Looking very frail and moving slowly, guitarist Johnny Winter walked onstage at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Sunday night and sat down in a chair. Cradling an electric guitar in his lap, he stayed put for nearly an hour and a half while he and his band cranked out a long series of vintage and newly composed blues.
The lingering effects of a broken hip have clearly slowed the 60-year-old Texas blues legend. But he had no problem finding numerous ways to move through 12-bar chord progressions -- depending on the mood, he laced them with ringing double stops a la Chuck Berry, chromatic turnarounds and sliding triplets that evoked the sound of bottleneck guitar. Even some cool, jazz-tinted harmonies surfaced now and then. His voice sounded thin at times, nearly drowned out by his quartet's rhythm section, but a few songs drawn from his new CD, "I'm a Bluesman," served him well, punched up by veteran harmonica player James Montgomery. With Montgomery's help on vocals, Winter paid homage to his mentor Muddy Waters with a vigorous resurrection of "Hoochie Coochie Man."
Still, the show would have benefited from a dramatic change of pace or two. Winter didn't play acoustic or resonator guitar, and his only slide guitar showcase came during the encore on J.B. Lenoir's "Mojo Boogie," charged with roadhouse fervor. It's a shame he didn't use his slide more often. He returns to the club Aug. 2.
-- Mike Joyce