Johnny Winter With Dr. John – Live In Sweden 1987 (CD + DVD)

Two musical legends meet at the crossroads in Sweden no less!

Cast: Johnny Winter – guitar, vocals; Dr. John – piano, vocals; Jon Paris – bass, harmonica, vocals; Tom Compton – drums
Studio: MVD Entertainment MVD 81270
Video: 1.33:1 for 4:3 display, color
Audio: PCM Stereo 2.0
TrackList (DVD + CD):  Sound The Bell; Don’t Take Advantage Of Me; Mojo Boogie; You Lie Too Much; Sugar Sweet; Love Life & Money; Jumpin’ Jack Flash; Prodigal Son (DVD only)
Length: 58 minutes
Rating:  Video: ***1/2   Audio: ****   Overall: ****

All rock and rollers owe a huge debt to American Blues. That includes Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. Some rock stars believe that maintaining the blues narrative is a sacred mandate. Among this group is Texas native Johnny Winter. Throughout his lengthy career (Winter passed away in 2014), Winter unabashedly lived and played blues music. This dedication to purity may have impacted his commercial success, but he still became a legend.

MVD Visual has unearthed a thirty-year old performance by Winter. Johnny Winter With Dr. JohnLive In Sweden 1987 is a lively one-hour set of masterful blues recorded at Sonet Studios (with an audience) in Stockholm. After a brief interview about blues influences (mostly Chicago and Texas), the trio powers its way into the opener with a hard-driving opus about love and misery, “Sound The Bell”. Brandishing his black Lazer guitar with the sawed-off fret, Winter explodes with signature blues licks. Working a nastier groove, “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me” has a walking bass line and ferocious guitar solo. The electrified guitar reflects the modern approach to blues.  The trio finishes their opening part with a Chicago-inspired tune, “Mojo Boogie”. The addition of slide guitar elevates the jam.

Already a great show, Winter brings the one and only Dr. John to the stage. One of New Orleans’ favorite sons, Mac Rebbenack is a living musical legend and is a well-versed piano player. His muscular barrelhouse riffs energize “You Lie Too Much”. The two superstars seem inspired by each other as Winter unleashes a “take no prisoners” run. There are some great close-ups of Rebbenack’s fingering techniques. Their chemistry is evident and when they share vocals on Muddy Waters’ “Sugar Sweet”. It becomes a special evening. Keeping the pedal to the metal, “Love Life & Money” (a composition by another icon, Willie Dixon) has dazzling solos from both players. Again, the “souped-up” Delta-to-Chicago jamming is phenomenal. And talk about a big finish, The group (now a quartet) blows the roof off with an incendiary cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” In mind-blowing showmanship, Winter and bassist Jon Paris use their left hands to fret the chords on the other guy’s instrument. It is inspired, wild and a bona fide part of rock and blues history. Winter comments in the limited interview footage, …”If you love blues, you don’t go on to something else…”. He is authentic and worthy of his own legacy.

The release includes a CD of the concert. Both the audio quality of the DVD and CD is very good. The stereo mix is even and it manages to feature the shredding guitar without losing the rhythm section or Rebbenack’s higher-register trills. (Note: The DVD has a Bonus track (“Prodigal Son”) of a vintage Winter performance). The video quality is adequate (there are stage lighting issues), but the close ups of Winters and Rebbenack are worth it.

–Robbie Gerson