Johnny Winter – Perennial Guitar Slinger
As all Blues and Blues rock fans by now know that on July 17, the world lost one of its foremost resilient Guitar Slingers, Johnny Winter, at the age of 70. Johnny was an unstoppable force, and was driven to survive as he was in his tour de force soloing. Though only 70, in Blues road warrior years that’s gotta be well over a hundred, in Johnny Winters years…that well may be incalculable.
For those of the following post baby boom generations, you should be reminded of a couple of things…The Blues legend that over the last couple of decades could often be seen in pretty small concert/ bar venues and as a supporting festival act, at one time was a stadium act, and spoken of in the same company of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, & Jim Morrison. Well considering the 60 – 70’s era of overindulgence, he outlived his above contemporaries by close to a half a century. Other guitar
God’s of his generation, that past well before him include, Mike Bloomfield (my favorite of his generation,) Rory Gallagher, Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, & Jerry Garcia to name a few.
As well as his battles with his own demons, he and his more recent manager claimed he was milked by a former manager for well over 7 figures during his glory years. That manager, the same sources claim, encouraged Johnny to stay on Methadone to keep him in a fog and unaware of the exploitation that was being done to him. Regardless, Johnny eventually got clean, though he still had to deal with persistent and increasing pain from back and neck injuries he received from falling down a flight of stairs years before.
Some of my favorite periods of Johnny’s long career were before his Guitar God psychedelic status, when he still had his pompadour, and was playing out of his prodigious trick bag of Texas Blues & R&B. With the onset of heavy competition for the title of the fastest guitar slinger, opposed to the old school Blues guitar approach of tension & release, it seemed the faster he played, his solos became more about tension & no release. When he played with his idols like Muddy Waters and Sonny Terry though, it seemed he once again became a Blues storyteller.
I remember airing that same critique of his soloing to some members of James Cotton’s big band in the late 70’s. In reward for my observation I received a brand new posterior orifice from the entire band. I guess they figured opinions were like what everybody had, which is what they had just ripped me LOL. That night I learned just how respected Johnny was with the Chicago cats…I didn’t make the same mistake when talking to Muddy about him a few months later. Muddy, as well, thought the world of Johnny.
At the time of his death; Johnny was definitely in an upward career swing….a recent smokin’ appearance on the David Letterman show, a new CD to be released this fall, and more noteworthy, headliner gigs internationally seemed to be creating a true Winter renaissance.
I sense that Johnny would of liked to of hung out a few more years to ride the new wave of popularity. At the same time, I guess it’s better to go out while still riding the wave up. I feel Johnny died a much happier man than he’d been for a long time.
“An albino belongs to the smallest minority there is,” Johnny once mused. “Maybe that’s why I went for the blues. I don’t know. I never did say to myself, ‘poor me, I’m going to sing the blues’ I never felt like that. Everybody’s got problems. There were always people worse off than me.” Johnny Winter