putting his own distinctive stamp on them and tonight we got to hear many of them; starting with Good Morning Little Schoolgirl which was turned into a Blues shuffle and (Got My) Mojo Working, from his latest album Roots and was possibly the best version I think I’ve ever heard.

I’ve seen a lot of Rock and Roll pub bands over the years and many have stomped through (and on) Bony Moronie but half way through the same song tonight I turned to my brother and whispered; “Does Rock and Roll get any better than this?” He smiled and shrugged his shoulders; because Winter and his band were not only breathing new life into a tired old song but giving it a full service and adding a whole new paint job.

Then; after only 45 minutes the band tore into what I thought was their signature tune and what should have been left for the encore – Jumping Jack Flash; as expected Johnny Winter made it his own again and showed just what a real guitarist can do with a song as good as this.  

After another 3 or 4 fast and furious Blues Rockers Johnny slowed things down and got a little funky with a raw and gutsy version of Ray Charles’Black Jack which had the crowd grinning with delight.

It was a bit uncomfortable watching him having to sit to play his guitar and sing; but the man was still doing all his own stunt work, with his fingers sliding up and down that fret-board with effortless grace as he gave a Masterclass in electric Blues.

When Johnny Winter stood up for the final song he nearly blew the Sage roof off as he blasted through I Used to Love Her (But It’s All Over Now) and his version will live in the memory for years to come and I can now die a happy man.

Then, after a very short break he returned to the stage with a Firebird guitar on his knee and went on to make it sing and screech as he slid a metal bottleneck along the strings at 110mph on the Blues standard, Dust My Broom; making another tired old Blues Song something sparkling and alive.

A brilliant concert was brought to a happy end with (what really is) Johnny Winter’s signature tune – Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 which had the crowd of aging rockers stomping like it was 1969 all over again.

What a night! As we trooped out of the hall friends and strangers alike slapped each other on the back and shook hands because we didn’t have the words to describe how we felt after witnessing a genuine legend in our humble town.

# Johnny Winter died on July 17th 2014

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