When you consider all the auspicious starts to legendary recording careers, it’s tough to top a pair of albino brothers playing blues in a black club in Texas.
John Dawson Winter turned 66 today, and thankfully he’s still around to celebrate the moment. There have been several times during his career when I didn’t think he’d last the week, but although a bit frail, he’s still out there delivering his unique style of blues and rock.
My first encounter was the legendary Johnny Winter And concert where he and Rick Derringer squared off like it was a (friendly) duel to the death. I’ve waxed poetic about that concert tour and the live album that captures it; still one of the five best live albums in rock history.
His tone and slide technique is strong and powerful. Combined with his trademark growling vocals, his versions of Rolling Stones songs were arguably better than the originals. “Silver Train” became his the minute he recorded it, and you’re not likely to find a more incendiary version of “Jumping Jack Flash” than Winter’s.
Before he went back to the blues he released some killer rock albums for Columbia in the 70’s including a covers project with brother Edgar, I have many fond memories of blasting those sides over and over. Unfortunately, his abuse issues resurfaced, and I soon witnessed an attempted performance so bad that it has gone down in local history as “the bottle throwing show”. I truly believed that night if the crowd didn’t kill him – and they would have, if they caught him – the needle would.
But he survived that night and his addiction. He soon came back to his roots, recording many acclaimed blues albums into the 80’s and 90’s, avoiding the cape-and-fanfare rock’n’roll that brought him to a wide audience. One got the feeling he was almost being penitent, putting aside less important music for something deeper and more spiritual. Recently Winter has released a well-received series of authorized live bootlegs, and last year’s Live Through The 70’s (a DVD of early performances) is an absolute treasure. Now we finally have the long lost Woodstock recordings as well. What a career!
He’s frail enough that he must sit while playing, but he’s playing. If you have never seen this masterful guitarist, you must. Albert Collins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter…there’s just something special about Texas blues. Happy Birthday, Johnny.
Discography at the All Music Guide
And a cake for you too, Captain America.