30 July 2014 (gig)
02 September 2014
Johnny Winter was simply one of those guys who was always fixin' to die. A legendary figure, with a legendary appetite for everything dangerous, he lived the rock & roller life to the full. Sadly, his last gig, at the wonderfully intimate Cahors Blues Festival in France saw a less than wild, stirring performance. The ghosts were already waiting in the wings.
Winter squinted, in his usual way, at the audience, a rapturous full-house turn out that worshipped the man and his music. Running through a back catalogue of challenging, raw emotion and stylistic, staccato guitar, he wooed the crowd, pulling tricks from his amazing, famous hat with aplomb and clearly, and sadly it seemed at times, difficulty.
Winter was clearly struggling with the high humid temperatures - 34 Celsius - and the demands of an adulating, admiring audience. His coordination was at times shaky - but it has often been that way, part of his special magic. His voice was also rocky and stretched. But again, what's new? The guy was seventy. Nevertheless, he managed well over an hour under flashing strobes and baking, airless heat on his trembling feet. People were forgiving, happy to see the guy in action, to taste his old personal mojo magic.
Despite his evident pleasure at being onstage, slamming and sliding his guitar like a kid, he always had the appearance of a guy on the edge - of an abyss, a musical cliff top, of life itself. He looked tired, clearly in poor health. The problem for everyone watching was: what's new?
In many ways it's easy to say, a throwaway line, he was on his last legs. Sadly a truism. Blues music is jam-packed with great lines about death, 'passing' - as bluesmen are oft wont to euphemistically say. On this, Winter's final gig, he was certainly 'Knockin' on Heaven's - or more likely. Hell's - Door'.
Never one to admit to regret, if he had any regrets at his own passing it would probably be that he won't be around come September for the release of his much anticipated latest recording project featuring many mammoths of blues music: Old Slowhand Clapton; ZZTop; Dr John; Mark Knopfler; Ben Harper.
It's perhaps fitting that his last gig was on an enormously important and symbolic day of celebration: July 14, France's national day - Bastille Day. A celebration of French independence, strength, liberation and freedom. A night when many took everything to excess, drink, drugs, sex, rock&roll, blues, fan-worship, explosive firework displays. Full on festivities. Like July 4 on acid.
Winter would have been the first to appreciate and love the symbolism and significance. Always assuming that he realised what was going down, of course. After repeated, rapturous encores, Johnny Winter took it to the limit one last time.
photo credit: MJM Blues