Still Alive And Well
Released: April 1973
Chart Peak: #22
Weeks Charted: 24
Yes, he is. In this long-awaited return album, Johnny Winter takes up where he left off. His fingers are fleet and sure as ever, his vocals have bite and growl, and the flash and power of yore are hanging right in there.
Winter wrote two of the ten tracks, most are more rock than heavily blues oriented, and all feature bassman Randy Jo Hobbs and drummer Richard Hughes. Producer and former guitar partner Rick Derringer is heard on a few tracks, as are various keyboards here and there -- but the basic sound is power trio. Technical advice on the LP is credited to Bill Szymczyk, who also produced B.B. King's Alive And Well album, as well as the J. Geils Band and the James Gang.
The bluesiest cuts are the standard "Rock Me Baby," done here with a sinuous riff and plenty of punch, and the acoustic "Too Much Seconal," a Winter original. Johnny plays National Steel and mandolin on this track, which also features the frantic flute of Jeremy Steig -- it's a burnt-out-woman blues in the old tradition, but modernized a bit by choice of pharmaceuticals.
The two sidestep numbers on the album are "Cheap Tequila," a modish ballad by Derringer. Production includes Todd Rundgren on mellotron, but overall feel is nice -- it's good to hear a less raspy vocal tone. "Ain't Nothing to Me" is a fine, double-tough C&W bar song. Johnny shows off another side of his Texas roots with a good vocal, and Derringer adds nice work on pedal steel.
We get a double taste of the Stones with two numbers. One is the new "Silver Train," reportedly written for Johnny. With swirling guitars, rippling piano and buried vocals, it has a definite Exile sound, and Johnny sounds more like Jagger in phrasing and pronunciation than himself. A good, rocking track, with "Paint It Black"-styled Eastern overtones. Some find it touched with smack references; to me it sounds like a hit single.
"Still Alive and Well" is a shock-of-recognition move. The song was first heard on White Trash's Roadwork album, and speculation was rife that Derringer had done it with Johnny strongly in mind. Here Johnny makes it a vital and personal statement with as much power and self-assertive cool as Muddy Waters had in "Hoochie-Coochie Man."
The album closes with an appropriately leering rendition of the Stones' "Let It Bleed," once again featuring the crystal-glass-chandelier-like lightning slide guitar work and a strutting vocal. At the end of the take Johnny asks, "Goddamnit, did that get it, or what?"
It did. Welcome back man, nice to see a survivor.
- Tony Glover, Rolling Stone, 5/10/73.
This album caught Johnny Winter still alive and fast, at least, but still not terribly sensitive to the blues form he's fooling around with. His singing sounds like Johnny Rivers recycled, and his guitar attack is just that -- attack, attack, attack, Alvin-Lee-style with the treble turned down a bit. The must successful cut here, I think (certainly the most notable one), is "Ain't Nothing to Me," whose tempo forces Winter to settle down and work with it, and whose flavor demands that he come up with some interpretation different from that of all the other songs. "Too Much Seconal" has a promising complement of instruments, with Johnny dubbing slide guitar and mandolin alongside Jeremy Steig's flute in the foreground -- but that only provides a greater opportunity for careless cuteness, and Steig hops to it with even greater gusto than Winter does. Winter's speed and control (on guitar) are extremely impressive, but discipline and imagination are far more important than things like speed and control. Neither discipline nor imagination makes much of a show here.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/73.
After a two-year hiatus, Winter is back on the scene showing no energy loss after all that free time. He sings with a powerful attack, assisted by Randy Jo Hobbs on bass and Richard Hughes on drums. They produce a collectively smashing sound that will appeal to those devotees of exploding rock, with Winter's clear vocals significantly riding on top of all that rhythm. Guests include Rick Derringer on slide guitar; Jeremy Steig on flute; Todd Rundgren on mellotron; and Mark KIingman on piano. Touches of country come through nicely. Best cuts: "Rock Me Baby," "Cheap Tequila," "Let It Bleed."
- Billboard, 1973.
After laying off to kick heroin, Johnny Winter sent a message with Still Alive and Well. He rocks hard, and even though "Too Much Seconal" and "Cheap Tequila" warn against substance abuse, it doesn't preach. * * * *
- Lawrence Gabriel, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
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