Last month, blues guitarist Johnny Winter died in a hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, at 70 years old, a month and a half before his now posthumous Step Back LP was scheduled to be released. Out September 2nd on Megaforce Records, the album features collaborations with Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa and Brian Setzer. Below, stream its second track, a cover of Elmore James’ “Can’t Hold Out (Talk to Me Baby)” that Winter recorded with Ben Harper.
“Johnny told me he first learned how to play slide guitar from listening to Elmore James,” says Paul Nelson, Winter’s guitarist, friend, producer and manager. “‘Can’t Hold Out’ was one of his favorites from those early recordings.”
Harper wrote a short tribute to Winter, asking that it be published in full:
“The blues means everything to me, and Johnny Winter meant everything to the blues. There is not one note, lick or riff I will ever play that doesn’t owe an unpayable debt to Johnny Winter. I play the way I play because I couldn’t play like Johnny Winter.
“While simultaneously breaking musical and cultural barriers, he was one of the ordained architects who went on to define the blues not only for generations, but for an entire genre. As an artist, he played and sang with a rare and unparalleled urgency and sincerity that requires musicians of all stature to listen and learn. As a producer, Johnny Winter was the gatekeeper whom Muddy Waters entrusted to further his own sound. That says it all.
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“Johnny Winter was the gospel truth, one of the rare and hallowed musical pillars of the blues. Tonight I’m gonna play Johnny Winter real loud in my house, then try to cop a lick or two of his and once again wonder, ‘How on Earth did he play that!?'”