If You Like Stevie Ray Vaughan, You Ought To Love Johnny Winter
If the 1990s are the good old days to you, I’m betting you think of Stevie Ray Vaughan when you think Texas Blues guitar. For those of us whose good old days were the 60s and 70s the man, I mean THE MAN, is Johnny Winter.
Say “Texas guitar slinger” and I think of one name first… Johnny Winter. Coming out of Beaumont, Texas, in the late 1960s Johnny Winter deserves to be listed alongside Albert Collins as the prototypical electric Texas Blues guitarist.
Combining Hard Rock, Rock and Roll and Blues, Texas guitar players tend to intersperse their solo work with two, three and more notes played simultaneously like chord exchange Jazz guitarists. They often play with a power that even the electric Chicago guitarists seldom match.
Johnny and his more Rock oriented brother Edgar were encouraged by their parents to pursue musical pursuits from a very early age. When Johnny was 10 and Edgar 8 they appeared on a local Beaumont children’s TV show with Johnny playing ukulele and the two singing Everly Brothers’ songs.
Winter began his recording career at age 15 releasing "School Day Blues" with his band Johnny and the Jammers. It was at that same time Johnny started to hear people like B. B. King and Muddy Waters.
In 1968, he released his first album The Progressive Blues Experiment. Soon after Johnny met the Chicago Blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield who invited Winter to join him and Al Kooper on stage at the Fillmore East during a December 1968 performance. Columbia Records officials at the show were very impressed and singed Johnny to a very large advance, $600,000.
Johnny Winter’s first Columbia Records release was logically titled Johnny Winter and included the same personnel as The Progressive Blues Experiment; bassist Tommy Shannon, drummer Uncle John Turner, and Edgar Winter on keyboards and saxophone. It was a major success.
Second Winter followed in 1969 plus great success in concerts – and an affair with Janis Joplin – that led to an historic Madison Square Garden concert.
Winter went on to play in the Muddy Waters Band and paired with just about every top Blues artist of the 1970s and 80s. Sadly, recent years Johnny Winter’s career has been slowed by medical complications possibly related to him having been born, like Edgar, an albino, which often carries high risks.
Three albums produced by Winter for Muddy Waters, Hard Again (1977), I'm Ready (1978), and Muddy "Mississippi" Waters – Live (1979) have won Grammy Awards. Several of Winter’s own albums were also nominated for Grammy Awards and in 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.
Tune in for some 2004 work by Johnny Winter, this week on the Nine O’clock Blues.