I first heard the 1971 release, Live Johnny Winter And, when I was a curious 12-year-old kid who was just discovering blues rock. This great LP was recorded at the Fillmore East in 1970, and it showcased standout tracks such as “Mean Town Blues,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Johnny B. Goode.” But the song that still blows me away is “It’s My Own Fault”—a blues-rock tour-de-force that clocks in at 12 minutes and 14 seconds. Every second of it is vital, spirited, and interesting, and I’m still inspired by the chemistry of the group, which included guitarist Rick Derringer, bassist Randy Joe Hobbs, and drummer Bobby Caldwell.
Sure, the most obvious things on the album are the wonderful and fiery penta-tonic onslaughts of Johnny Winter, but my vote for Most Valuable Player goes to Derringer and his rhythm playing. Derringer exposed me to tritone substitution (basically, playing the upcoming dominant chord a 1/2 step above the destination chord); 9th, #9, & 13th chords; and brilliant turnarounds that could come from Blind Lemon Jefferson or Leadbelly, but that were played with the sound and spirit of Angus Young. Derringer’s virtuoso rhythm playing displayed an endless supply of ideas and themes, and he supported Winter in a selfless way, while still pushing the band.
I continue to apply some of Derringer’s licks and turnarounds in my trio, and they never feel passé. I specifically employ two turnarounds inspired by him on “Jim’s Blues” from my Live at Rockwood Music Hall NYC album, and I always think of Derringer when I play them—even after all these years of making them part of my musical vocabulary. I can only hope that some young guitarist might take something similar from me. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Jim Campilongo’s new live album, Live at Rockwood Music Hall NYC, is available now.