Johnny Winter passed away in the 2014. In his own personal way he’s been a legend, before on the rock side of the genre and then, on the crossing between the '70s with the '80s, he’s been like a sacred icon of the blues, after the definitive legitimateness consequent to his entry in the Muddy Waters Band as official member. Also because of these aspects, his audience has always been across-the-board, but forever devoted.
This film, according to Johnny Winter’s wish appropriately entitled Down & Dirty, proves it. It is the precise report of one of his last tours, wandering with his band around US, Europe and Asia. Anywhere, troops of adoring fans, stacks of records to be signed, hands stretched out looking for a handshake, by now, no more that vigorous.
Those are the last tours. Winter is filmed during the period of his physical decline that, irony of fate, coincides with some kind of psychological rebirth. Few meat on the bones, as always; but Johnny’s body, still visibly anorexic, suffers for the strain of breath too. The walk is by now stooped, uncertain, lame. As it was for the old B. B. King, the chair on the stage is such an usual presence but, unlike the last B. B. King, sadly too often exhibited as a consecrate, mummified procession relic, once on the stage and although sat down, Winter recovers once again good part of his vitality. The narration of this ‘on the road’ diary is interposed by flashbacks and extracts from old interviews. Warren Haynes, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry, James Cotton, Derek Trucks, his brother Edgard Winter and Luther Nallie, Winter’s guitar teacher they all alternate to recite Johnny’s hagiography. In the middle of all these touching memories, above all, Johnny’s last guitar player, Paul Nelson’s story really moves us. With courage and devotion, Paul has set Winter free from the slavery of methadone literally by scraping off the pills, day by day, depriving them of their content, but keeping on giving them making Johnny believe that they were entire: so, placebo effect fully succeeded and revealed, to an amazed Winter, two years after the beginning of the "therapy". All fragments of a life perpetually lived on the fast lane, getting fill of sex, drugs and rock & roll; a life lived - we now understand better - maybe with some remorse, without apparent regrets, but not without consequences.
Oddly and unlike other passed artists, Johnny Winter didn't leave behind him artistic heirs and not even epigones or imitators, but only the nervous sound of restless fingers and the sharp rattle of a slide guitar: both quickly recognizable. G.R.