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Cullen Winter

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Cullen WinterCullen Winter, a veteran of the Denver and New Mexico Blues scenes, is well traveled, having performed at Kingston Mines, Chicago; Eli's Mile High, Oakland; The Maple Leaf, New Orleans; etc., sharing the stage with greats such as Pinetop Perkins, Marcia Ball, Sam Good, Asleep at the Wheel, R.L. Burnside and many others.

His Blues vocation was nurtured by an early and everlasting influence. As a boy of 12, Cullen was fortunate to have befriended Muddy Waters on his tours through the Western U.S. and got to spend time with the man and his band whenever they came through Denver in subsequent years.

His first recorded outing was released in 1996 on his own Nice Ride Records label. "Sluggo Blues" was well received and got good regional airplay.

The followup disc, delayed by the responsibility of new fatherhood, was recorded live at The Alley Cantina in Taos, New Mexico, where Cullen resides. He and his band, Cullen Winter and the Blues Band with Sixteen Eyes, have had a house gig at The Alley for over two years-thrilling audiences week in and week out.

It seems appropriate to present Cullen's music in the setting it is most frequently enjoyed.

Down a 300 year old alley in Taos, New Mexico, there Is a 400 year old bar. On the bandstand Thursday nights a Blues band plays. A tall, lanky Colorado native with a vintage Fender Jazzmaster strapped on, plays lead. The sound Is classic and new at the same time; Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Bill Frissel and Robin Ford, B-3 organ, piano, harmonica bass.

And as the tall man, Cullen Winter, out front taking on lead and rhythm guitar and sings, the echoes of classic Blues vocals can be heard down the alley, where one night last year this line disc was recorded live.

If you love Blues, but are tired of wannabes and less than skilled copyists, if you thought no one plays classic Chicago Blues anymore, no more harp trills over barrelhouse piano and thumping bass beat, that this particular form died out in the early 1960's, put this disc on and crank it up loud.

Cullen Winter - Taos BluesmanTaos Bluesman Cullen Winter Returns to Canyon Bar
The musician went on an odyssey with some big time Blues talent while he was away
By Kay Cordtz
For the Monitor

Since his last performance in Los Alamos, Cullen Winter has been to Memphis and to New Orleans. And while he was there, he played with some big time Blues talent from Irma Thomas to Walter "Wolfman" Washington.

Winter will show us what he picked up during his two-week Blues odyssey when he and his band play the Canyon Bar tomorrow night. The show starts at 9 PM. Winter lives in Taos where for three years he's played a weekly gig Thursdays at the Alley Cantina. But he's no stranger to the Hill, having played Russ Gordon's summer concert series for a number of years. He's also a favorite at the Canyon Bar, where he and his Blues cohort John Carey played last summer.

During his stay in New Orleans, Winter played in Carey's band, backing up Washington one night and New Orleans chanteuse Timothea on another occasion at the Hard Rock Caf6. He also attended Bluestock in Memphis, an annual long weekend of music showcased in all the clubs on Beale Street. During the festival, Winter and Carey played with Irma Thomas, the Wild Magnolias, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Carla Thomas.

"It was kind of a free-for-all schedule," Winter said. "but it was great."

On Friday, Winter will be playing with the Blues Band with Sixteen Eyes - you figure it out. The band consists of Winter on guitar and vocals, Dan Lizdas on keyboards, Mike Lea on drums. Raymond Blanchette on bass and Eric Voss on harp. All but Voss, from Pojoaque, live in the Taos area.

Cullen Winter Taos BluesmanThe son of a Denver radio program director, Winter was exposed to great music and great musicians at an early age. "My dad did lots of interviews for the station, and I grew up with people like Cannonball Adderly coming over for dinner.' he said. Winter particularly treasures memories of hanging out with Muddy Waters when his band would come through town, particularly the night he watched an entire show from the piano bench of Pinetop Perkins.

Like many musicians, Winter didn't start with his present instrument and was initially a drummer. "I didn't start playing guitar until I was out of high school," he said. "But I was fortunate to have been able to study composition and arranging at school." Winter's progressive high school had a Career Education Center where he spent half the school day, writing Big Band charts.

"Half the day we did academics at the traditional school," he said, "and half the day we spent at the center which had a recording studio and lots of other vocational training. You could also study to be a bricklayer there, but all the music training was great for me. I had always wanted to play electric Blues guitar since I was a kid."

That high school training really did produce a career for Winter. who has figured out how to make a living doing what he loves in a place he loves. His band has become a staple of the local music circuit and hosted the Blues jam session preceding last year's.

Thirsty Ear festival. His first record, -Sluggo Blues," was released in 1,996 on his own Nice Ride Records label. His last CD, "Live at the Alley, " was recorded in 1999 but was recently reviewed by Blues Revue magazine. The reviewer said the record "reminds me why live discs are so cool. The energy's up and the audience adds reality. Best cuts: "She caught the Katy" with a push-funk beat and juicy harmonica fills by Eric Voss, and a crafty new bebop version of "Sittin' On Top of the World" featuring Winter's gifted rockabilly and jazz-influenced guitar leads."

In the course of his career, Winter has played Blues clubs from New Orleans to Oakland, and has shared the stage with musicians including Marcia Ball, Sam Good, Asleep at the Wheel and R. L. Burnside.

Live at the Alley Cullen WinterLIVE AT THE ALLEY
Recorded Live @ the Alley Cantina, Taos, New Mexico, some time in 1999.

Once in a while, you can walk into a club and catch some unknown local artist who has some damn good blues going on. Looking at these bands, they often have no resemblance to the bluesmen whose material they are covering, but they still are doing it. Winter, and his group of four musicians who wear eyeglasses, are doing just that with their re-up of 1950s Chicago-styled blues made famous by Muddy and Wolf.

You find the non-assuming Cullen Winter out front with chargin' vocals that you wouldn't believe just came from his mouth. His guitar he plays with the same nonchalance through rhythm and lead chores. An obvious devotee to axe economics, Winter leads, then follows, allowing harp and piano lines to leap forth! With a hard-pounding engine room this ensemble cooks through a magnificent live set recorded at one of the band's choice house haunts, The Alley Cantina in Taos, New Mexico,

Cullen's bandmates are Dan Lizdas on the ivories and Eric Voss rippin' across the harmonicas scales. The bottom is firmly held by Omar Rane on the bass and Mike Lea on the drums. Growing up in Denver, a long way from Chicago, Winter was introduced to rock and blues by his father, a local DJ, who frequently met with the blues people traveling through the area. Meeting some of these greats guided young Winter's music orientation. His set contains many standards from his musical mentors: Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Taj Mahal, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, and Bo Carter (Chatmon). They also pull off two non-blues songs in their own blues interpretations: Gershwin's "Ain't Necessarily So" and Hendrix' "Red House, '

Why pay the cover at the bar, when you can buy this live set to play over and over? Maybe, like me, you want both! This is Chicago blues that you would never expect to find out in New Mexico; but that's where they call home. They're a virtual musical oasis in the desert! Find this pub and you know you'll be chillin' with this kind of talent playin'!

Mark A. Cole
Big City Blues
Keepin' the blues alive in the Motor City, the Windy City and other meccas - Oct.-Nov. 2000