Johnny Winter: ‘Step Back’ Album Review

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Today, I want to take a Step Back to remember the final work of Johnny Winter. This review is in honor of his pending comeback that could have been one of the best. But the plans came to a shocking halt when the blues guitarist suddenly passed in July of this year. 

The album begins with a blues classic, “Unchain My Heart.” The song was written by Bobby Sharp and made famous in the 60s by “the genius” himself, Ray Charles. Since then, many musicians have taken on the classic, most notably, Joe Cocker in the 90s. But Johnny’s version is especially good because of the new arrangement and his emphasis on guitar over piano and brass instruments, unlike many musicians before him. 

Next, Johnny gives us a grungier version of Eric Clapton’s “I Can’t Hold Out.” The Johnny Winter version is of course, less conservative and slightly more upbeat. His skilled playing on his famous Gibson Firebird is the first thing to grab your attention. Well, that and his powerful introductory vocals that immediately tell you this is definitely a Johnny Winter rendition. But this song was only number two of many remakes to come in this commemorative album. 

Texas blues-rock from the 50s is reintroduced in track three, “Don’t Want No Woman,” and then, Winter tops it all with his rendition of Howlin’ Wolf‘s “Killing Floor.” Throughout the album, Johnny covers more favorites like Son House’s “Death Letter,” which in itself is a powerful song about a man losing his lover and mourning her death in the lonely night.

Step Back as a whole is an album that steps back into the 50s and 60s but adds a modern sound to the prominent blues era. What promotes this album from a basic cover album to a phenomenal work of art is the amazing musicians that are featured in each of the old favorites. Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa, and Ben Harper all feature on Winter’s remakes of the most notable songs in blues music.  Once you reach track eleven, it becomes clear that Johnny Winters is capable of anything. The song “Long Tall Sally,” is wonderfully rearranged and features Leslie West of the band Mountain.

This album highlights Johnny’s talents, but more importantly, a era of music that I wish I had been alive to experience. It’s not quite as grand as his self-titled second album or his famous Second Winter, but went as far as it needed to and left the world with one final realization. Even at the age of 70, Johnny Winter’s death was too soon. His career was not over at all.