We lost Johnny Winter last week. Johnny, known for his blistering fast guitar playing, burst onto the national scene as a solo act in the late 1960s. A guitar prodigy, Johnny and younger brother Edgar – both albino – had formed a band as they were growing up in Beaumont, Texas, and had a single released when Johnny was just 15 and Edgar 12 or 13. Over the years, Johnny often shared the stage or studio with his brother, but their careers were distinct. Johnny stayed faithful to blues throughout his career, with occasional forays into rock, while Edgar has been more of a rocker. Johnny’s guitar playing ability was astounding, but he also built his legacy by producing several of Muddy Waters’ late-career masterpieces, including Hard Again and King Bee.
The years and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle took their toll on Johnny. When I saw him three years ago, he needed to be helped onto the stage and performed his entire show seated, but the music was still there as he played effortlessly. Below are some memories.
Johnny in his prime:
In 1987, starting to show the years, but still in great playing shape:
This past year on Letterman, very decrepit with apparent vision issues, but the music was still there:
April is shaping up as a difficult world in the world of music. This past week we lost Jesse Winchester, whose soft-spoken style belied the power of his songs.
Here are two magical Winchester performances. The first is an early (and often covered) classic “Defying Gravity.” The second is the celebrated appearance on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show, where Winchester reduced Neko Case to tears with the delicately stunning “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding.”
Dave Lamb of the Providence, RI-based duo Brown Bird passed away this past weekend. The circumstances are heart-wrenching. Lamb fell ill with mysterious symptoms while touring Texas last year. In a tale that is all too familiar, Lamb had no insurance. Fortunately, he was able to get home and secure insurance for what became a year-long battle with leukemia.
Lamb was a fighter to the end, persevering through chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He kept an optimistic attitude and continued to write as he counted down the days until he could return to the road with his wife and musical partner MorganEve Swain.
When all seemed hopeful, the situation suddenly changed as his leukemia returned with a vengeance. Within a week he was taken from us.
The outpouring of support that Lamb received during his battle and upon news of his passing is a true testament to the man and the musician. His appearance was somewhat intimidating yet he was, by all accounts, a gentle giant. His music, while seemingly dark, was rich in texture and vibrant storytelling.
Rest in peace, Dave. You’ll be sorely missed.
Here’s a song that Lamb wrote during — and about — his battle. Below is a video from Brown Bird’s appearance at the legendary Newport Folk Festival in 2012.