Revisiting Johnny Winter's Hell-Raising Memoir

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Photo courtesy of Kid Logic Media
Johnny Winter, third from left, with John Belushi, Muddy Waters and Dan Aykroyd
Raisin' Cain; The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter
By Mary Lou Sullivan
Backbeat Books, 384 pp., $24.99

As is the case when any musician dies, widespread interest in his or her career and catalog shoots up in the immediate aftermath. And that has certainly been the case with blazing blues singer/guitarist Johnny Winter, who passed away in July at the age of 70 while on the road in Switzerland.

Ironically, even outside of his demise, the profile of the Beaumont native and former Houstonian was on the rise with the release of a career-spanning box set (True to the Blues), a documentary (Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty) and a now-posthumous "comeback" record, Step Back.

So it's a good chance to look back at Raisin' Cain. First published in 2010, it was the culmination of a rocky road for author Sullivan. Based on scores of hours of first-person interviews Sullivan conducted with Winter -- along with his bandmates, his mother and brother Edgar, friends, lovers and others -- the book took more than two decades to produce. It didn't help that a former manager barred her from access to Winter halfway through the project, while his next one restored the relationship.


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Joe Bonamassa Is Feeling Different Shades of Blue

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Photo by Rick Gould/Courtsey of Jensen Communications
If you were searching for Joe Bonamassa's new record Different Shades of Blue in an actual record store (remember those?), you'd likely find it in the "Blues" section. But like most of the work he's put out since 2000, the material is decidedly more rocking as well. Still, the 37-year-old singer/guitarist says he's fine with the term both on a professional and personal level.

"You've got to label me something, and that's fine. I don't think that 'blues' is a bad word at all!" Bonamassa says just prior to the record's release Tuesday and a fall tour, though one that sadly skips Houston. "I think all of my records can be in the rock section, but I don't mind being in the blues. There's a lot of good company there!"

Besides, Bonamassa thinks that national listening trends may have finally caught up with him.


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Sampling Joe Sample: 1976

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The Crusaders' album Free as the Wind
If 1975 was a whirlwind year for Joe Sample, the Crusader who passed away last Friday, 1976 was a full-blown hurricane. The newer, funkier Crusaders were increasingly popular, so much so that United Artists began to repackage and reissue some of the early 1960s Jazz Crusaders tracks the group made for the Pacific Jazz label, but titling the reissues The Young Rabbits. There was also another reissue, Best of the Crusaders, a compilation of tracks recorded for Blue Thumb.

The Crusaders themselves issued a live album, Live: Midnight Triangle, and one of their finest studio recordings, Free As the Wind, in 1976. But these efforts aside, Sample worked a string of sessions that kept him on the move both physically and musically. Following are his most notable sessions of 1976.


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Sampling Joe Sample: 1975

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Photo by Marco Torres
Joe Sample at Texas Southern University in 2013
With the wild, platinum-selling commercial success of Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark in 1974, Joe Sample's studio-session career went into warp drive. Throughout the remainder of the decade, he would sprint from one important project to the next.

Sample's Crusaders dropped Those Southern Nights in early 1975 and Chain Reaction later in the year; before the year was over, they would open for the Rolling Stones. But in between Crusaders gigs and tours, Sample stayed busy with a broad array of sessions with other artists. His part in the success of Mitchell's Court and Spark and its megahit "Help Me" did not go unnoticed by other producers and artists. Following is only a partial list of the credits Sample, who passed away last Friday night at age 75, racked up during 1975 alone.


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RIP Joe Sample: Houston Music Icon Dies at 75

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Photo by Marco Torres
Joe Sample, the Houston native whose masterful keyboard playing made him a leading figure in the jazz fusion movement of the '60s and '70s and a top session musician in jazz, R&B and pop for several decades, passed away Friday night, according to his Facebook page. His family announced his death with the following message:

[Wife] Yolanda and his son Nicklas would like to thank all of you, his fans and friends, for your prayers and support during this trying time. Please know that Joe was aware and very appreciative of all of your prayers, comments, letters/cards and well wishes.

Sample was a graduate of Wheatley High School, where he and some classmates founded a group they called the Jazz Crusaders in the mid-'50s. They moved to Southern California in the early '60s and became one of the most popular and respected groups in jazz thanks to albums like Freedom Sound and Looking Ahead. In the '70s, as their sound incorporated more and more elements of funk and R&B, the group changed its name to the Crusaders. Sample also took plenty of jobs on the side, appearing on classic pop-rock albums such as Joni Mitchell's Court & Spark, Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On and Canned Heat's Up the Country. It was not easy work, he told the Houston Press in 2013:


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Even at 80, British Blues Legend John Mayall Is "Always on Tour"

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Photo by Jeff Fasano/Mark Pucci Media
John Mayall today
At 80 years old, the "Godfather of British Blues" has certainly earned the opportunity to relax. Or slow down. Or stop performing all over the world at all. But when asked as to what his plans are after his current tour, John Mayall seems perplexed, as if it signals the end of one thing and the conscious start of something different.

"Which tour? I tour year-round. I am always on tour," the singer/guitarist/harmonica player says matter-of-factly. "Always on tour. You've got to communicate and make the audience part of what you're doing. Then you know you've succeeded."

And Mayall is making no concessions to age in terms of how he approaches each show, be it a huge festival, small theater or intimate barn. His current jaunt finds him promoting his latest record, A Special Life (Sony/RED), 11 tracks of Mayall originals, a catalogue re-recording, a tune from his band, and covers of songs by Jimmy Rogers, Albert King, Sonny Landreth and Eddie Taylor.


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Latter-Day Bluesman Tommy Castro Introduces Us to The Devil You Know

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Photo by Lewis MacDonald/Courtesy of Alligator Records
Tommy Castro lets 'er rip live onstage.
If you had to find a CD by Tommy Castro, chances are you'd find one (or all) of them in the "Blues" section. But with his most recent release, The Devil You Know (Alligator Records), the 59-year-old California native who has been making records for 20 years consciously wanted to do something different.

"It's still blues-based, but I wanted a leaner sound, more guitar-driven and rocking. Something along the lines of the acts I listened to growing up like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Traffic," he says.

"I wanted to get the feeling I had like when I was a kid and playing guitar with my friends," he adds. "And I wanted it to sound contemporary."


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Don't Know Who Michael Bloomfield Was? You Totally Should.

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Bob Calo/Columbia Records
Michael Bloomfield, Nov. 1968, at the studio of Norman Rockwell. The famous painter did the cover of a record that Bloomfield released with Al Kooper.
"He was the greatest guitar player I ever heard" -- Bob Dylan
"[He] is music on two legs" -- Eric Clapton
"You could put [him] with James Brown, and he'd be a motherfucker." -- Miles Davis

Wow. What other unknown axe-slinger could garner such praise from such music heavyweights? But this is only a sampling of comments of admiration and wonder for the guy once ranked No. 42 on Rolling Stone's list of Top 100 guitarists. It's the pride of Chicago, the guy who Muddy Waters considered a son, the Jew of the Blues...Michael Bloomfield!

Who?


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The Big Easy Salutes 20 Years of Bayou City Blues

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Photos by Marco Torres
Tommy Dardar and his band
Houston blues lovers showed up in throngs Friday night as Upper Kirby blues dive The Big Easy celebrated its 20th anniversary under the direction of Tom McLendon. One more person and the Fire Marshal couldn't have squeezed in to shut the place down if he had to.

Over two decades McLendon has kept his formula simple, the main pillar being to have great bands on Friday and Saturday night but never charge more than a $5 cover. If it's not danceable, McLendon doesn't book it, and if your band can't make it on that cover, book yourself somewhere else.

This past Friday, with veteran blues-boogie man Tommy Dardar laying in the funky grooves, the dance floor got a real workout. Dardar left no doubt he came to boogie, rocking hard into Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and then dropping the classic "Mardi Gras Mambo."


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Texas Guitar God Johnny Winter Is Forever True to the Blues

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Michael Weintraub/Sony
The quintessential Texas bluesman: Johnny Winter
A December 1968 edition of Rolling Stone featured Texas musicians who were at the time making inroads into the magazine's home city of San Francisco. Featuring a cover photo of cowboy-hatted Doug Sahm (balancing toddler son Shawn on his knee), it mentioned players and singers both known (Janis Joplin, Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs) and others familiar only to hardcore fans.

But it was a mention of a shit-hot blues player, Johnny Winter, that seemed to generate the most buzz. Soon, the Beaumont native found himself in demand. The article described "A cross-eyed albino with long, fleecy hair, who plays some of the gutsiest, fluid blues you ever heard."

A guest appearance with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper at the Fillmore East gave a major audience their first real look at this mythical figure. Columbia Records execs were in the audience, and it led to a then-unheard of advance for an unknown act -- a reported $600,000 -- resulting in Winter's 1969 self-titled debut.


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