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Johnny Winter

When Johnny Winter emerged on the national scene in 1969, the hope, particularly in the record business, was that he would become a superstar on the scale of Jimi Hendrix, another blues-based rock guitarist and singer who preceded him by a few years. That never quite happened, but Winter did survive the high expectations of his early admirers to become a mature, respected blues musician with a strong sense of tradition.

He was born John Dawson Winter III on February 23, 1944, in Beaumont, Texas, where his brother Edgar Winter was born on December 28, 1946; both brothers were albinos. They turned to music early on, Johnny Winter learning to play the guitar, while Edgar Winter took up keyboards and saxophone. Before long they were playing professionally, and soon after that recording singles for small local record labels. Both of them were members of Johnny & the Jammers, whose 45 "School Day Blues"/"You Know I Love You" was released by Dart Records in 1959. Other singles, either credited to Winter or some group pseudonym, were released over the next several years, including "Gangster of Love"/"Eternally," initially issued by Frolic Records in 1963 and picked up for national distribution by Atlantic Records in 1964, and "Gone for Bad"/"I Won't Believe It," also a 1963 Frolic single that was licensed by MGM Records in 1965. Winter had his first taste of chart success with a version of "Harlem Shuffle," recorded by the Traits, which was released by Universal Records, then picked up by Scepter Records and spent two weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1966.

In 1968, Winter decided to focus exclusively on blues-rock, and he formed a trio with Tommy Shannon on bass and John "Red" Turner on drums. He signed with the Austin, Texas label Sonobeat Records, and in August cut The Progressive Blues Experiment, released locally. His life was changed irrevocably with the publication of the December 7, 1968, issue of Rolling Stone magazine, which contained an article by Larry Sepulvado and John Burks about the Texas music scene. "The hottest item outside of Janis Joplin," they wrote, "...remains in Texas. If you can imagine a hundred and thirty-pound cross-eyed albino with long fleecy hair playing some of the gutsiest fluid blues guitar you have ever heard, then enter Johnny Winter." Among those who read the article was New York club owner Steve Paul, who hopped a plane to Texas and convinced Winter to hire him as manager. Paul set up a bidding war among major record labels that was won in February 1969 by CBS Records, which signed Winter for an advance of $600,000, the largest sum the label had ever paid to a new solo artist.

Winter quickly went into a recording studio with his band to cut his debut for CBS' Columbia label, but in the meantime other labels discovered that he had made a lot of recordings in his youth, and they began buying or leasing the early material. Imperial Records bought The Progressive Blues Experiment from Sonobeat and re-released it in March 1969; it entered the charts and peaked at number 40. Winter's Columbia debut, titled Johnny Winter, was released on April 15 and peaked at number 23. In August, GRT Records released The Johnny Winter Story, consisting of material recorded in the early '60s; it got to number 111. In October, Buddah Records followed with First Winter, and Janus Records released About Blues in November. (Unfortunately, repackagings of Winter's early recordings continued to litter his discography throughout his career.)

Meanwhile, Winter appeared at the Woodstock festival in August 1969. (In 2009, The Woodstock Experience, an album of his performance, was released.) His second Columbia album, Second Winter, was released in November 1969 and reached number 55. In the spring of 1970, he disbanded his trio and enlisted the former members of the McCoys to back him: Rick Derringer (guitar), Randy Jo Hobbs (bass), and Randy Z. (drums). The group was dubbed "Johnny Winter And." Their self-titled album was released in September and peaked at a disappointing number 154, but they followed with a concert collection, Live Johnny Winter And, released in February 1971, and it reached number 40; in 1974, it was certified gold. (In 2010, Collectors' Choice Music released another concert recording from the Johnny Winter And band, Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70.)

Winter was not able to capitalize on the career momentum generated by the success of Live Johnny Winter And. He had become addicted to heroin and suffered from suicidal depression, as a result of which he suspended his career and went home to Beaumont. In this age before rehabilitation clinics, he was hospitalized, initially in Beaumont and then, for nine months, at River Oaks Hospital in New Orleans. His next appearance on disc was as a guest on Roadwork, the live album released by Edgar Winter's White Trash in March 1972, which was preceded by Edgar Winter's introduction in which he said people kept asking him, "Where's your brother?" Johnny Winter was not able to return to action full-time until the release of his comeback album, Still Alive and Well, in March 1973. The album, which featured "Silver Train," a song specially written for Winter by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, peaked at number 22.

Winter returned to touring. His next album, Saints & Sinners, appeared in February 1974 and peaked at number 42. Before the year was out, he had another one ready, and John Dawson Winter III, featuring "Rock & Roll People," a song specially written for Winter by John Lennon, was released in November, peaking at number 78. For Captured Live!, Winter was transferred to a Steve Paul-created custom label within CBS, Blue Sky Records. The album was released in February 1976 and peaked at number 93. Edgar Winter was also on Blue Sky, and the brothers combined for a live album, Together, released in June, which peaked at number 89.

Veteran bluesman Muddy Waters was signed to Blue Sky, and Winter became his producer on a comeback LP, Hard Again, released in February 1977. It won the Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. Winter toured with Waters' band, then took them into the studio for his next album, Nothin' But the Blues, released in July 1977. It peaked at number 146. Another Winter-produced Waters album, I'm Ready, came out in February 1978 and was another Grammy winner. Winter returned to working with his usual band for his next album, White, Hot & Blue; the album, released in July 1978, got to number 141. Raisin' Cain, recorded in more of a rock mode, appeared in March 1980 and failed to chart, concluding Winter's CBS contract.

Winter signed to the independent blues label Alligator Records, for which he made Guitar Slinger, released in May 1984. It returned him to the charts, and its follow-up, Serious Business (September 1985) was another chart entry. He completed his commitment to Alligator with 3rd Degree (November 1986). He was then signed by Voyager Records, distributed by MCA Records, for The Winter of '88 (October 1988). The album represented an attempt to take him in the more commercial direction of ZZ Top's synthesized blues-boogie, but the attempt backfired, and the album did not chart. Winter returned to more of a straight-ahead blues approach after signing to Virgin Records' Point Blank/Charisma imprint on his next album, Let Me In (July 1, 1991). He followed it with Hey, Where's Your Brother? (November 3, 1992).

Winter focused more on concert work than recording after the early '90s. For Live in NYC 1997 (March 10, 1998), he had fans vote on the tracks to be included. Six years passed before the release of I'm a Bluesman (June 15, 2004). Winter inaugurated a series of archival concert collections on Friday Music with Live Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 (October 9, 2007), which was followed by Vol. 2 (March 4, 2008), Vol. 3 (July 29, 2008), Vol. 4 (February 10, 2009), and Vol. 5 (June 30, 2009). Meanwhile, a concert appearance resulted in his first new album in five years, Live at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, released by Munck Mix on December 15, 2009. On January 12, 2010, he released Live Bootleg Series, Vol. 6. In September 2010, he announced that he had signed to Megaforce Records. His label debut, Roots, appeared in 2011. True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story, a multi-disc retrospective spanning his six decades as a professional musician, celebrated his 70th birthday in early 2014, but Winter passed away on July 16 while on tour in Switzerland during the summer of that year. His final album, the guest-laden Step Back, was released a little over a month later, and it showed his skills as a guitar player in his last days had not diminished. ~ William Ruhlmann
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Step Back

1. Unchain My Heart (Feat. Blues Brothers Horns)

2. Can't Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby) (Feat. Ben Harper)

3. Don't Want No Woman (Feat. Eric Clapton)

4. Killing Floor (Feat. Paul Nelson)

5. Who Do You Love

6. Okie Dokie Stomp (Feat. Brian Setzer)

7. Where Can You Be (Feat. Billy Gibbons)

8. Sweet Sixteen (Feat. Joe Bonamassa)

9. Death Letter

10. My Babe (Feat. Jason Ricci)

11. Long Tall Sally (Feat. Leslie West)

12. Mojo Hand (Feat. Joe Perry)

13. Blue Monday (Feat. Dr. John)

x

Track List: Live Bootleg Series 9

1. Introduction

2. Hideaway

3. Mean Town Blues

4. 44 Blues

6. It's My Life Baby

x

Track List: Roots

1. T-Bone Shuffle

2. Further On Up The Road

3. Done Somebody Wrong

4. Got My Mojo Workin'

5. Last Night

6. Maybellene

7. Bright Lights, Big City

8. Honky Tonk

9. Dust My Broom

10. Short Fat Fannie

11. Come Back Baby

x

Track List: Johnny B. Goode

1. Johnny B. Goode

2. Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo

3. Still Alive And Well

4. Stray Cat Blues

5. Walking By Myself

6. I'll Drown In My Tears

7. Dallas

8. Rollin' Cross The Country

9. Riot In Cell Block #9

10. Thirty Days

11. Rollin' & Tumblin'

12. Messin' With The Kid

x

Track List: Lone Star Shootout

1. Ez Rider (Live)

2. Help Me (Live)

3. Bony Maronie (Live)

4. Mother Earth (Live)

5. Busted In Austin (Live)

6. Messin' With The Kid (Live)

7. Jumping Jack Flash (Live)

8. Black Cat Bone (Live)

9. Big Boss Man (Live)

10. Spoonful (Live)

11. Low Down Gal Of Mine (Live)

x

Track List: Deluxe Edition

1. Mojo Boogie

2. Don't Take Advantage Of Me

3. Murdering Blues

4. Georgianna

5. Good Time Woman

6. Third Degree

7. Broke And Lonely

8. Master Mechanic

9. Lights Out

10. Bad Girl Blues

11. Route 90

12. Nothing But The Devil

13. It's My Life, Baby

14. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

x

Track List: 3rd Degree

1. Mojo Boogie

2. Love, Life And Money

3. Evil On My Mind

4. See See Baby

5. Tin Pan Alley

6. I'm Good

7. Third Degree

8. Shake Your Moneymaker

9. Bad Girl Blues

10. Broke And Lonely

x

Track List: Serious Business

1. Master Mechanic

2. Sound The Bell

3. Murdering Blues

4. It Ain't Your Business

5. Good Time Woman

6. Unseen Eye

7. My Time After Awhile

8. Serious As A Heart Attack

9. Give It Back

10. Route 90

x

Track List: Guitar Slinger

1. It's My Life, Baby

2. Don't Take Advantage Of Me

3. Iodine In My Coffee

4. Trick Bag

5. Mad Dog

6. Boot Hill

7. I Smell Trouble

8. Lights Out

9. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

10. My Soul

x

Track List: And

2. Ain't That A Kindness

3. No Time To Live

4. Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo

5. Am I Here?

6. Look Up

7. Prodigal Son

8. On The Limb

9. Let The Music Play

10. Nothing Left

11. Funky Music

x

Track List: The Progressive Blues Experiment

1. Rollin' And Tumblin'

2. Tribute To Muddy

3. I Got Love If You Want It

4. Bad Luck And Trouble

5. Help Me

6. Mean Town Blues

7. Broke Down Engine

8. Black Cat Bone

9. It's My Own Fault

10. Forty-Four

x

Track List: Johnny Winter

1. I'm Yours And I'm Hers

2. Be Careful With A Fool

3. Dallas

4. Mean Mistreater

5. Leland Mississippi Blues

6. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

7. When You Got A Good Friend

8. I'll Drown In My Tears

9. Back Door Friend

10. Country Girl

11. Dallas

12. Two Steps From The Blues

x

Track List: The Woodstock Experience

Disc 1

1. I'm Yours And I'm Hers

2. Be Careful With A Fool

3. Dallas

4. Mean Mistreater

5. Leland Mississippi Blues

7. When You Got A Good Friend

8. I'll Drown In My Tears

9. Back Door Friend

Disc 2

1. Mama Talk To Your Daughter

2. Leland Mississippi Blues

3. Mean Town Blues

8. Johnny B. Goode

x

Track List: Can't Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby) (Single)

1. Can't Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby) (Feat. Ben Harper)

x

Track List: Live In Sweden 1987

1. Sound The Bell (Live)

2. Don't Take Advantage Of Me (Live)

3. Mojo Boogie (Live)

4. You Lie Too Much (Live)

5. Sugar Sweet (Live)

6. Love Life & Money (Live)

7. Jumpin Jack Flash (Live)

x

Track List: Second Winter

Comments

Report as inappropriate
Johnny is my hero! There is something undeniably authentic about him.
Report as inappropriate
Just to talented for one man to be. As a fellow human being I feel short changed. Except I can sit on this side and just enjoy. Hmmm, I feel better already.
Report as inappropriate
Quite a talent...gre a t ! RIP.
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John Dawson, I think of You often. From my Heart I truly miss you.
Report as inappropriate
Mural
He may BE, arrowdave6
But he IS a
L
E
G
E
N
D

!!!!

Lol
08oD
Report as inappropriate
keep on jammin, Johnny, RIP brother!
Report as inappropriate
rickbonnette
I'm from Beaumont area and he and Edgar would come home for Christmas holiday and jam at a local club or a Civic center all the time. I think it was in the late 90's they played at the Beaumont Civic center and had several old friends stop by and play. They would not leave the stage! They must have played for 6 hours or more! Awesome!
Report as inappropriate
still alive and well in my mind
Report as inappropriate
tkuldell
Johnny Winter with Muddy Waters Constitution Hall late seventies what are the best I've ever heard we found a fifth of Jim Beam under our feet I wonder who put that there
Report as inappropriate
cowdog68
Absolutely wonderful. Guitar heaven. RIP
Report as inappropriate
andymacsinka
Incredible guitarist/sl i d e player that stayed true to his craft and never sold out.Many who don't play guitar don't seem to get how good he was.No one could do it like him.
Report as inappropriate
And Everybody loves you a John Dawson Winter!!!! Miss ya Blues Master!!!
Report as inappropriate
The brothers Winter were top notch seen them once at Chicago o'hare sitting on the floor just picking.... Sweet
Report as inappropriate
Got blessed 2 C Mr.Guitar-Li g h t n i n g @ da Celebrity Theater (~"in the round" ), Phx,AZ, '99. Had some righteous blues artists opening 4 about an hour or so B4 him, yet it was so good 2 C the legend still shreddin his Texas-blues- a x e .
Report as inappropriate
Puré Texas Blues
Report as inappropriate
How about a little jumping jack flashby. Johnny winters
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saw him in Asheville in 12 I think it was. what a performer!!! ! ! ! ! !
Report as inappropriate
Iamnotiamsor r y f e a l g a y m a b y t h a t s o k d u d e l e t s h e r e j o n n y b e g o o d e o n t h e l i v e r e c o r
Report as inappropriate
If you love your children buy them the self-titled album.
Report as inappropriate
Saw him in 1968 in Atlanta. He's still my favorite. Memory Pain is my favorite cut of his!!! God bless you Johnny-Can't wait to see you in Heaven (but not too soon).
Report as inappropriate
You're one lucky man, Bob!
Report as inappropriate
Saw him do a guitar duel battle with Duane Allman at the Atlanta Pop Festival
Report as inappropriate
jl.lumpkin
THE BEST EVER M
Report as inappropriate
Best heard @ max volume!
Report as inappropriate
One of the best! _Listen to JW Aand Live or Captured Live- great playing, great band with him---I saw hin concert, got to meet him - gentle sould. Rock In Peace Hohnny -cc_union@ex c i t e . c o m
Report as inappropriate
No doubt Johnny was a great bluesman but he could rock with the best of them
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Everyone should listen to Johnny winter
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R.I.P Johnny winter you were a f**king god at the blues man
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R.i.p Johnny
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More johnny winter hes what this station needs
Report as inappropriate
I've seen Johnny @ least 75 times & The love if my life introduced me to his Music in 1980 & he's seen him over a 100 if not more. RIP THE ONE & ONLY BLUESMAN WE WILL FOREVER A DAY ACTUALLY LOVE met him & each concert & he Always would Sign anything u gave him!

Report as inappropriate
Johnny at his best.prodica l son
Report as inappropriate
garybridges9 6
I saw him in St Louis at the Old Rock House, was lucky enough to meet him. Great Show!! He signed my ticket and ball cap. Sadly he died 3 weeks later.,,,RIP Johnny Winter
Report as inappropriate
Jimi was once asked 'what's feel like to the greatest guitar player ever?' He answered 'I don't know you'll have ask Johnny'
No higher praise.
Report as inappropriate
Milwaukee Summerfest years ago..... JW smoked that stage!!!
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Good ole Texas blues at its best Johnny one of the better guiterest ever to play
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I don't think my hearing ever returned after seeing/heari n g him in concert! Wow! RIP Johnny!
Report as inappropriate
Listening to Johnny winter. Before his brother
Report as inappropriate
billcashmanq a
Edgar at the Alabama State Fairgrounds and Johnny walked onstage, cannot remember exactly when but it was a hot sweaty southern night and the music matched.
Report as inappropriate
R.I.P My Friend
May God rise up to meet you,May the sun shine on your face and the wind blow softly on your fields,May God hold you in his hands until we can all meet again!
Report as inappropriate
Yes he was a great blues player but he loved to rock n roll Texas style
Report as inappropriate
smittykr
Johnny was a hell of a blues player who obviously loved playing the blues and never gave up, might not have reached the top of the charts but you were always #1 in the hearts of anyone who loves the blues. RIP
Report as inappropriate
Can't say I've ever heard a Johnny Winter song i didn't like. Only one other i can say that about. The Blues were an instinct. He's alive with us all. Carry on Johnny.
Report as inappropriate
That's one hell of a BIO
Report as inappropriate
Progressive Blues Experiment was and remains a damn fine album from one of America's damn fine guitar slingers.
Report as inappropriate
Yeppers,seen ya many Times, you councle the last concert right before you went to Swit.. and Died on my A**!!!!!!!!! ! ! !
Report as inappropriate
Love ya Johnny gonna miss ya ! You gonna be rocken with THOSE SAINTS AND SINNERS! !LAST TIME WAS AT THE COACH HOUSE
Report as inappropriate
hroberts500
Ssw Johnny winter and, allman bros, elvin bishop filmore east walk in 8pm walk out 6am awesome!!!!
Report as inappropriate
R I P Mr. J Winter. The best that ever did it.
Report as inappropriate
gizmo7821
Just glad there are so many people out there that got it. Who else could do a three sided album. He always gave us more than you could even imagine. RIP blues Man.
Show more

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