Blues guitarist and singer Johnny Winter will pay tribute his blues heroes and, for the first time in his 42-year recording career, enlist the assistance of established younger artists on “Roots,” his first album for Megaforce. The release date is Sept. 27.
Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, Warren Haynes, John Popper, Jimmy Vivino, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, John Medeski and Johnny’s brother, Edgar Winter, play on the album, his first studio release since 2004’s “I’m a Blues Man.” It’s only his second studio album in the last 15 years.
“Every song I loved — they’re all big influences on me,” Winter tells Billboard.com, speaking from Paris where he is on a short European tour. “It’s way past time for me (to record an album like this).”
Noted guitarists perform with Winter on more than half the tracks. On Robert Johnson‘s “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” he is partnered with Trucks, on T-Bone Walker’s “T-Bone Shuffle” with Landreth, on Elmore James “Done Somebody Wrong” with Haynes, and on “Maybellene” with Gill. Tedeschi plays lead guitar and sings on Jimmy Reed‘s 1961 hit, “Bright Lights, Big City” and Paul Nelson, who produced the album, joins in on Larry Williams‘ “Short Fat Fannie.”
Edgar Winter plays saxophone on “Honky Tonk,” Popper takes the blues harp parts on Little Walter‘s “Last Night” and John Medeski is the organist on the Ray Charles hit penned by Walter Davis, “Come Back Baby.”
“My brother and I used to play ‘Honky Tonk’ in the (Texas) clubs when we were growing up,” Winter said, noting he had not recorded many of the songs that the Winters brothers played as youngsters. “We will in the future.”
Recorded and mixed over a four-month period, Nelson and Winter’s rhythm section learned the original version of each tune and then studied and rehearsed later recordings of the songs, doing as many as four versions of a particular tune. As they presented their versions to Winter, the guitarist would get the band to adjust according to how he interpreted the songs during his roadhouse years in the 1960s and in the years after he broke through at Woodstock in 1969.
Nelson says he “had an attack list” when he started to invite musicians to perform on the record, but he only had a three-week window to get the guest recordings completed. Haynes, Vivino and Medeski came to the Connecticut studio where Winter recorded; the rest were done at the musicians’ own studios.
“Once the word got out that this was happening, the phone calls started to come to us so we were still recording (guests) after we had started to mix the album,” said Nelson, who took over Winter’s management nearly six years ago and watched him kick various substances to the point where his health is substantially better as well as his playing and singing.
At 67, Nelson said of Winter, “he looks younger than he did eight years ago.”