The public mourning for Johnny Winter officially began Thursday night (July 31) during the launch of this year's Rock'n'Blues Fest tour.
Winter, who died on June 16 in Switzerland at the age of 70, was supposed to co-headline this year's edition of the annual package, which launched at the DTE Energy Music Theatre in suburban Detroit, with his brother Edgar. The tour is continuing and has been recast as "A Tribute to Johnny Winter" with a three-song salute at the end of Edgar's set.
On Thursday Edgar Winter and his band were joined by the tour's other participants -- Vanilla Fudge co-founders Carmine Appice, Mark Stein and Vinny Martell, Savoy Brown's Kim Simmonds and Rare Earth co-founder Peter Rivera -- as well as special guest Jim McCarty, who plays with Appice in Cactus and was also a member of the Detroit Wheels and the Rockets. The ensemble ran through of a pair of Johnny Winter's signature covers -- the Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash," Bob Dylan's "Highway 61" -- and Winter's 1970 hit "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo," with the musicians trading solos throughout each song.
"Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" writer and longtime Winter brothers associate Rick Derringer will perform at the tour's final two shows, on Aug. 23 in Las Vegas and Aug. 24 in Snoqualmie, Wash.
Early in his set, an emotional Edgar Winter paid tribute to his brother, telling the crowd that "I just want to thank you all and express my gratitude for being here to help me through this. Johnny was not only my brother, he was my hero, not just in music but in life." Winter added that Johnny, "showed me that being an albino could be cool. I love him for that." He then dedicated a long rendition of "Tobacco Road" to his brother, noting that it's "a song he and I started out doing years ago and has stayed with me ever since." Winter later told the crowd that his instrumental hit "Frankenstein" was something he started as "The Double Drum Song" while playing in his brother's band.
The Vanilla Fudge also dedicated one of its songs, a cover of the Impressions' "People Get Ready," to winter, with Stein pointing toward the heavens as the group began playing it.