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Johnny Winter heats up the Penn's Peak crowd

  • Johnny Winter plays the blues at Penn's Peak Saturday night. JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS
    Johnny Winter plays the blues at Penn's Peak Saturday night. JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS
Published December 13. 2010 05:00PM

Johnny Winter still knows how to let his fingers do the talking.

The Texas guitar legend returned to Penn's Peak Saturday night, headlining an evening of hot blues players.

Mike Zito, another Lonestar State guitar slinger, preceded Winter on stage with a fiery set, but was still reverent to Winter, proclaiming what an honor it was to be on the same bill.

When Winter took to the stage at about 9:45 p.m., he didn't disappoint. It might have been cold outside, but Winter heated things up at the Peak.

While his battle with health problems over the years has him performing seated these days, the 66 year-old Winter can still play up a storm.

Dressed in all black, wearing a cowboy hat, Winter produced a performance that touched the bases of his influences, from rock and roll classics to full out blues.

Watching Johnny play is a treat. When other guitarists are flying all over the fretboard, trying to impress with their speed, Johnny picks and strums with an ease that emphasizes it's not all about how fast one can play. He has spent a career showing he can reel off blistering solos with anyone. Now, he sets his own pace, both with his singing and playing.

Johnny's material covered the gamut of his musical life. "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" appeared on his Columbia Records debut album back in 1969, during the days when he was being touted by Rolling Stone magazine as a major discovery on the Texas blues scene. Rolling Stone still has him ranked as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time.

Other highlights of his 14-song set included a powerful "Lone Wolf" from his last studio album, "I'm a Bluesman"; the rock and shuffle of "She Likes to Boogie Down Low"; a rollicking rendition of Ray Charles' "Rag Tag"; "Don't Take Advantage of Me"; and his covers of "It's All Over Now." "Johnny B. Goode" and the Jimi Hendrix tribute, "Red House."

Johnny has been working with his current band for about eight years now, and it provides a rock solid backing, allowing the ace guitarist plenty of room to stretch out. Paul Nelson backs Johnny on rhythm guitar, with bassist Scott Spray and drummer Vito Liuzzi, both sporting berets, serve up the beat. The trio actually opened the set with a rousing instrumental opening.

To close the performance, Johnny hauled out his slide guitar for his signature version of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61."

To paraphrase one of his song titles, Johnny Winter is certainly still alive and well on the road.

Mike Zito, from southeast Texas, just released a new concert CD, "Live From the Top," and much of his set at the Peak was culled from that release.

Zito provided great energy in his playing and emotion in his singing. He caught everyone's attention with his opening slide guitar on "Natural Born Lover" and held it until he unleashed a sizzling, Hendrix-styled rendition of "Hey Joe" to close things out.

In between, Zito demonstrated that he can be funky ("Come on Baby") and bluesy ("Pearl River," which he penned with Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers). "Big Mouth" elicited some smiles as well.

Zito also showed he can dish out a rock and roll hook with his "One Step at a Time."

Opening the evening was Scranton native Clarence Spady, who started things off on a high note, setting the bar for his bill mates.

Spady demonstrated he can rip through his bluesy guitar riffs but also showed a sensual, Santana like side. He closed his set with an energetic number, "24-7 Luv" from his latest CD, "Just Between Us."

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