Legendary blues/rock guitarist Johnny Winter is in the midst of recording his first new CD in more than eight years. Titled "Roots," it pays homage to some of the pioneering musicians who influenced him.
"It's songs I grew up being influenced by, songs that I loved when I first started," says Winter. "I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time. It's been a lot of fun; I'm very excited."
So far he's recorded Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom," Chuck Berry's "Maybellene," Elmore James' "Done Somebody Wrong," T-Bone Walker's "T-Bone Shuffle" and Son House's "Death Letter." Other greats represented include Muddy Waters, Ray Charles and Bobby "Blue" Bland.
Photo courtesy Maui Arts & Cultural Center
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Maui Doobie Brother Pat Simmons rocks out at last Friday’s concert at the MACC.
The Maui Arts & Cultural Center/ TONY NOVAK-CLIFFORD photo
Willie K (right) and his blues band, featuring Jerry Byers on bass, Kris Thomas on drums and Gilbert Emata on keyboards, debuted original material from Willie’s new blues CD to set off all sorts of fireworks at the opening of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s new Yokouchi Pavilion.
Among the guests joining him on this follow-up to his Grammy-nominated "I'm a Blues Man" are Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and his brother, Edgar Winter.
Besides the new album, he's been involved with a couple of other rather surprising projects, recording with soul/funk legend Sly Stone and former "Star Trek" star William Shatner.
Winter played guitar on a new version of Stone's classic "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." "He's redoing a lot of his old stuff," Winter reports.
And what's he doing with Capt. Kirk?
Winter is one of the musicians Shatner has enlisted for a forthcoming covers project, playing on Deep Purple's "Space Truckin'. " Other guest artists on the space-themed album, "Seeking Major Tom," range from Peter Frampton and Queen's Brian May to funk master Bootsy Collins.
"He talks, he can't sing," says Winter laughing. "It's pretty cool; he did a good job."
For more than 40 years, the musician Muddy Waters affectionately called "my adopted son," has been a guitar hero without equal.
Growing up in Texas, he was inspired to play blues from a young age. "I was about 12 when I first heard blues. Before that I'd just heard rock 'n' roll," he recalls.
"As soon as I heard it, I thought, 'This is great music. I've got to learn how to play this stuff.' "
Forming an Everly Brothers-style act at 11 with his brother, Edgar, by 14 he had formed his first band, Johnny and the Jammers, with Edgar on piano. In 1963, he moved to Chicago to check out the blues scene but wound up playing twist music clubs. Returning to Beaumont, he began opening for major acts like Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers.
There's a legendary story about a time in 1962 when Winter and his brother went to see B.B. King at a black club in Beaumont. The 17-year-old was determined to play with the blues legend, and he didn't stop begging King to borrow his guitar and step onstage.
"I irritated the hell out of him," he says laughing. "We were the only whites in an all-black club and he thought we were from the IRS, he'd been having tax problems. He was so glad we weren't, he decided to let me play. He didn't know if I could play or not. I got a standing ovation."
The Texan came to national acclaim when a 1968 Rolling Stone magazine article described him as a "cross-eyed albino with long fleecy hair, playing some of the gutsiest fluid blues guitar you've ever heard."
He was soon signed to an unheard-of-at-the-time $600,000 contract with Columbia Records. "It didn't feel so good," he reports. "I didn't like the pressure of it. I hated hearing about it."
His self-titled debut album was universally praised, and the follow-up, "Second Winter," was met with equal acclaim in 1969.
Winter blew away audiences with his fresh, incendiary take on classic blues, impressing the likes of the Rolling Stones and John Lennon, who both wrote songs for him.
But personal demons sidelined the guitarist. Rumors of his heavy drug use were so widespread that Winter titled his 1973 album "Still Alive and Well." During this period he was performing high-energy rock shows in front of thousands with bandmate Rick Derringer, enthralling all with scorching versions of "Highway 61 Revisited," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Jumping Jack Flash," "Johnny B. Goode" and the famous boogie song, "Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo."
Winter's true love, though, remained the blues, and the guitar virtuoso ended up putting his own career on hold to help out blues legend Muddy Waters. Winter produced and played on four Waters albums starting with "Hard Again" in 1977. Three of them won Grammy Awards.
After Waters died in 1983, Winter began recording a series of more blues-oriented albums. Touring frequently in recent years, he commands a cult following in the U.S. and continues to be a huge draw in Europe.
Shifting between simple country blues in the vein of Robert Johnson to ferocious electric slide blues/rock, Winter has remained one of the most respected singers and guitar players, linking the British blues/rock and American Southern rock movements.
His last studio album, "I'm a Bluesman," drew rave reviews. "With this album Mr. Winter proves at least that he belongs in any debate about the world's best blues guitarists," praised the Dallas Morning News.
The Hartford Current noted, "Johnny Winter can still play as if his arms were on fire." And the Houston Press praised, "The title reminds us that he's perhaps the best white American player the genre has produced. 'I'm a Bluesman' provides irrefutable evidence that Winter can play the blues like nobody's business."
Great show by the Doobie Brothers last Friday at the MACC that mixed classics with highlights from their latest album. Guest contributions by some of our stellar residents included Michael McDonald and Willie Nelson rocking on "Takin' it to the Streets," and Mick Fleetwood commanding drums on the "Listen to the Music" finale.
Pat Simmons dedicated one song, a blues jam from "Toulouse Street," to our own blues master Willie K, who plays the Castle Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Willie recently closed out the new Youkouchi Pavilion celebration at the MACC with an amazing display of blues guitar power. And even more impressive - he played a set of all original, dynamite songs from his latest CD project.
The Castle show will primarily feature Willie and the blues, along with the acoustic fusion fire of Lima Wela with Avi Ronen and Indio, and some jazz with singer Kelly Covington and guitarist Shiro Mori.
"I've got about 17 songs on this new project, with a mixture of everything," says Willie. "They're all originals. It's a side of me that I've been enjoying. Pancho (Tomaselli) from War called me and said he wants to be part of the project."
And Willie will contribute to a blues album that artist Wyland is overseeing. "He told me he's working with Robert Cray, Wynton Marsalis and Greg Allman," Willie reports. "They're flying me to Louisiana in May."
As to the Saturday concert, he continues: "The show will introduce Maui's finest with the new Lima Wela, and show off Kelly with her jazz. Then it's Willie K after."
Willie's band will feature Jerry Byers on bass, Kris Thomas on drums, Gilbert Emata on keyboards and Avi Ronen will sit in on electric guitar.
"So bring your cotton balls, and bring some weights on your shoes because there's no dancing allowed in the Castle Theater," he adds laughing.
* Willie K and Friends play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $12, $28, $37 (plus applicable fees), available as above.
Many of our leading musicians will team on April 16 at the MACC for a benefit to aid victims of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Artists performing at the "Aloha Iapana Benefit Concert" include Keali'i Reichel, Willie K, Napua Makua, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, Mailani Makainai, Na Palapalai, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka'ole, Uluwehi Guerrero and Loma Lim. KPOA's Alaka'i Paleka will emcee.
The show was conceived by Napua Makua who, like many people on Maui, was personally affected by the tragedy in Japan.
"I was planning to leave Hawaii for Japan when the earthquake struck," Napua said. "I was able to reach my haumana in Chiba on Skype. They were crying and I saw their tears and fear on their faces. I felt so hopeless, I needed to do something to help these people who have brought such love and aloha into my life. I reached out the Hawaiian music community here on Maui, many of whom have beloved friends and relatives in Japan. The outpouring of their remarkable support has been an inspiration to everyone involved with Aloha Iapana."
* Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the show, plus applicable fees, available as above.
Monday night's "Hawaii 5-0" episode will feature HAPA performing on the show. It's the first time the popular TV show has highlighted a local band playing live. Filmed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Tihati Productions' Cha Thompson introduces the duo, who perform "Olinda Road," and then the show closes with their version of the Hawaiian standard "He'eia."
"It's pretty historic, since the original show really made me want to live in Hawaii when I was a kid," says Barry Flanagan.