While Texas Blues was taking shape and a young guitar player bluesman named Stevie Ray Vaughan was rising in fame and developing his own legacy, there is one Texas blues electric guitar player who seemingly dropped off the map.
Lets set the record straight, as far as electrified Texas blues is concerned a man named Johnny Dawson Winter III had already done that and been there a good dozen years earlier. Born on the 23rd of February 1944 in Beaumont, Texas, he ended up in New York City in 1968 and was involved in a bidding war between record company’s that filled the Texas gunslinger’s pockets with the largest advance signing bonus ever paid to a new artist, at that time. Columbia Record Company won the war.
His first release was called “Johnny Winter”, was the second album produced by Columbia Records, really put Johnny Winter on the map, called “The Progressive Blues Experiment”. A super killer live album.
Early on he began imitating early rock and roll recordings of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Before long he started picking up on the Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, B.B. King while learning more about the Mississippi Delta blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leadbelly. This is where the influence tree starts for most blues guitarists. Mostly indirectly now, meaning that many younger players have little idea of who really inspired them.
Muddy Waters, who referred to J.W. as his son, was his mentor and they toured together garnering several Grammy awards, while J.W. was fighting serious health problems. However, the combination of guitar players mentioned helped shape the unique style of johnny Winter. As a big fan of Johnny Winter I spent hours downstairs rattling the floors listening to Johnny Winter. It is a wonder my parents did not kick me out of the house.
Nearly a year ago we saw Johnny in concert at real dump, not worthy of his presence at all. Since he is an albino, and blind for all practical purposes, it makes his achievements even greater. Another blues player named Jeff Healey was also blind, but did not live long enough to get the recognition he so deserved.
Back to the point, he was escorted on stage to his chair and then was handed his guitar, which I am sure was a Erlewine Lazer.
Custom built by Mark Erlewine , which features a single coil neck and humbucker bridge, and a boost toggle which is an absolute kick in the head. Running through a Fender super reverb this tone says very directly ‘I’m from Texas’.
Johnny performed many super hits for about one and a half hours, playing his own style of Texas blues. One of the nice surprises was when he pulled out his slide guitar and reminded us that he is one of the best slide players ever. It took me back many years to hear the raw beauty of Johnny Winter. His extarordinary chops were still sharp and he showed us what started the love affair with the Texas blues and Johnny Winter.
We at Guitar Players Center know of no better way to get to know or revisit Johnny Winter than to watch a few classic videos. They represent several styles of play he incorporated. Enjoy them. Do you know johnny W.? What do you think of him and his style?