Johnny Winter - 03.14.09 The Clayton Center, Clayton, NC

God said “Down on Highway 61”.
Actually, it was down on Highway 70 in a town of 14,000 located 20 miles east of here called Clayton and it was Johnny Winter that did the killing. The venue is the old Clayton High School auditorium and it seats about 600. The whole school has been converted into The Clayton Performing Arts Center, Conference Center and City Hall. Bren had auditioned for a play there but it is an otherwise brand new venue to us. The Blues Bash is one of the last shows of the season for them. Jesse Cook, a flamenco guitarist, and Kathy Mattea are still on the schedule. I'll have to keep an eye on it in the future. They sell 2 dollar bottles of Magic Hat and wine in actual glass wine glasses. A real small town civic pride vibe to the place and it has decent acoustics. This was the biggest crowd they had ever had there. The Seats were sold out and all that was left was Standing Room Only tickets. That was just fine as they were only 10 bucks and nobody can tell you to stop dancing and sit down in SRO!

John Dee Holeman from up the road in Hillsborough opened the night. He is an elder practitioner of the Piedmont Blues. Next month there is a party in Carrboro to celebrate his 80th birthday. His band was one of his contemporaries on drums, a bass player, a kid in leather pants playing harp and on guitar, Tim Duffy the founder of Music Maker Relief Foundation. For more info about MMRF see below. It was a short set of only 4 or 5 songs. It ended strong with a revved up version of Hootchie Kootchie Man and then Baby, What You Want Me To Do.

Like all great blues shows it started with the band, The Johnny Winter Band, opening with an instrumental and getting the crowd all jacked up ala BB King. The band consists of Vito Liuzi on drums, Scott Spray playing bass and Paul Nelson on guitar. Then "Ladies and gentlemen give a warm welcome to the one and only guitar slinger, JOHNNY WINTER!" Holy cow he's getting old! Hunched over and doing the old man shuffle out to his seat on stage. He looks like he's been rode hard and put up wet. He's a tattooed cross eyed living legend with long albino white hair. He picked up his weird little headless asymmetrical Erlewine Lazer guitar and shredded another instrumental. Then, Paul Nelson, the guitarist and as it turns out his manager left the stage as they ripped into the classic Freddie King song, Hideaway. There was a nice little Peter Gun tease at the end. A couple three blues boogie tunes, including Sugar Coated Love and She Likes to Boogie Real Low, followed before he got to the next highlight, Blackjack followed by a scorching version of the classic Tore Down. Lone Wolf preceded the next truly outstanding moment when he lit into Red House. He followed that with a tune co-wrote with Johnny "Guitar" Watson called, for some inscrutable reason, Johnny Guitar. Paul Nelson returned to the stage for the oft covered (Stones, John Anderson, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Chambers Brothers, Ry Cooder, the Dead, Rick Nelson, Molly Hatchet, Charlie Rich, Rod Stewart and even it's writer Bobby Womack) It's All Over Now to end the set. The encore didn't take long to get going. Winter shuffled over to side stage and was handed his '63 Gibson Firebird V which he uses for slide work. Sliding ensued on something but I'm not sure what. Old blues guys like to mess with you... "This next one is kjsfhsfgsli, heh heh heh." No introduction was required for the final song of the evening, a full on tour de force of Highway 61. That silver slide was flashing all over the neck of the guitar and the results were nothing short of mesmerizing.

He's not the same act that I saw in the early 70's when he embodied the Texas blues rock guitar god but this old cat can still rip. His voice isn't as raw and commanding, but countless years of substance abuse and singing in such a raw style will take it out of you. He has been at the forefront of electric blues for years and has helped revive many a bluemans career. Now it's his turn to have his career revived and celebrated and we are the lucky ones around to witness it. It really was an honor and a privilege to see a bonafide living legend.

Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. helps the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs. We present these musical traditions to the world so American culture will flourish and be preserved for future generations.
Our criterion for recipients is they be rooted in a Southern musical tradition, be 55 years or older and have an annual income less than $18,000.
Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. is a tax exempt, public charity under IRS code 501(c)3.

Programs supported by MMRF include
Musician Sustenance - grants to meet basic life needs and emergency relief.
Musical Development - grants and services for recipient artist professional development and career advancement.
Cultural Access - supports the preservation and proliferation of American musical traditions.
New Orleans Musician's Fund - assistance to musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Their Advisory Board includes B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Jackson Browne, Dickey Betts, Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Tift Merritt, Colonel Bruce Hampton, Pura Fe, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, David Thurber, MD, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Jerry Harrison, Pete Townshend and Lightnin' Wells.

To learn even more visit...

- by Jeff McClellan