“PLANS TO GO ON PLAYING FOREVER”
THE BRANDON SUN
BRANDON, MANITOBA, CANADA
AUGUST 11, 1976
Johnny Winter is a man who knows a lot about the ups and downs of rock stardom and a few minutes after he walked into the room wearing the standard jeans, black shirt and sailor’s cap perched incongruously atop a long, thin shock of white hair it became apparent that he’s willing to talk about the way things have gone for him.
Johnny was born in 1944 and grew up in Beaumont, Tex., as an outcast from a lot of the regular pastimes of the kids who lived around him. Both he and his brother Edgar were albinos with abnormally white skin and little eyesight. For something to do, they both turned toward a variety of musical instruments.
As teenagers they played in bar bands with Edgar gravitating toward jazz and Johnny plunging headlong into blues rock guitar. In 1968, Rolling Stone Magazine ran a feature detailing the Texas music scene and devoted a few lines to Winter, dubbing him a “130 lb. cross-eyed albino with long, fleecy white hair playing some of the gutsiest fluid blues guitar you ever heard.”
Winter had already recorded a rough sounding album for a Texas label but the Stone article touched off a bidding war amongst the major record companies with Columbia eventually signing, him for a figure reported to be in the neighborhood of $750,000, which at that time was the highest advance ever paid to an artist.
Suddenly, Johnny Winter was a superstar in demand for live concerts to the degree that he was on the road nonstop for three solid years with few breaks other than to record another album. In the struggle to live up to the guitar legend that was being created around him, Johnny turned to heroin.
“I just got sick of having no home, no friends, no sleep and no real personal identity,” Winter said. “After a while I just couldn’t handle the whole scene. It drove me nuts. Hell, it almost killed me. One day I said to myself, ‘No more, I quit. I’m goin’ home!’ ”
For over a year Winter remained in a private hospital cleaning up his addiction and getting his strength back before he served notice with the LP ‘Still Alive And Well’ that he was ready to attempt a scramble back to stardom. Now that he has managed just that feat, he was asked if it was all worth while, if he must not get tired of playing the speedy fusion of rock and blues guitar that is synonymous with the name Johnny Winter.
“I don’t get tired to doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I do get tired of being put in a category which prevents me from broadening out, still playing the blues and rock but do a nice ballad or country song and have people appreciate that, if I do it well. But I can’t. To my audience I’m either a blues player or a rock ‘n’ roll blues player and I never have been able to put anything else over.”
His latest album was recorded last summer in live concerts in San Bernadino, San Diego and at the Oakland Coliseum where the crowd numbered 55,000 people.
“Really when we did those dates Edgar and I were trying to get an album of stuff together,” Winter explained. “His band played a set, then mine, then we did a set together but after listening to the tapes I said, ‘Hey, there’s enough here for a live album of my own.'” I think people would rather listen to me live anyway. We’ve tried to make our studio recordings sound as much like a live gig as possible, ‘but there’s just that special buzz you get from going on in front of a crowd.”
Once again Johnny relies heavily on material written by other artists but the truth is that he uses songs like ‘Bony Moronie’ and ‘It’s All Over Now’ primarily as a skeleton on which to hang his extended guitar workouts.
“The reason that I do stuff by other people is that I’m simply not a great songwriter” Winter said. “Once in a while, I came up with something worthwhile but I’d rather record a great song by someone else than a mediocre song that I’ve written. Some people put you down for doing the old stuff but as long as you “do ’em your own way and don’t just copy ’em I think it’s fine.”
Does Johnny Winter ever ask himself how long he can keep on doing what he is doing. Does he ever think about standing out on a stage and yelling rock ‘n’ roll at an audience young enough to be his children? “Muddy Waters is still around,” he answered, “and Chuck Berry is still going strong. So I think, and hope, that as long as I play and sing well I can just go on forever. As long as I can stand up this is what I’ll be doing…
JOHNNY WINTER DISCOGRAPHY:
1968 The Progressive Blues Experiment
1969 Johnny Winter
1969 Second Winter
1970 Johnny Winter And
1971 Live Johnny Winter And
1972 Roadwork (with Edgar)
1973 Still Alive and Well
1974 Saints and Sinners
1974 John Dawson Winter III
1976 Captured Live!
1976 Johnny and Edgar…Together
1977 Nothin’ But the Blues
1978 White Hot and Blue
1980 Raisin’ Cain
1984 Guitar Slinger
1985 Serious Business
1986 Third Degree
1988 Winter of ’88
1991 Let Me In
1992 Hey, Where’s Your Brother?
1992 Scorchin’ Blues
1998 Live in NYC ’97
2004 I’m A Bluesman
2009 Johnny Winter Anthology
2009 The Woodstock Experience
2014 Step Back