Johnny Winter Records “Progressive Blues Experiment” at Vulcan Gas Co.

by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State

Produced by Jack Anderson

Episode #14: Johnny Winter at Vulcan and Progressive Blues Experiment

On August 2, 1968, Beaumont guitarist Johnny Winter played the Vulcan Gas Company on Congress Avenue in Austin. Bill Josey, Sr., founder of Austin’s early record label Sonobeat with son Bill Josey, Jr., was in the crowd. Another Sonobeat act, the Conqueroo, had hipped Josey to Winter’s talent. Afterwards, Josey talked Winter into a recording session. To get the electric vibe of the live club, Josey and Winter returned to the empty Vulcan during the day to craft Winter’s debut album Progressive Blues Experiment with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner.

1969 Imperial Records reissue

Sonobeat did a limited pressing of the album and sold the rights to Liberty Records, who released Progressive Blues Experiment in 1969 for wider distribution. Winter quickly became a defining blues guitarist of the 1970s, anchoring the genre’s countercultural crossover launched first by the British Invasion and cemented by the Texas artists around the Austin club Antone’s, Oak Cliff’s Vaughan brothers, and Johnny’s own brother Edgar. With his soaring reputation and searing guitar, Johnny Winter always made sure to honor his mentors in Chicago blues. That first album began with a Muddy Waters cover followed by the track “Tribute to Muddy,” fitting because the two artists had first met while sharing a bill at the Vulcan Gas Company where the record was made. In the late 1970s, Winter even produced a trilogy of Grammy-winning albums by Muddy Waters, bringing their early Austin connection full circle.

Sources:

Laurie E. Jasinski, Gary Hartman, Casey Monahan, and Ann T. Smith, eds. The Handbook of Texas Music. Second Edition. Denton, TX: Texas State Historical Association, 2012.

Ben Graham. A Gathering of Promises: The Battle for Texas’s Psychedelic Music, from the 13th Floor Elevators to the Black Angels and Beyond Zero Books: Washington, DC, 2014.

Ricky Stein. Sonobeat Records: Pioneering the Austin Sound in the ‘60s. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.

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