Born: Feb 23, 1944 in Beaumont, TX
Styles: Modern Electric Blues, Blues-Rock, Modern Electric Texas Blues, Slide Guitar Blues, Regional Blues, Pop/Rock, Hard Rock, Album Rock, Arena Rock, Boogie Rock, Electric Blues, Electric Texas Blues
Instruments: Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals, Slide Guitar
Blues guitarist Johnny Winter became a major star in the late '60s and early '70s. Since that time he's confirmed his reputation in the blues by working with Muddy Waters and continuing to play in the style, despite musical fashion. Born in Beaumont, TX, Winter formed his first band at 14 with his brother Edgar in Beaumont, and spent his youth in recording studios cutting regional singles and in bars playing the blues. His discovery on a national level came via an article in Rolling Stone in 1968, which led to a management contract with New York club owner Steve Paul and a record deal with Columbia. His debut album (there are numerous albums of juvenilia), Johnny Winter, reached the charts in 1969. Starting out with a trio, Winter later formed a band with former members of the McCoys, including second guitarist Rick Derringer. It was called Johnny Winter And. He achieved a sales peak in 1971 with the gold-selling Live/Johnny Winter And. He returned in 1973 with Still Alive and Well, his highest-charting album. His albums became more overtly blues-oriented in the late '70s and he also produced several albums for Muddy Waters. In the '80s he switched to the blues label Alligator for three albums, and has since recorded for the labels MCA and Pointblank/Virgin.
The early-2000s were quiet as far as new Winter recordings, but there were a number of significant reissues. Alligator issued the best of their years with the artist as Deluxe Edition in 2001, Columbia/Legacy covered his 1969-1971 period with their 2002 release Best of Johnny Winter, and Fuel 2000 came up with Winter's earliest recordings and compiled them on 2003's Winter Essentials 1960-1967. Sony reissued Winter's 1969 self-titled album with five bonus tracks in 2004, the same year the man returned with his first new album in nearly eight years, I'm a Bluesman. The archival reissues continued with Fuel's Introduction to Johnny Winter in 2006, which collected sides Winter recorded in his pre-Columbia years between 1960 and 1967 for the Dart, KCRO, Frolic, Todd, Hall-Way, and Pacemaker imprints.
- William Ruhlmann (All Music Guide)
Johnny Winter is an American music legend. In the eighteen years since he burst from the Texas bar scene to the cover of Rolling Stone, he's epitomized the fiery and flamboyant rock 'n roll guitar hero. Yet Johnny has continually returned to the blues roots from which his music sprang. Between 1968 and 1980, he cut fifteen albums thot define the blues-rock form, ranging from the row power of "Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo"to the subtlety of acoustic Delta blues.
In 1984, after a four-yeor hiatus from recording, Johnny leaped bsck into the national spotlight with his first album for Chicago's Alligator Records, Guitar Slinger. It was widely hailed as his best (and bluesiest) album ever, and charted in both Billboard and Cashbox as well as earning a Grammy nomination. The album produced Johnny's first video, "Don't Take Advantage of Me", which received regular play on MTV for over six months. He performed over a hundred concerts following the release of Guitar Slinger, and was featured in dozens of magazines and newspapers, as well as MTVs "Guitar Greats"special. In 1985, Johnny followed up Guitar Slinger with Serious Business, a scorching collection of what Johnny does best - rough and raucous electric blues. The album won Johnny his second Grammy nomination on Alligator Records and was introduced to over 200,000 fans on a month-long tour with George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers, playing major venues.
Johnny's last record for Alligator, Third Degree, came out in 1986. The release features several special guests and an array of blues styles, including guest appearances by his original blues cohorts, Tommy Shannon and Uncle John "Red"Turner, as well as Mac "Dr. John'' Rebennack. Johnny also played two solo acoustic cuts on the National Steel guitar (the first time he'd played the National in the studio since 1977).
Johnny Winter became a professional musician at the age of fourteen, when he and his keyboard-wizard brother Edgar formed Johnny and the Jammers in their home town of Beaumont, Texas. Already Johnny's rock and roll was steeped in the blues, from years of listening to Beaumont's black radio station and hanging out with Clarence Garlow, a local DJ and blues guitarist. Johnny and the Jammers were a local phenomenon, winning talent shows and eventually landed a recording contract with the Dart label. Their first single, "Schoolboy Blues", was released when Johnny was only fifteen.
From that time on, Johnny was a regular in the Houston and Beaumont recording studios, cutting dozens of tunes as both a a leader and sideman. When he wasn't in the studio, he was playing club gigs or sitting in with touring blues artists like B. B. King and Bobby "Blue"Bland, earning a word-of-mouth reputation on the "chitlin' circuit". Except for a brief stay in Chicago in the early '60's (where he come in search of the local blues scene but was forced to make a living playing twiest music is the trourist trap bars of Rush Street), Jahnny was barnstorming the Deep South bar circuit. His bands played everything from Top 40 bubblegum hits and cocktail jazz to whatever hard blues they could sneak into a set. His singles, cut for dozens of little labels, were often leased to majors like MGM ond Atlantic. They eorned plenty of local radio play, but didn't break nationally.
Finally, in early 1968, Johnny decided to totolly commit himself to the blues, regardless of the economic consequences. He formed his trio with Tommy Shannon on bass (later with Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble) ond Uncle John Turner on drums, ond after being turned down for gigs by dozens of clubs, won a berth at the Vulcan Gas Company, an Austin bar. They were drawing good crowds, but couldn't get a recording break except with Bill Josey, a local entrepeneur who cut them on some portable equipment (these tapes later appeared on Imperial as The Progressive Blues Experiment). Discouraged, Johnny packed it up and went to England looking for a musical climate more open to the blues. "We had just cut the sides that Imperial Records would later release on album,"he recalls. "I had gone over to England and I had the idea of moving the whole band there. When I came back,an article had come out about me in Rolling Stone, and every major label was phoning.
"Columbia Records' Clive Davis prevailed in the bidding war for Johnny's recording contract and Johnny was signed to Columbia in the much publicized "million dollar"deal. (Though the exact figures were never disclosed, John's contract reputed to be the most lucrative record deal cut up to that time). Johnny was hailed in the national press as America's contender to win back the crown of guitar king from Britain's Clapton, Page and Beck.
Between 1968 and 1981, Johnny cut a series of classic albums: Johnny Winter and Second Winter (his albums with the original blues trio plus brother Edgar), Johnny Winter And and Johnny Winter And Live with his new band featuring Rick Derringer on second guitar. Johnny Winter And Live was his best seller ever, and is still considered an essential hard rock landmark.
Johnny was on the road for almost two years straight, crisscrossing the U.S. and Europe, playing every major festival and rock arena, including appearances at Woodstock, the Texas International Pop Festival, and the Bath Festival in England. It was a no-holds-barred lifestyle, and eventually Johnny had to call it quits, break up the band, and take most of 1972 to get his life sorted out. With his return in 1973 and the album Still Alive And Well, Johnny reestablished his blues and rock credentials and began a schedule of touring that kept him on the road six months a year for years after.
In 1974, Johnny cut John Dawson Winter III, his first album for Blue Sky, a CBS-distributed label founded by manager Steve Paul. Blue Sky also became the home for Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer and Dan Hartman, all of whom recorded their own albums as well as albums with Johnny. But it was in 1977 that Johnny was able to fulfill a lifelong dream by producing Muddy Waters for Blue Sky. Hard Again was a comeback album for Muddy, an album that brought him back to the original sound of his classic Chicago blues bands. Both Hard Again and the following Muddy LP, I'm Ready, won Grammy Awards. "Working with Muddy made me feel people were finally realizing that I'm not faking, and can really play blues,"Johnny says. ''I felt I'd established myself. "
With his final albums for Blue Sky, Nothing But The Blues (1977), White, Hot and Blue (1978) and Raisin' Cain (1980), Johnny turned his focus back to the blues, cutting songs by Junior Parker, Sleepy John Estes and Clarence Garlow.
But it was with Alligator releases that he made his deepest commitment to blues on record. Third Degree, Johnny's third recording for Alligator Records, is an exciting and diverse collection of blues. For the first time in over 15 years, Johnny's original blues trio of Shannon and Turner were reunited. The band first worked together in in the studio on Winter's 1968 Columbia debut LP, Johnny Winter.
Another special guest was Mac ''Dr. John"Rebennack. It was the first time these two had worked together in the studio, and Dr. John's distinctive piano playing adds a New Orleans flavor to Winter's roadhouse blues. Three of the cuts join Winter with the trio responsible for his two Grammy-nominated Alligator works, Guitar Slinger and Serious Business. The band, comprised of Ken Saydak on piano, Johnny B. Gayden on bass and Casey Jones on drums was, according to Winter, ''the cream of the crop as far as blues players today". Third Degree confirmed Johnny Winter's presence on the list of top guitarists in the world.