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Pink-Eyed Blues Great

His mother told him someday you would be a man,
And you would be the leader of a big ol' band.
Many people coming from miles around,
To hear you play your music when the sun go down,
Maybe someday your name will be in lights saying, "Johnny B. Goode tonight!"

Go, go go Johnny go,
Go, Go go, Johnny go
Go Johnny B. Goode

Rolling Stone magazine's 63rd Greatest Guitarist

(February 23, 1944 - July 16, 2014)

Texas is a drag – nearly every musician who comes from there agrees it's a drag – but the fact is that some of the heaviest, funkiest rock available today is Texas music: Janis Joplin, Steve Miller, Mother Earth, the Sir Douglas Quintet – the list of fine Texas rock and roll musicians goes on and on.

It's hard for a non-Texan to understand how so much that's good could come out of such a wrong place. Janis Joplin has said of the Lone Star State: "Texas is okay if you want to settle down and do your own thing quietly, but it's not for outrageous people, and I was always outrageous. In Texas, I was a beatnik, a weirdo. I got treated very badly in Texas. They don't treat beatniks too good there." ...

The hottest item outside of Janis Joplin, though, still remains in Texas. If you can imagine a hundred and thirty pound cross-eyed albino with long fleecy hair playing some of the gutsiest fluid blues guitar you have ever heard, then enter Johnny Winter. At 16, Bloomfield called him the best white blues guitarist he had ever heard. Now 23, Winter has been out and around for some time. At one time he and his identical twin* brother, Edgar, had a group called the Black Plague, Edgar on tenor and at the keyboard.

Winter presently appears with a trio, and, like Janis, is backed by insufficient talent. Henry Carr might consider the possibilities of Winter and Joplin on the same stage. In addition to guitar, Winter also plays superb harp and has a fine hard blues voice. His visual and audible presence is a subtle parallel to Joplin's.

No question of it, the first name that comes to mind when you ask emigrant Texans about the good musicians that have stayed back home -- is Winter's. "Incredible," says Chet Helms of Family Dog. --"Tribute to the Lone Star State: Dispossessed Men and Mothers of Texas" Rolling Stone, Sepulvado/  Burks, (12/7/1968)

Lone Star Rising Star

That article, partially quoted above, reflected Johnny Winter's up and coming career, caught the attention of Steve Paul, manager of the McCoys, and was owner of the cool New York club, The Scene; so he brought the Beaumont, Texas boy to the Big Apple. He shared the Fillmore East stage with Michael Bloomfield (who introduced him: "This is the baddest motherf**ker.") and Al Kooper, and roused the crowd with his cover of B.B. King's, "It's My Own Fault," attracting the "Golden Ears" of Columbia records head Clive Davis. That in turn caused a contract competition, that Columbia records ultimately won. The $600,000 signing was at the time one of the highest, if not the apex.

But that would just be the beginning, albeit it high, of a roller coaster ride for the albino prodigy, whose real name was John Dawson Winter III; and who was older brother by about two years, to *Edgar Holland Winter. Edgar Winter, also an albino, and is presently an active vocalist, guitarist, saxophone player, and keyboardist in his own right. (Known for the heavy rock instrumental "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride").

Stepping Out

Johnny Winter's latest release** in September of 2014, Step Back, will be posthumous, as he died kind of mysteriously in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland while waiting to play in France at the Cahors Blues Festival. He had just performed at a festival in Austria the Saturday before. His old friend Rick Derringer was brought in to play as a tribute for the Las Vegas, Nevada and Snoqualmie, Washington part of the tour Johnny was supposed to have attended that year in July's, Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest.

His Berklee-trained guitarist, manager, and friend, Paul Nelson, lamentably informed us:

We know it was breathing-related or lung-related. There's no official statement yet. We haven't requested the information yet, but he did have severe emphysema, that's the information we have now. They said it was no foul play. When something like that happens in a hotel, they immediately think Jimi Hendrix, they think Jim Morrison and all that's going on — a musician, a blues guy, a rock guy, a guitar player, is this some kind of thing?

... But then they realized it was far from that because then they knew the back story that he had been so clean for so long that they were like, "We see."

He died in his sleep, the way we'd all like to go.

It kind of forces us to look back to when he performed at Woodstock in August of 1969 on day 3, and included his brother, Edgar. They had began at midnight, Sunday, 17th and of the 8 songs in set (listed below) they did for a little over an hour, only "Mean Town Blues", can be heard today, but that's because it was added on the 25th Anniversary release. Audiences in the wee hours were treated to his particularly energetic version of the Chuck Berry classic, "Johnny B. Goode." His doing that number, (with brother Edgar on piano), on his omnipresent Gibson Firebird guitar onstage at Beatclub in Amsterdam later can be seen and heard here; (as well as other clips).

Woodstock venue:

  1. Mama, Talk to Your Daughter
  2. Leland Mississippi Blues
  3. Mean Town Blues
  4. You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now -- Mean Mistreater
  5. I Can't Stand It (with Edgar Winter)
  6. Tobacco Road (with Edgar Winter)
  7. Tell the Truth (with Edgar Winter)
  8. Johnny B. Goode

Rock and Roll White Rose of Texas Delta Blues

Johnny's father, Johnny Dawson Winter, Junior, like his father, John D. Winter, Senior were the owners of the cotton brokerage firm in Leland Mississippi. Dawson, Junior also was an accomplished saxophone player, and with the family quintet they did comedy and numbers like "Ain't She Sweet," and Bye Bye Blackbird" for the local Kiwanis club. They were quite connected in the area, his father was the third term mayor before military service pulled him away in 1941.

His mother, Edwina, pregnant with Johnny while John was away, decided to go back to her home town of Beaumont to have the child in 1944. His albino condition would leave him with 20/400 eyesight in one eye and 20/600 in the other. The rest of the family finally permanently relocated in Texas, after she returned again to give birth Edgar in 1946. (He also exhibited the congenital disorder albinism a.k.a. achromia, achromasia, or achromatosis --lacking tyrosinase that produces melanin). Nevertheless, there still proudly stands the plaque in Leland on the Mississippi Blues Trail recognizing Johnny Winter as one of their native sons.

Protégé Prodigy

Though the parents encouraged all musical endeavors, they worried that Johnny was going to get buck teeth from playing clarinet, so he picked up the ukelele instead, and after switching to guitar, (probably not carried in a gunny sack) he had his own band at only 11.

Zydeco guitarist and disk jockey “Bon Ton” Clarence Garlow, who played Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf eventually invited the call-in requesting young Johnny III into the studio to teach him how to play. Later Winter would also listen to what cuts Disk Jockey J.P. Richardson would put on the air. Richardson would a few years later join Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in death as the Big Bopper on that ill fated flight in 1958.

Eventually as a 15 year-old rocker, who at first did not even know much about the blues, formed his first group, Johnny and the Jammers, which included naturally, his brother on keyboards. 

It was also natural that they would do covers of the Everly Brothers in 1959. They even recorded 45 singles locally like Dart Records' 1959 "School Day Blues"/"You Know I Love You." The Frolic Records single 1963 Gangster of Love"/"Eternally," was later nationally distributed on Atlantic Records in 1964, and similarly "Gone for Bad"/"I Won't Believe It," that same year's Frolic single was licensed by MGM Records in 1965. Winter also had his "Harlem Shuffle," recorded by the Traits on Universal Records, then transferred to Scepter Records survive two weeks of November's Billboard Hot 100.

Eventually he did pick up on the blues and for NPR in 2011 he recalled:

Not many white people in Beaumont cared about the blues, I just liked the emotion and the feeling in the music. It was the most emotional music I'd ever heard.

He did not care if he stood out when playing in blues clubs, and when he and his brother jammed, the obvious ebony musicians to his blanched ivory did not care either. Johnny went into detail, laughing about it, about his trying to play with B.B. King at the Beaumont club, The Ravens when he was only 17:

I went with my band, and I really wanted B.B. to hear me play, because I loved B.B.'s music and I wanted to show him what I could do. So I sent some of my friends over to ask him if it'd be OK. He was having tax problems at the time, and he thought — us being the only white people in there — that we'd come from the IRS to bust him for his taxes.

He didn't know whether I could play or not, I think he was just so glad that we didn't come to mess with him about his taxes, he didn't care."

 

Later he recorded in Houston (recently released on Catfish records), and there is one fitting cut by him, the "Leland Mississippi Blues:"
I've been in Texas,
I've been on the run
I've been in Texas,
I've been on the run
I'm going to Leland,
Mississippi, mama
You all know that's where I come from,
Right down on the Delta, man,
Well, I'm alone, baby,
I'm free free from my home,
Well, I'm alone, I'm free from my home.
You know I was sittin' right down people,
On my daddy's cotton farm.

Rolling Up

His "Whiter Shade of Pale" image and long wraith-like mane flying about made an unforgettable stage presence, which would not have helped him if he had not have been a stringed virtuoso, with a slide methodology with such intense speed. How ironic that this blonder than blond fella, made more blanc with a name like "Winter" would be playing black music with the best. He had quipped, "We both had a problem with our skin being the wrong color."

In 1968 he was on the way up, his brother going his way, an he formed a trio with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer John "Red" Turner. August of that year he recorded The Progressive Blues Experiment on Austin, Texas' label Sonobeat Records, which was released locally. In 1985 a German label, Liberty, had a vinyl release of it, and some of these cuts were added to later compilations. Notice how "Mean Town Blues" was first put on an album here.

  1. Rollin' And Tumblin' (McKinley Morgenfield) 3:09
  2. Tribute To Muddy 6:20
  3. I Got Love If You Want It (J. Moore) 3:52
  4. Bad Luck And Trouble 3:43
  5. Help Me (R. Bass, S. Williamson) 3:46
  6. Mean Town Blues 4:26
  7. Broke Down Engine (Arranged By, Adapted By, Vocals , Guitar {National Steel-standard} – Johnny Winter) 3:25
  8. Black Cat Bone 3:46
  9. It's My Own Fault (King, Taub) 7:20
  10. Forty-Four (C. Burnett) 3:28

In 1969 they released his first album on Buddah records, Johnny Winter -- First Winter

  1. Bad News (J.D. Loudermilk) 2:47
  2. Leavin' Blues ( J. WInter) 2:36
  3. Take A Chance On My Love (J. WInter) 2:23
  4. Easy Lovin' Girl (J. WInter) 1:28
  5. I Had To Cry (Ames, Mathis, Scott) 1:56
  6. Birds Can't Row Boats (J. WInter) 2:58
  7. Out Of Sight (T. Right) 2:05
  8. Coming Up Fast Part I (Winter) 2:32
  9. Coming Up Fast Part II (Winter) 2:30
  10. Parchman Farm (M.J. Allsion) 2:26
  11. Please Come Home For Christmas (Brown, Red) 2:39
Rock 'n' Roll, Hoochie Koo,
Lawdy mama light my fuse.
Rock 'n' Roll, Hoochie Koo,
Truck on out and spread the news.

Done got tired of payin' dues,
Said goodbye to all my blues.
Lawdy mama, light my fuse.
--"Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo" (Rick Derringer), Johnny Winter Andalbum. (Columbia 1971.)

His lightning fast speed caused Muddy Waters to admit, "That guy up there onstage — I got to see him up close. He plays eight notes to my one!" Just like he had done with B.B. King, Johnny cajoled his way to play with Muddy Waters too.

Johnny Winter would get a chance to repay Muddy Waters when the great blues-man was struggling. You can witness Winter and Waters in one of their many collaborations at the 1981 Chicago Blues Festival here.

A Comet Too High Too Long

Even though he continued to be a musical presence, with great covers of Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61," the Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash," or the traditional "Rolling and Tumbling," Johnny's lifestyle, starting with the 70s, began a slow rolling and tumbling downwards. It was not only drug and drinking problems, but health issues as well-- ironically where the lungs got damaged from the legal ones. As late as 2012 he was in very bad shape with his comrade Nelson noting:

It was hard to see Johnny like that, we’re talking 90 pounds—he weighed 90 pounds back then.

It was a ritual, "I have to take this, I have to do this." Johnny didn’t need methadone; he needed the idea of methadone. So I took his OCD and used it against him to help him. Like the Force in Star Wars or something.

He would demonstrate this OCD at weird times like Winter remembered, "Why am I doing this? How come I rub my nose every time I have an autograph signing?"

After quitting junk and smoking, Johnny gained 40 pounds and was presented a present one December when Paul Nelson exclaimed to a Johnny -- wondering what pill he was given, “Merry Christmas, Johnny. You’ve been off methadone for a year!”

After Nelson basically saved his life, Winter added:

Aw yup, it’s the same hat. I’ve had it like 30 years. I mean, you don’t change snakes. I don’t know if it’d be bad luck, or what, but I won’t change snakes. ---Am I sounding OCD right now? --These two rattlers work real good. Actually, one come off on the airplane, you see—we lost one of the heads and we found it and glued it back on. I figured, "I can’t go out with one snake-head on my hat." Aw yup, it’s the same hat. I’ve had it like 30 years. I mean, you don’t change snakes. I don’t know if it’d be bad luck, or what, but I won’t change snakes. --Am I sounding OCD right now? -- These two rattlers work real good. Actually, one come off on the airplane, you see—we lost one of the heads and we found it and glued it back on. I figured, "I can’t go out with one snake-head on my hat."

 

He now could attend his March 13 2014 documentary, produced independently through Secret Weapon, Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty, debut at Austin, Texas' South By Southwest, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel; and he would see the scene replayed of that very special Christmas story with Paul, of which Winter would gush:
That was the best Christmas present I ever had. Way the best. I just couldn’t believe it, ’cause I’d been on it for 30 years, and I was just extremely happy. Imagine that — I didn’t have to worry about methadone any more.

Cain is Able

In 2010 Mary Lou Sullivan's biography of the musician, Raisin' Cain was published with 400 pages and 47 photos of back-story. She had originally started her project talking to Johnny Winter in 1984, but her requests to do something with them back then were denied by manager Teddy Status. However she continued to persevere and we learn from her:

It was originally going to be an "as told to" autobiography, but when I started interviewing Johnny in January 2003, it was obvious his lifestyle had affected his memory. He had no recollection of certain events and periods in his life, so it made more sense to write it as an authorized biography. That entailed countless hours of research, as well as interviews with the key players in his life—family, friends, musicians, managers, producers, engineers, and record company executives. That made the process longer and more labor intensive for me, but I believe the result was well worth the time and effort.

True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story came out March 31st, 2014 and it is his only box set with four CDs of all his work. It includes all of Johnny’s most memorable cuts and best live acts, and there are 2 never released titles, encompassing 50 years of rocking the blues.

**Step Back Tracks:

  1. Unchain My Heart – Johnny Winter   
  2. Can’t Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby) – Johnny Winter with Ben Harper   
  3. Don’t Want No Woman – Johnny Winter with Eric Clapton   
  4. Killing Floor – Johnny Winter with Paul Nelson   
  5. Who Do You Love – Johnny Winter   
  6. Okie Dokie Stomp – Johnny Winter with Brian Setzer   
  7. Where Can You Be – Johnny Winter with Billy Gibbons   
  8. Sweet Sixteen – Johnny Winter with Joe Bonamassa   
  9. Death Letter*** -Johnny Winter   
  10. My Babe – Johnny Winter with Jason Ricci  
  11. Long Tall Sally – Johnny Winter with Leslie West  
  12. Mojo Hand – Johnny Winter with Joe Perry  
  13. Blue Monday – Johnny Winter with Dr. John

In 2004 Johnny Winter was nominated for that year's album, “I'm a Bluesman” but hopefully he will get the Grammy for his last one, Step Back.


Death Letter***

Hey, I solemnly swear, Lord, I raise my right hand,
That I'm goin' get me a woman, you get you another man.
I solemnly swear, Lord, I raise my right hand,
That I'm goin' get me a woman, you get you another man.

I got a letter this morning, how do you reckon it read?
"Oh, hurry, hurry, gal, you love is dead."
I got a letter this morning, how do you reckon it read?
"Oh, hurry, hurry, gal, you love is dead."

I grabbed my suitcase, I took off up the road,
I got there, she was laying on the cooling board.
I grabbed my suitcase, I took on up the road,
I got there, she was laying on the cooling board.

Well, I walked up close, I looked down in her face,
Good old gal, you got to lay here till Judgment Day.
I walked up close, and I looked down in her face,
Yes, been a good old gal, got to lay here till Judgment Day.

Oh, my woman so black, she stays apart of this town,
Can't nothin' go when the poor girl is around.
My black mama stays apart of this town,
Oh, can't nothing "go" when the poor girl is around.
"Death Letter Blues", Son House

 


Discography

1969 

Second Winter  
 

Columbia 

 

1969  

The Progressive Blues Experiment  

Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol  

 
 

1969  

Johnny Winter  

Columbia  

 
 

1970  

Johnny Winter And  

DCC Compact Classics  

 
 

1971  

Story  

GRT  

 
 

1971  

Live  

Columbia  

 
 

1972  

Austin, Texas  

United Artists Records  

 
 

1973  

Still Alive and Well  

Legacy / Columbia  

 
 

1974  

Saints & Sinners  

Legacy / Sony Music Distribution  

 
 

1974  

John Dawson Winter III  

Blue Sky  

 
 

1976  

Together - Live  

Beat Goes On  

 
 

1976  

Captured Live!  

Blue Sky  

 
 

1977  

Nothin' But the Blues  

Blue Sky  

 
 

1978  

White, Hot & Blue  

TriStar Music  

 
 

1980  

Raisin' Cain  

Acadia  

 
 

1984  

Guitar Slinger  

Alligator Records  

 
 

1985  

Serious Business  

Alligator Records  

 
 

1986  

Third Degree  

Alligator Records  

 
 

1988  

The Winter of '88  

MCA  

 
 

1990  

A Lone Star Kind of Day  

Relix  

 
 

1991  

Let Me In  

Point Blank / Virgin  

 
 

1992  

Hey, Where's Your Brother?  

Point Blank  

 
 

1992  

Walking by Myself  

Relix  

 
 

1996  

Jack Daniels Kind of Day  

Thunderbolt (UK)  

 
 

1996  

White Lightning (Live At The Dallas International Motor Speedway)  

Magnum  

 
 

1996  

School Day Blues  

Collectables  

 
 

1997  

White Hot Blues  

Legacy / Columbia/Legacy  

 
 

1997  

White Heat 

M.I.L. Multimedia  

 
 

1997  

Live at the Texas Opry House  

Thunderbolt (UK)  

 
 

1998  

Live in NYC '97  

Virgin  

 
 

2000  

Back in Beaumont  

Thunderbolt (UK)  

 
 

2004  

I'm a Bluesman  

Virgin  

 
 

2004  

Dust Bowl Blues  

Pilot  

 
 

2005  

Johnny B. Goode  

Rex Recording  

 
 

2009  

Live at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival  

MunckMix  

 
 

2011  

Roots  

Megaforce  

 
 

2014  

Step Back  

Megaforce  

 
 

 
 

Remembrance, Vol. 1  

Friday Music  

 
 


Sources:

http://www.njherald.com/story/27541421/2014/12/03/johnny-winter-remembrance-tribute-friday-at-stanhope-house
http://www.twcc.com/articles/2014/10/30/w/winter-s-wife-has-blues-listening-to-his-new-album#/0
http://www.johnnywinter.net/
http://www.npr.org/artists/15368956/johnny-winter
http://ultimateclassicrock.com/johnny-winter-dies-reaction/
http://www.hightimes.com/read/death-johnny-winter
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/arts/music/johnny-winter-dies-at-70-virtuosic-blues-guitarist.html?_r=0
http://www.thewrap.com/blues-legend-johnny-winters-found-dead-on-tour/
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-guitarists-20111123/johnny-winter-20111122
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-lion-in-johnny-winter-a-tribute-to-the-guitar-icon-20140717
http://johnnywinterdownanddirty.com/HOME.html
http://johnnywinterbook.com/
http://www.americanbluesscene.com/2010/12/interview-with-author-of-the-johnny-winter-biography-mary-lou-sullivan/
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/tribute-to-the-lone-star-state-dispossessed-men-and-mothers-of-texas-19681207#ixzz3LPujNvrc
http://www.msbluestrail.org/locations/johnny-winter-map
http://player.listenlive.co/22591/en/artist/a2_MN0000819983/biography
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/johnny-winter-guitarist-whose-blistering-slideplaying-made-him-a-favourite-from-woodstock-to-the-royal-albert-hall-9613489.html
http://mswritersandmusicians.com/musicians/johnny-winter.html
http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/kicking-methadone-johnny-winter-77162/
http://oursalon.ning.com/profiles/blogs/1968-love-street-after-work-johnny-edgar-winter-grace-slick-the http://www.famousguitaristscenter.com/2009/05/john-dawson-johnny-winter-iii.html

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