Several years ago, I saw what was arguably the most bizarre concert lineup this side of something that was shown back in the day by NBC on a Friday night, when it figured it would cash in more on people interested in music than Doc Severinsin and the Tonight Orchestra could provide. This arena event had Three Dog Night as its headline. (Unfortunately, the guy who had the car wanted to see them, so I couldn’t leave.) The opening acts were Johnny Winter and Rod Stewart. Realize that this was Rod when he still, well, rocked and wasn’t in a rocking chair. It was just after he’d left the Faces. The Rod Stewart Album was fresh. (An album that has what is arguably one of the best covers of all time: a version of “Street Fighting Man.”)
Anyway, Johnny Winter, the Mississippi-born player of solid Texas blues-rock, the albino axe-wielder who can get sounds out of his instrument that would make a black cat howl and turn tail, was certainly a revelation. “Good Morning Little School Girl,” indeed. Make it moan.
For whatever reason (perhaps poor lifestyle choices), Winter passed. Faded. (And I’ll forebear making any pigment issues.) Stevie Ray Vaughan possibly became his heir.
But for the most part, the type of music that Winter played is now back in the places where he’d undoubtedly played his dues [sic], bars, the kinds of places where the stale smell of beer and burned cigarette filters remain like a miasmic presence. If you’re lucky, they don’t have a pool table there. If you’re luckier, there aren’t a bunch of soot-streaked citronella candles on the tabletops. And you’ve really hit it big if the floor of the john doesn’t have ½” of overflow.
It is in a place that gave me two out of three (it has a pool table; you can guess the other two) that I happened to catch a band that is hustling it like a retired tool-and-die worker at the slots in the Greektown Casino, The Scratchez. Maybe it was the consequence of too many bad draft beers that left me feeling the next day that I’d been a practice dummy for a stuntman in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but I’ll be damned if that quintet didn’t sound exactly like Johnny Winter. Sure, consisting of a lead, bass and drums there wasn’t the sort of hot give-and-take that Winter had with Rick Derringer, but those guys were hotter than the shitty jalapeno poppers that was the special of the night at the bar. (Which brings to mind that Winter and Derringer had done great cover version of a Stones tune, in their case, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Is there a pattern here, or what?)
Not being an ace reporter that evening, I didn’t get down the vitals of the group. Blame it on the Bud. But if you happen to see their name on a bill somewhere and don’t have the scratch to spend a night in Austin, check them out.
Of course, this could all be based on a wishful remembrance: I mean, I really had too much bad beer that night.