Johnny Winter

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Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter.jpg
Johnny Winter in 2007
Background information
Birth name John Dawson Winter III
Born (1944-02-23)February 23, 1944
Beaumont, Texas, US
Died July 16, 2014(2014-07-16) (aged 70)
St Gallen, Switzerland
Genres Electric blues, blues rock, rock and roll, Texas blues
Occupations Musician, songwriter, producer
Instruments Vocals, guitar, mandolin, harmonica
Years active 1959–2014
Labels Columbia, Blue Sky, Alligator, Point Blank
Associated acts Edgar Winter
Website johnnywinter.net
Notable instruments
Gibson Firebird
Erlewine Lazer

John Dawson Winter III (February 23, 1944 – July 16, 2014), known as Johnny Winter, was an American blues guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, and producer. Best known for his high-energy blues-rock albums and live performances in the late 1960s and 1970s, Winter also produced three Grammy Award-winning albums for blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters. After his time with Waters, Winter recorded several Grammy-nominated blues albums. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and in 2003, he was ranked 63rd in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".[1]

Early career[edit]

Johnny Winter was born in Beaumont, Texas on February 23, 1944.[2] Winter, along with his musician brother Edgar (born 1946), were nurtured at an early age by their parents in musical pursuits.[2] Johnny and his brother, both of whom were born with albinism, began performing at an early age. When he was ten years old, Winter appeared on a local children's show, playing ukulele and singing Everly Brothers songs with his brother.

His recording career began at the age of fifteen, when his band Johnny and the Jammers released "School Day Blues" on a Houston record label.[2] During this same period, he was able to see performances by classic blues artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Bobby Bland. In the early days Winter would sometimes sit in with Roy Head and the Traits when they performed in the Beaumont, Texas area, and in 1967, Winter recorded a single with the Traits: "Tramp" backed with "Parchman Farm" (Universal Records 30496). In 1968, he released his first album The Progressive Blues Experiment, on Austin's Sonobeat Records.[3]

Signing with Columbia Records[edit]

Johnny Winter, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1969

Winter caught his biggest break in December 1968, when Mike Bloomfield, whom he met and jammed with in Chicago, invited him to sing and play a song during a Bloomfield and Al Kooper concert at the Fillmore East in New York. As it happened, representatives of Columbia Records (which had released the Top Ten Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills Super Session album) were at the concert. Winter played and sang B.B. King's "It's My Own Fault" to loud applause and, within a few days, was signed to what was reportedly the largest advance in the history of the recording industry at that time—$600,000.[2]

Winter's first Columbia album, Johnny Winter, was recorded and released in 1969.[4] It featured the same backing musicians with whom he had recorded The Progressive Blues Experiment, bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner, plus Edgar Winter on keyboards and saxophone, and (for his "Mean Mistreater") Willie Dixon on upright bass and Big Walter Horton on harmonica. The album featured a few selections that became Winter signature songs, including his composition "Dallas" (an acoustic blues, on which Winter played a steel-bodied, resonator guitar), John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson's "Good Morning Little School Girl", and B.B. King's "Be Careful with a Fool".[4]

The album's success coincided with Imperial Records picking up The Progressive Blues Experiment for wider release.[5] The same year, the Winter trio toured and performed at several rock festivals, including Woodstock.[5] With brother Edgar added as a full member of the group, Winter also recorded his second album, Second Winter, in Nashville in 1969.[6] The two-record album, which only had three recorded sides (the fourth was blank), introduced a couple more staples of Winter's concerts, including Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited".[6] Also at this time Johnny entered into an intimate, albeit short-lived affair with Janis Joplin which culminated in a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden where Johnny joined her on stage to sing and perform.[2]

Unofficial albums[edit]

Contrary to urban legend, Johnny Winter did not perform with Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison on the infamous 1968 Hendrix bootleg album Woke up this Morning and Found Myself Dead from New York City's The Scene club. According to Winter, "I never even met Jim Morrison! There's a whole album of Jimi and Jim and I'm supposedly on the album but I don't think I am 'cause I never met Jim Morrison in my life! I'm sure I never, never played with Jim Morrison at all! I don't know how that [rumor] got started."[7]

Beginning in 1969, the first of numerous Johnny Winter albums was released which were cobbled together from approximately fifteen singles (about 30 "sides") he recorded before signing with Columbia in 1969.[2] Many were produced by Roy Ames, owner of Home Cooking Records/Clarity Music Publishing, who had briefly managed Winter. According to an article from the Houston Press,[8] Winter left town for the express purpose of getting away from him. Ames died on August 14, 2003 of natural causes at age 66. As Ames left no obvious heirs, the ownership rights of the Ames master recordings remains unclear. As Winter stated in an interview when the subject of Roy Ames came up, "This guy has screwed so many people it makes me mad to even talk about him."[8]

Johnny Winter And[edit]

In 1970, when his brother Edgar released a solo album Entrance and formed Edgar Winter's White Trash, an R&B/jazz-rock group, the original trio disbanded.[5] Johnny Winter then formed a new band with the remnants of the McCoys—guitarist Rick Derringer, bassist Randy Jo Hobbs, and drummer Randy Z (who was Derringer's brother, their family name being Zehringer). Originally to be called "Johnny Winter and the McCoys", the name was shortened to "Johnny Winter And", which was also the name of their first album.[2] The album included Derringer's "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" and signaled a more rock-oriented direction for Winter.[9] When Johnny Winter And began to tour, Randy Z was replaced with drummer Bobby Caldwell. Their mixture of the new rock songs with Winter's blues songs was captured on the live album Live Johnny Winter And. It included a new performance of "It's My Own Fault", the song which brought Winter to the attention of Columbia Records.

Winter's momentum was throttled when he sank into heroin addiction during the Johnny Winter And days. After he sought treatment for and recovered from the addiction, Winter was courageously put in front of the music press by manager Steve Paul to discuss the addiction candidly.[2] By 1973, he returned to the music scene with the release of Still Alive and Well, a basic blend between blues and hard rock, whose title track was written by Rick Derringer. His comeback concert at Long Island, New York's Nassau Coliseum featured the "And" line-up minus Rick Derringer and Bobby Caldwell. Also performing on stage was Johnny's wife Susie. Saints & Sinners and John Dawson Winter III, two albums released in 1974, continue in the same direction.[10] In 1975, Johnny returned to Bogalusa, Louisiana, to produce an album for Thunderhead, a Southern rock band which included Pat Rush and Bobby "T" Torello, who would later play with Winter.[11] A second live Winter album, Captured Live!, was released in 1976 and features an extended performance of "Highway 61 Revisited".[12]

Muddy Waters sessions[edit]

In live performances, Winter often told the story about how, as a child, he dreamed of playing with the blues guitarist Muddy Waters. In 1977, after Waters' long-time label Chess Records went out of business, he got his chance.[2] Winter brought Waters into the studio to record Hard Again for Blue Sky Records, a label set up by Winter's manager and distributed by Columbia. In addition to producing the album, Winter played guitar with Waters veteran James Cotton on harmonica. Winter produced two more studio albums for Waters, I'm Ready (with Big Walter Horton on harmonica) and King Bee and a best-selling live album Muddy "Mississippi" Waters – Live. The partnership produced three Grammy Awards for Waters and an additional Grammy for Winter's own Nothin' But the Blues, with backing by members of Waters' band. Waters told Deep Blues author Robert Palmer that Winter had done remarkable work in reproducing the sound and atmosphere of Waters's vintage Chess Records recordings of the 1950s. The albums gave Waters the highest profile and greatest financial successes of his life.

Later career[edit]

Woodstock Reunion, Parr Meadows, Ridge, New York, 1979

After his time with Blue Sky Records, Winter began recording for several labels, including Alligator, Point Blank, and Virgin, where he focused on blues-oriented material.[2] In 1992, he married Susan Warford.[13] In 2004, he received a Grammy Award nomination for his I'm a Bluesman album. Beginning in 2007, a series of live Winter albums titled the Live Bootleg Series and a live DVD all entered the Top 10 Billboard Blues chart. In 2009, The Woodstock Experience album was released, which includes eight songs that Winter performed at the 1969 festival. In 2011, Johnny Winter released Roots on Megaforce Records. It includes Winter's interpretation of eleven early blues and rock 'n' roll classics and features several guest artists (Vince Gill, Sonny Landreth, Susan Tedeschi, Edgar Winter, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks). His latest album, Step Back, (which features appearances by Joe Bonamassa, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, and Joe Perry), is scheduled for release on September 2, 2014.

Winter continued to perform live, including at festivals throughout North America and Europe. He headlined such prestigious events as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, the 2009 Sweden Rock Festival, the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, and Rockpalast. He also performed with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theater in New York City on the 40th anniversary of their debut. In 2007 and 2010, Winter performed at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festivals. Two guitar instructional DVDs were produced by Cherry Lane Music and the Hal Leonard Corporation. The Gibson Guitar Company released the signature Johnny Winter Firebird guitar in a ceremony in Nashville with Slash presenting.

Recognition[edit]

Winter produced three Grammy Award-winning albums by Muddy Waters, Hard Again (1977), I'm Ready (1978), and Muddy "Mississippi" Waters – Live (1979). Several Winter albums were also nominated for Grammy Awards.[14] In 1980, Winter was on the cover of the first issue of Guitar World and in 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. There was a character in the video game Heavy Rain named after Winter.

Lawsuit Against DC Comics[edit]

In 1996, Johnny and Edgar filed suit against DC Comics and the creators of the Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such limited series, claiming, amongst other things, defamation: two characters named Johnny and Edgar Autumn, in the series strongly resemble the Winters. The brothers claimed the comics falsely portrayed them as “vile, depraved, stupid, cowardly, subhuman individuals who engage in wanton acts of violence, murder and bestiality for pleasure and who should be killed.”[15]The California Supreme Court sided with DC Comics, holding that that the comic books were deserving of First Amendment protection.[16]

Death[edit]

Winter was professionally active until the time of his death near Zurich, Switzerland on July 16, 2014.[17] He was found dead in his hotel room two days after his last performance, at the Cahors Blues Festival in France on July 14, at the age of 70.[18] The cause of Winter's death is not clear. He was scheduled to begin a United States tour beginning August 1, 2014 at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury in Westbury, New York.[19]

Writing in Rolling Stone magazine, after Winter's death, David Marchese said "Winter was one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos, releasing a string of popular and fiery albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, becoming an arena-level concert draw in the process... [he] made an iconic life for himself by playing the blues.[20]

Discography[edit]

Throughout his career, Winter was dogged by bootleg recordings and unauthorized re-releases of singles from his early pre-Columbia Records days. According to one biographer, only about fifteen percent of Winter's commercially available recordings are legitimate, leaving 85 percent that he had no control over.[2] Some of the releases were doctored with later overdubs by other musicians. Royalties were not Winter's primary concern, "I just don't want that bullshit out ... It's just bad music".[2] The following lists Winter's official albums.

Studio albums[edit]

Year Album information Peak chart positions
U.S.
1968 The Progressive Blues Experiment
  • Released: 1968
  • Label: Sonobeat
40
1969 Johnny Winter
  • Released: 1969
  • Label: Columbia
24
Second Winter
  • Released: 1969
  • Label: Columbia
55
1970 Johnny Winter And
  • Released: 1970
  • Label: Columbia
154
1973 Still Alive and Well
  • Released: 1973
  • Label: Columbia
22
1974 Saints & Sinners
  • Released: 1974
  • Label: Columbia
42
John Dawson Winter III
  • Released: December 1974
  • Label: Blue Sky
78
1977 Nothin' but the Blues
  • Released: November 1977
  • Label: Blue Sky
146
1978 White, Hot and Blue
  • Released: 1978
  • Label: Blue Sky
141
1980 Raisin' Cain
  • Released: 1980
  • Label: Blue Sky
1984 Guitar Slinger
  • Released: 1984
  • Label: Alligator
183
1985 Serious Business
  • Released: 1985
  • Label: Alligator
156
1986 Third Degree
  • Released: 1986
  • Label: Alligator
1988 The Winter of '88
  • Released: 1988
  • Label: MCA
1992 Let Me In
  • Released: June 29, 1992
  • Label: Point Blank
108
Hey, Where's Your Brother?
  • Released: November 3, 1992
  • Label: Point Blank
2004 I'm a Bluesman
  • Released: June 15, 2004
  • Label: Virgin
40
2011 Roots
  • Released: September 27, 2011
  • Label: Magaforce
163
2014 Step Back[21]
  • Scheduled release: September 2, 2014
  • Label: Magaforce

Live albums[edit]

Compilation albums[edit]

  • The Johnny Winter Story aka Raised on Rock (Columbia 1980)
  • Scorchin' Blues (Columbia 1992)
  • A Rock N' Roll Collection (Columbia 1994)
  • Anthology (Columbia 1995)
  • Return of Johnny Guitar (The Best of Johnny Winter 1984–86) (Empire 1996)
  • White Hot Blues (Sony 1997)
  • Deluxe Edition (Alligator 2001)
  • The Best of Johnny Winter (Sony 2002)
  • The Johnny Winter Anthology (Shout 2009)
  • Bamfest 2007 (Sugar River 2008)
  • Essential Johnny Winter (Columbia 2013)
  • True To the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story (Legacy 2014)

As producer and guitarist[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sullivan, Mary Lou (2010). Raisin' Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter. Backbeat Books. pp. 5, 19–21, 120–121. ISBN 978-0-87930-973-2. 
  3. ^ "Universal – Discography Vinyl Singles". Vinylrecords.ch. October 10, 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-08. 
  4. ^ a b Koda, Cub. "Johnny Winter: Johnny Winter – Album Review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Ruhlmann, William. "Johnny Winter – Artist Biography". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Koda, Cub. "Johnny Winter: Second Winter – Album review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Johnny Winter on Jimi Hendrix". Djnoble.demon.co.uk. January 28, 1970. Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  8. ^ a b Houston Press article dated August 28, 2003
  9. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Johnny Winter And: Johnny Winter And – Album Review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  10. ^ Wall Street Journal July 17, 2014
  11. ^ Horizon Music Group
  12. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Johnny Winter: Captured Live! – Album Review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Johnny Winter: Still Alive & Well". Guitar World. July 2010. 
  14. ^ "Johnny Winter". JohnnyWinterNet. Bullseye Management. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  15. ^ Edgar Winter et al v. DC Comics, 30 Cal4th 881 (Supreme Court of California 2003 )
  16. ^ Egelko, Bob (June 3, 2003). "Rocking Winters Lose Suit Against Publisher; Court Allows Leeway for Creative Portrayal". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  17. ^ "Johnny Winter dies at 70". American Blues Scene. July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Johnny Winter dies at 70; dazzling blues guitarist". LA Times. July 17, 2014. 
  19. ^ "US blues legend Johnny Winter dies at 70 in Zurich". Expatica Switzerland. July 17, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  20. ^ RollingStone.Com
  21. ^ DeRiso, Nick (July 6, 2014). "New Johnny Winter Album to Feature Eric Clapton, Joe Perry and Billy Gibbons", Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved July 22, 2014.