Interview with Johnny Winter.
Saturday, 16 January 1971: Melody Maker UK
In New Musical Express (NME a UK music magazine), the 6 Feb. 1971 issue there is an interview with our Johnny Winter!
The head line is:
JOHNNY WINTER WANTS TAPES HE MADE WITH HENDRIX ISSUED AS AN ALBUM
In the text JW is quoted saying: "We played together at the Scene Club in New York...the Experience in L.A., and we even did a benefit for Tim Leary at the Village Gate in New York."
Then JW talks about how they went into the Record Plant Studios in NY and..."We didn't play any particular tunes. It was just an extended guitar workshop. I mean, you just couldn't show that man anything new. It was just a case of Jimi watching how I used a bottleneck when playing. All I was doing was more or less demonstrating the basic technique to him."
And JW goes on: "I guess Jimi and I must have played together for at least two or three hours that day. Now...if someone was to do a professional job of editing those tapes, I'm sure we could get a good album out of them. If they're good, then I'd really like to see them come out for everyone to hear. I know I shouldn't say it, 'cause I'm under contract to another company and all that stuff, but really, I'm not bothered if I don't make a penny from them. It's just that I liked him so much."
Then JW goes on and tells an anecdote of Little Richard, when they were together on stage in Detroit with Mitch Ryder: "He wandered on stage, gave me a big kiss, and started singing. Man... he's so flash, but then he's so beautiful."
Then another anecdote about Jerry Lee Lewis when they met again at The Scene Club: "I first played with Jerry Lee way back in '64 when he was touring Texas. I didn't see Jerry Lee again until I came to New York in January of '69 to do a gig at the Scene. Anyway, he remembered me after all that time, but he got real annoyed - just like a father who was p..... off with his wayward son - 'cause he started bawling me out by saying: 'Goddamn it ...where did ya get all that damn hair from? Johnny, ya look just like a girl. For pity sakes, man, whatcha wanna go and do that for? Ya look so pitiful." Johnny goes on: Hey man, you know he got real angry. Then when I said: "But Jerry you were the first cat to have long hair" - he spluttered and go real nasty.
Then he continues about Jerry Lee when he comes off stage (after a successfull show)and starts a bad scene with both Johnny and a young photographer.
JW ends the JLL story: "He may be a great rocker, but he's got a truck driver's mentality".
Front Row Reviews
NOT since Creedence Clearwater Revival took the Royal Albert Hall by storm last April have I witnessed such a genuine Ovation as Johnny Winter received when he celebrated his birthday at the same venue on Tuesday evening.
As long as Johnny sees fit to " get it on (his own words) there is no fear of any demise in rock and roll. Loosening up with " Rock Me Baby " Johnny and his band really ignited the atmosphere with "Good Morning
Little Schoolgirl before easing the pace with a slow and superbly played downhome Wuos, a number which I'm sure will silence any disbelievers of Johnny's artistry.
Before the applause had time to subside they were Trashing out the familiar riff of " Jumpin' Jack Flash " and Rick Derringer's " Great Balls of Fire " rock medley which led into a finale of "Johnny B. Goode." With the crowd on its feet they returned for an encore of Dylan's " Highway 61 " but even that wasn't enough as they came out the dressing room once again to play that old standby " Hound Dog."
SOUNDS Interview with Billy Walker - printed February 6, 1971
Before Columbia Records signed Johnny Winter the Texan albino had slogged his way through 10 years of music - recording for many labels, playing whatever the club audiences wanted to hear, having to play blues to black audiences because the whites wouldn't listen - Winter finally began to make it, but even then he was labelled as the "great white hype" and just as his band of blues and rock and roll began to gain acceptance he changed the line-up of his band and his approach. Winter and the new band (Rick Derringer : guitar/vocals; Randy Jo Hobbs: bass; Bobby Caldwell: drums), are due to tour Britain this month and after a solitary date here before starting his tour in Scandinavia, he spoke to SOUNDS about his early years, his present band and the future.
Did you start originally as a blues or rock and roll guitarist?
Really everything. In Texas what you had to do was play whatever the people in the club wanted you to play or you'd either get beat up or fired. We played everything when we first started. Chuck Berry was my big idol he was the Hendrix of the fifties. All the guitar players coming up played "Honky Tonk" and "Johnny B. Goode" and things like that. We started doing that kind of rock stuff and there was a strange kind of rock music that Fats Domino was the closest thing to and we did a whole lot of that stuff.
What was it like playing gigs then?
I loved it, I loved it even if I didn't make a penny. I loved just playing to anybody who'd listen, it was great.
Did your brother Edgar start with you at fifteen?
Edgar and I played together before I even got a band. He was three years younger, I was fourteen when I started and Edgar was eleven, but before that Edgar and I had played together, we played Everly Brothers things both on guitar, but he decided he didn't like guitar and started playing piano. In the first band we had piano, sax, bass and drums.
Was there any particular blues artist who influenced you?
Not one in particular, I had a few favourites. I just liked all of it. I was fascinated with blues. I liked Muddy Waters for singing, he's one of my favourite singers. Robert Johnson was definitely the best slide guitarist, Little Walter was definitely the best harp player,Willie Dixon was definitely the best bass player. Otis Spann, they had a lot of good piano players but I liked Otis a whole lot. But they all had different things, how can you compare those? B.B. King was the best of his style. How can you say, it's like trying to compare Segovia with Chuck Berry, you just can't do it, it's impossible. There are a lot of people I was influenced by, I was influenced by everything that came into my ear.
Texas is a tough place, did you have any trouble at gigs?
Sure, all the time. In fact that's the reason why I started using a solid body guitar, so I could hit people with it. I had this old Gibson and all the tuning pegs were bit and wompy-jawed, I just kinda hit people with it, you just had to. They'd come up and say " Hey, I asked for a song", you'd say, " I don't know that song, I'm sorry". And they'd reply, "You'd better God damn learn it or you ain't gettin' out of here," and so I'd remember some of it and they'd come back, "I don't like it God damn it, don't sound like the record. Hey, I gonna smash this whole bandstand up" - and they'd never get up if you hit them with a guitar, they'd never get up. Nobody ever got up, man, swing from the neck and there's no chance.
Were these audiences white Texans? <Ü>Sure, white hillbillys and they were pretty aggressive specially when they drink, a lot of Lone Star beer.
Did you play for many black audiences?
Yeah, I did just for my own personal enjoyment. There was a club called The Raven, it was a black club in Beaumont and I'd go looking and hear people, that's where I met B.B. King and played with him the first time. Bobby Blue Band, Blue Junior Parker and people like that would come in and play and I'd go looking and I was always the only white person in the place but it was fun. I could play blues for those people and they'd like it, but if I played blues for white audiences they'd leave. They totally accepted it, they accepted me because I was the ony white in there and it was scarey and they knew it was scarey for me to be in there, it was great, in fact I felt a lot more at home there than I did in other places. So I would play white gigs to make bread and then go over to the black clubs to play blues.
Do you still come up against the "white men can't play the blues" argument?
Yeah, people say that sometimes. One of the greatest things in the whole world was when I was playing the Fillmore, B.B. King was headlining, it was the first time I'd played anything big. We came to New York and we played and he played and after the gig he was talking to this black chick and she was saying, "You were great, you were great man, but what do you have to get up there with that white boy for? It's a disgrace, you shouldn't be on the same stage as that kind of s_ _t." B.B. said, "Wait a minute", and what was so great about it was that I was standing in a different part behind a post and he didn't know I was there and he said, "Wait a minute, that guy is really good, he's not black, he plays a little different maybe, but he plays good blues, you're wrong," and I almost cried, I really did it was that great a thing, cause I couldn't believe it, it really made me happy. <Ü>Muddy Waters said the same thing, we played in Austin with him before I made it. A lot of theses black people don't know what to expect, they've been playing around all their lives, white people have hated their music and not like it and so all of a sudden after they're old and almost senile, some of them, all these young white kids, are liking it. They don't understand it and they'll try to water down the blues a lot of times and they have some soul songs they do kinda bad like "Outta Sight" and James Brown, Otis Redding stuff because that's what the people want to hear. They got up at this place in Austin and played this kind of stuff and nobody really reacted to it, everybody was dissappointed and I played all these old songs, my version, the way I'd play it and Muddy got up the next set and played great, played nothing but blues and wiped everybody out.
After he got through he said, "Man you play my music the way I played it when I was 25, I'm an old man and I've been playing the same songs every night and I liked that music". But after you play the same songs every night, you just lack something, he's a caricature of himself sort of "Muddy Waters , well I gotta do 'Hoochie Coochie Man', gotta do all this", that's what they expect; it's just a gig and he's an old man and what do you care when you're 60 years old and not a whole lot to look forward to? so he was really turned on because we were young and really excited with the music, put a lot of energy and excitement into it and he said, "You play that stuff the way I used to". And that's what's ridiculous and theses people don't just tell me they tell interviewers that, it's ridiculous I'm playing their music my way and they accept it and love it.
One of the worst things that ever happened was when I played the Memphis Blues Festival because these people asked me to do it. It had always been a black thing and they thought they'd get some white people because they would draw more people and get money for theses old people. I didn't take any bread, it was supposed to be me and every other rock star in the world - Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones, Beatles, everybody - I was the only one that showed up and I got rapped so bad for that because I had a lotta amps. We were playing and this harp player, Johnny Woods came out and grabbed me and hugged me during the set and said, "Man, you Elmore James, you Elmore James" and flipping out, and then when I read about it a year later, this story said that Johnny Woods was amazed and p----d off because of all the amps up there and that we were disturbing the tranquility, all the birds were p----d off and the trees didn't like us. Oh man, it really hurt and it made me real mad too because all I was wanting to do was help theses old people. I got so down on blues purists then, but I really love those who did it, those people are completely disowning the purists and intellectual people that wouldn't know blues if it climbed up their ass, they don't know what it is or anything about it. <Ü>What was the reaction to the new band in the States on the first dates?
We were terrified, we were afraid that we were really going to be put down. It's most weird - look at the McCoys now, there name is completely clear. They're one of the old great rock and roll bands and before they were a a piece of s--t, a bubblegum piece of s--t, and they never were a bubblegum piece of s--t, people just put that label on them. And at that point if I hadn't done something good, if I had just faded out, I would have been a big joke like the Ultimate Spinach and the whole Boss Town hype, and it was really a scarey point. It was a scarey point for the McCoys and for me because they had already been put down by everybody in the world, they really got some good reviews but people just didn't accept them because of "Hang On Sloopy" and people were beginning to feel that way about me because I was playing me, I wasn't playing anything that people expected. I think it was good, it was what I wanted to do but it was really different. And so here we get together two big jokes and it could have been a bigger joke, and all of a sudden everybody accepted completely, "Wow great, Johnny, fantastic, one of the greatest blues guitarists in the world - McCoys, one of the greatest old rock and roll bands, look at it." We were prepared for everything, we were prepared for beer cans and tomatoes, we didn't know what was going to happen but we hoped people would like it 'cause we knew it was gonna be good music.
How important do you think a well rehearsed stage act is?
People want to see something up there. They don't want to see people standing up there, they can listen to the record. They go for a show to listen to good music. That's why they had to put lightshows in all the bands in San Francisco, because you get so bored watching them standing up there and nobody moves, they don't even wiggle their ass, ever. They've got to worry if they get to the next chord on time or not, they can't worry about jumping around, they should be good enough musicians to play well and put on a show. I wouldn't want to see the guy next door up there, you go next door to see that. You want to see someone getting it on, playing good music, it's not demeaning or degrading I don't think. It's really what you're supposed to do. It's showbusiness entertainment.
You wrote a lot of the material on "Johnny Winter And". Do you enjoy songwriting?
I do. On that album the band had just started and we want really to get back and write some songs, because on that album we hadn't written any of those songs for the band. Rick had three or four songs already written and I had three or four I'd already written and we got together and said, "I'll play your songs, you play mine and put them on the album", and it was supposed to be more of a music album. My albums had always been real free-form playing, no songs at all, just jamming and guitar playing. On this album we tried to write songs and play more music than jamming. For the next album that's coming out, it's a live album, it's more like Johnny Winter. Fans still expect a lot of guitar things and excitement and so we've got the live album coming out in about three weeks. It's not like the old band, we do some old tunes and some rock and roll things and I felt it was time for this album. But after this we're gonna get together and write together for the band.
Would you like to spend more time writing and producing?
What I want to do the most is what I'm doing, and I'd like to have more time but I don't wanna take time out from what I'm doing now. I do want to take time out to write a little bit and I wanna produce real bad, I don't think there's hardly any people now that are producing old blues the way they should sound and I'd like to do that. I really would like to produce people like Muddy Waters , Lightnin' Slim, Lightnin' Hopkins, just anybody, because they don't do it right. Now it's a stereo thing and it doesn't come off today. People like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry have said that they can't make hit records any more because of the way things are recorded. In the old days you put up a mike in the middle of a room and everybody plays and it comes out a hard ball of sound, not hearing a guitar real clean. Stereo's not realistic, it's a very clinical approach, it's what's being played but not what you hear when you listen to it live, and it doesn't sound like blues and rock and roll - it's not hard enough. With stereo you hear instruments individually and not a big ball of sound coming at you.
Richard Vernon does a real good job in producing that kind of stuff. He's one of the few people I think that does it right. I was going to have a go with him. I'd come to London before I'd made it in the States because I'd been playing for ten years and nothing happened so I thought, "well all the blues is in England so I'll go over there". I took all my old lady's money, she was a beautician, and I came over here and after two weeks I got a deal worked out with the Vernons where I was going to come over here and play and record for Blue Horizon and then things started happening in the States and it was just better for me to stay there. I really wonder what would have happened if I'd come over. It might have been really good, it might have been better.
On the last album you sounded remarkably like Jimi Hendrix on one track. Was this a conscious attempt?
That was Rick messing around with the stuff. He phased things and did all kinds of strange things, I really liked it. The song was, I guess a kinda Jimi Hendrix flavoured tune and it just kinda lent itself to that kind of thing.
Do you think there'll ever be anyone to replace Hendrix?
No, there'll never be anyone else like that.
Can you see yourself getting back to more blues?
Yeah, I'm going to in fact. I'm gonna do some of that, too, on the next record, we're going to do some real rocking-type stuff. It'll be country blues but it might be a little strange, I don't know exactly but it's definitely going to be country orientated, all the blues stuff we use will be, very bluesy.
You don't play much mouth harp now. Do you find it hard to fit into the new format?
No, not really. It's because I forgot. I was concentrating a lot more on guitar because when I first started I was playing a lot of harp, mandolin and guitar and people picked up on guitar and I started practising on guitar a whole lot. Just travelling around, there wasn't time to stay reaaly good on all th instruments. I could have done a pretty good job on everything but I decided I'd rather be a real good guitar player than a mediocre harp man and guitar player. I'm playing slide right now, which is completely different from regular guitar and I was, up until the start of this band, doing pretty much mandolin. Harp is a real hard instument to work with on stage and if you don't keep playing it you don't stay good. I've been thinking about it a whole lot. What we really want to do is broaden out, like Bobby and Randy are thinking of switching on bass and drums and Rick plays pedal steel guitar and I play mandolin and harmonica. We'd just like to have time to get real good at everything we do and have a lot of variety in what we do, put steel guitar in maybe and do country songs or something or maybe do rock and roll steel songs or a blues steel song. We could do all kinds of things, this bands hasn't come close to its potential.
Survey: Short interview with Johnny. Very basic questions : what type of pick do you use...At that time he was playing his Fender Mustang.
Record Mirror: 27 Feb 1971
Headline: Jimi Hendrix Death Letter, front page covers Johnny Winter: "Winter packs mall"
Hit Parader: May 1971
Best Magazine - June 1971
Johnny Winter on the cover of Best (France) Magazine in June 1971.
Jazz Podium July 1971 (Germany)
|Good Morning Little School Girl - It's My Own Fault - Jumpin' Jack Flash - Rock and Roll Medley - Mean Town Blues - Johnny B. Goode Johnny Winter voc & g, Rick Derringer voc & g, Randy Jo Hobbs voc & b, Bobby Caidwell dm
Ist der schwarze Blues etwas anderes geworden, seit es den weißen Blues gibt? Who's got a right to sing the biues? Jeder weiße Bluesmann wird seine Gitarre hinlegen, wenn - sagen wir - T-Bone Walker anmarschiert, Janis Joplin legte einen Kranz nieder an Bessie Smiths Grab, einige Zeit vor ihrer Uberdosis. Sind die Bluespioniere also anerkannt? Sind sie die "gutbezahlten Stars"? Nein. American Folk Blues stirbt, und nicht umsonst: "Thank you ... I have the Blues a lang time ... I have many Blues .., right now I have the type of Blues to make you feel kinda happy and gay", sagt Willie Dixon in der Jahrhunderthalle. Die Blues-Baß-Runden, die er gegen Champion Jack Dupree boxt - besonders in "School Day" - sind neben Jacks Gesang und Piano - sein fast romantisches Klavier auf "Sittin and Cryin"' - das Größte des Abends. Und der weiße Blues? Hier kommt er: Johnny Winter, der große Farblose des Blues, ganz und gar blaß und ausgelaugt, wie man sich das weiße Amerika vorstellt. Trifft das zu? Wenn dieses Bild unseres Verbündeten stimmt, dann tut's auch Johnny Winters Blues. Wollen wir es annehmen, allein schon weil es ihn auf CBS-Records gibt! Texas hat sich den Winter redlich verdient. Die Musik: da erinnert vieles an Haley und Elvis, ich meine "Gefühls"-mäßig, nur ist Winter cooler: wie sensibel werden die Rock 'n'Roller 1990 sein? .lt's My Own Fault" ist das stärkste der hier versammelten musikalischen Selbstbekenntnisse. Das Publikum hat auf beiden Festen etwas zu Pfeifen und Grbhien. Günter Buhles
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