The last time I saw Johnny Winter he was playing the old Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, playing a show with Buddy Guy. And Johnny did what he always does on stage: He just put his dead down and wailed on the guitar for two hours.
With a growl of a voice and a mastery of electric blues, Winter is undoubtedly one of the premier guitar players of the modern era, ranked by Rolling Stome magazine as one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
He’s earned his reputation by simply playing the hell out of his guitar.
The older brother of multi-instrumentalists Edgar Winter, Johnny took to the guitar at a young age and never let go. He grew up on southern blues, starting a recording career at just 15.
In 1968 he caught the attention of bluesman Mike Bloomfield, who invited the young guitarist to join him and Al Kooper at New York’s historic Filmore East. Before long, Winter inked a record deal with Columbia Records and began a recording career that has led to a resume of more than two dozen albums.
Due to his reputation as a sizzilng stage performer, he has also had a share of live albums, including 1971’s Johnny Winter And Live, the first album I heard him play on. The album included former McCoy’s guitarist Rick Derringer, and carried Winter’s hallmark song, “Rock and Roll Hoochiekoo” and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash.”
Although often forgotten at the festival, Winter was among the performers at Woodstock, bringing him to a wider audience for the first time.
But he has never been the household name that other blues artists became, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jonny Lang and others who came in his wake. He has, however, maintained a loyal fan base and is widely heralded by elelctric blues purists and music critics.
These days, Winter still tours regularly as a solo act and with his kid brother, who continues to produce and record himself, and has been part of Ringo Starr’s All Star Band in recent years as well.
Johnny Winter, however, is best appreciated when he’s doing his own thing — standing center stage, guitar in hand and screaming into the mike. It just never gets old.
But don’t take my word for it. He’ll be at the Irvington Town Hall Theater on Oct. 24. Go see for yourself.
(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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