Has there ever been a more prolific blues guitarist than Johnny Winter? An interesting question, and one that's difficult to answer when drinking in the digitally re-mastered double release of Saints & Sinners/John Dawson Winter III, both 1974 records that show Winter's proficiency and expertise on the beloved axe. Armed with his own odd sense of character and a no-looking-back type of style, both albums have aged well in the three decades since their initial drop. Often flippant and rarely mundane, Winter is at home in the jam-type format that both Sinners and Winter III espouse, and more often than not, that's enough to overcome the eerie similarity that's frequently displayed between tracks.
It is important to note that there is no finer example of an electric blues soothsayer than Winter, who uses every ounce of talent and sweat to tear up the walls in Sinners/Winter III's sonic space. The music rolls along at a brisk pace with little pause, guitars playing in every timbre from dirty buzz to full-on electrocution. There is little question of Winter's self-indulgence here; he loves what he's doing, and whether it's palatable or not, audience be damned. Luckily, any listener with even a half-interest in bluesy rock will be impressed, entertained, and perhaps even exhausted by the relentless nature of the guitar-dominated melodies.
Of course, Winter rarely tires of the raucous agenda, seemingly an endless well of electric energy himself. The screed of "Riot in Cell Block #9" bleeds over into other tracks, most notably the up-and-down roll of "Boney Moroney" and jazzy, funky motifs of "Feedback on Highway 101." And there is little change-up between these twin albums, with Sinners being equally as heavy and hairy as Winter III, the latter opening up with the unsurprising but well-executed "Rock & Roll People." Everything speaks for Winters' straightforward, unadorned approach to performance, a style that is bare in variation but veteran anyhow. Instead, the surprise is how often Winter employs the hard n' heavy tactic, with the rumbling fuzz of many songs equaling or even surpassing the glorified distortion of Led Zeppelin. On that note, Winter III is a more "modern" album, clearly more at home in the driving arena of 70's rock than the more timeless Saints & Sinners.
For those unfamiliar with near-modern blues, it is difficult to emphasize the importance, influence, and reach of Winter's talent. There is no disputing his fretwork skills, no matter what the reaction to his brand of rock. Both Saints & Sinners and John Dawson Winter III are testament to that near-perfection, though they are not perfect themselves. Still, it is hard to imagine two more effective displays of electric blues, nor two that have retained their sheen and avoided the trappings of decades-old fads.