Chasing the Winter Blues
Guitarist Magazine Apr 1998 France
An extensive interview with Johnny Winter.
The announcement of the release of the album Johnny Winter Live in NYC 1997
Guitar and Bass No 53 (France) July/August 1998
A Blues special explaining the guitar rechniques of the blues masters like: Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Jimmy Page, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chuck Berry, Freddie King, Johnny Winter, David Gilmour, Peter Green, Robben Ford and T-Bone Walker. Johnny Winters blues guitar playing technique and tabs is explained on page 40 and 41
S'il faut souffrir pour bien jouer le blues, John Dawson Winter III avait un maximum de chances de devenir bon. Albinos, doté d'un fort strabis me, bégayant et maigre comme un clou, le bon dieu des bluesmen l'avait sacrément chargé
I vient au monde en 44 dans le triangle d'or du Texas, cette région du sud-ouest encadrée de villes comme Beaumont, Port Arthur et Orange, qui est particulièrement prospère : pétrole, construction navale, plantations de riz et pèche à la crevette ont attiré depuis un siècle des ouvriers de toutes ethnies. Leur apport en main-d'oeuvre fut certainement dépassée par leur apport culturel et surtout musical. Petit Johnny et son frère Edgar, tous deux plus blancs que blancs, grandissent musicalement dans ce brassage de courants musicaux. Après avoir tâté de la clarinette et du ukulele, Johnny passe à un instrument bien plus passionnant. Le père des garçons, musicien à ses heures, permet tout à ses fils rejetés par tous leurs camarades, même quand ils commencent à traîner dans les quartiers noirs ou pire, quand ils traversent la frontière vers la Louisiane pour déguster l'alcool et le blues. Avec Edgar, son frère cadet, albinos comme lui, il fonde le groupe "Johnny and the Jammers" et à peine âgé de 15 ans, il sort l'album "School Day Blues" qui ne laisse déjà aucun doute sur son talent de guitariste. Rejettés par le public blanc qui ne leur pardonne pas qu'on se compromette avec la musique des Noirs, et pas tout à fait acceptés par les gens de couleur à cause de leur apparence d'albinos, les frangins essayent finalement une autre formule plus r&b qui se nomme cette fois-ci "Johnny & the Black Plague". Malgré quelques succès d'estime, Johnny Winter ne rêve que de jouer du blues, et il part en Louisiane avec un groupe professionnel "The Gents", puis en 62 à Chicago pour être dans la ville de ses idoles : Muddy Waters et Howlin 'Wolf.
Des problèmes de drogue font avancer sa carrière en dents de scie et les disques alternent avec les cures de désintoxication. Vers le milieu de seventies, il décide de retourner à l'école pour se ressourcer. Las du stress du leader, il préfère
redevenir side-man chez son idole Muddy Waters. Ce fait régénère la carrière du blues-man noir et quatre albums, dont deux qui reçoivent un Grammy Award, sont le fruit de cette collaboration.
Stylistique : Son vocabulaire technique peut se résumer en quelques mots : pentatonique, bending, slide, onglet, open tuning. En revanche sa démarche artistique pourrait remplir plusieurs volumes. Selon ses propres dires, il s'est toujours senti davantage "élève que prof". D'ailleurs, sa leçon quotidienne commençait toujours par la millième réécoute des enregistrements "Plantation" de 41 de Muddy Waters. Muddy Waters est son mentor, son père, et quelquefois son employeur. Il est au demeurant étrange que quelqu'un qui possède le jeu le plus fluide des guitaristes de blues, soit tellement inspiré par la technique rudimentaire de son gourou. Il se singularise par l'utilisation d'un onglet (thumb pick) qu'il n'emploie pas uniquement sur les cordes graves, mais aussi quelquefois en guise de médiator. Les gammes mises à contribution sont à base de pentatoniques qui se prêtent à merveille au jeu du blues. Ses accordages préfèrés sont le Open D, facile pour le slide (Mojo Boogie), mais aussi le Open A (Mean Town Blues, l love everybody) déjà plus rare. Toutefois la plupart de son répertoire contient des morceaux joués avec un accordage standard.
Instruments : Johnny Winter fut dans les années 70 un des rares guitaristes à utiliser des vieilles Firebird de Gibson. On pensait même qu'il était marié pour toujours avec cette guitare construite autour d'un manche conducteur et équipée de petits micros au son moelleux, quand il choqua 'tout le monde en jouant le blues sur une guitare sans tête nommée Lazer, construite par Dan Earlwine.
La Gibson Firebird trouve uniquement son emploi pour les morceaux en slide. Elle est accordée en Open D (Ré-La-Ré-Fa#-La-Ré)
Au niveau des guitares acoustiques, il possède plusieurs National. Les vieux modèles, avec les manches un peu tordus et les cordes à 3 kilomètres du manche sont réservées au jeu en slide, les nouveaux modèles lui servent pour le picking.
Côté amplis, ce sont des Music Man, acquis en 76 à l'époque où il jouait avec Muddy Waters. Leo Fender collaborait encore à ce moment-là avec la marque, et le son des Music Man se rapprochait davantage des vieux Fender Bassman et Super Reverb.
12 Albums :
"Johnny Winter" (69) "First Winter" (69) "Second Winter" (70) "Still alive and well" (73) "Saints and Sinners" (74) "John Dawson Winter" III (74) "Together" (76) avec Edgar Winter "Nothing but the Blues" (77) (avec Muddy Waters) "Raisin' cain" (80) "Guitar Slinger" (85) "Third Degree" (86) "Serious Business" (87)
Blues revue, July/Aug 1998 (CD Reviews)
Hard Rockin' Blues
ard Rockin' Blues (Simitar 55182): Minnesota-based
Simitar Assembles 11 blues-rock tracks recorded primarily during the past decade.
The label said it wanted to showcase songs with "wild guitar breaks that
are some of the artists more well-known songs." Included are choices such
as Albert Collins "Hooked on You," Johnny Winter's "Rain,"
Luther Allison's "All the King's Horses" and Jeff Healey Band's "See the Light."
Winter's contribution to this collection, White Hot
Blues, instantly lives up to its name with the six-string mugging of "Rock
Me Baby." This CD is a raw, energized blend of blues and rock.
Considered by many to be the premier white blues guitarist from Texas (including
SRV), winter certainly makes his bid for that title with the psychedelic fusion
blues of "Memory
Pain" and the wailing
"Hustled Down in Texas." "Too
Much Seconal" and "TV Mama" break things up with
their acoustic approach, but White Hot Blues wraps up where it began with one
of the all-time best party rockers, "Johnny
B. Goode." 100 Years of the Blues with Johnny Winter on the front page
Guitar Magazine - Jul/Aug 1998
Winter's contribution to this collection, White Hot Blues, instantly lives up to its name with the six-string mugging of "Rock Me Baby." This CD is a raw, energized blend of blues and rock. Considered by many to be the premier white blues guitarist from Texas (including SRV), winter certainly makes his bid for that title with the psychedelic fusion blues of "Memory Pain" and the wailing "Hustled Down in Texas." "Too Much Seconal" and "TV Mama" break things up with their acoustic approach, but White Hot Blues wraps up where it began with one of the all-time best party rockers, "Johnny B. Goode."
100 Years of the Blues with Johnny Winter on the front page
Lots of articles about blues players in it. Full article on Johnny with recent pics and one from John Dawson Winter III era (fans will know which one). Good close up of him smiling. Must be a very recent interview because he talks about making Live in NYC "last year". Also some brief words from Dick Shurman about the Alligator days.
Where Rock & Roll Meets the Blues: At the Crossroads with Johnny Winter. by Robert Santelli
I met Johnny Winter for the first time in the mid '70's, just as he was about to make a career shift from hard blues to hard rock. I was a 20-year old, part-time rhythm guitar player in a Johnny Winter-inspired blues-rock band on the New Jersey shore called Cobalt, and although I wasn't very good, the band was.
Somehow, Winter heard about Cobalt. He traveled down from New York City one Sunday afternoon in autumn to hear the band rehearse. Apparently, he liked what he heard; a couple of weeks later, our lead guitarist, Doug Brockie, and our drummer, Richard Hughes, were asked to join Johnny's band.
It didn't take long for the pair to accept the offer. After all, Johnny Winter was still one of the true kingpins of guitar, despite '70s pop music having distanced itself from the blues. Winter was (and is) still perfectly capable of swarming his listeners with blues-driven, apoplectic solos and ripping power chords of enough energy and volume to sandblast the sin out of a soul and then sent it to kingdom come.
Johnny Winter took the best that Cobalt had to offer,
and both the band and my career as budding local star were left in his wake.
I didn't know it then, but he did me a big favor. I took up writing music instead
of playing it, which was the far more sensible path for me to follow. But it
was the experience of my Cobalt colleagues that taught me the lesson. Brockie
and Winter never really jelled, so Doug left the band to work with Ginger Baker.
Hughes stayed on, keeping a big beat for Winter on such albums as Still
Alive and Well and Saints
and Sinners. But the pressure of touring and being in the spotlight,
plus mounting personal problems, caused Richard to crash. One day I received
a phone call from a friend telling me Richard had killed himself. It was the
first time I learned how costly success could be in the world of rock and roll.
It was a lesson I've never forgotten.
Johnny Winter knows how unchecked success can rob a man of his good sense and good health. It's no secret for instance, that Winter has had his share of bouts with hard drugs and heavy times. Remarkably, Winter has not only survived but has managed to continue his mastery of blues guitar and turn out music that reveals just how far the Kenny Wayne's , Jonny Lang's, and Mike Welch's still have to travel before they're close to interpreting the blues with the same command and passion Winter demonstrates whenever he plugs in.
The guitarist has traveled some difficult roads, and he sinks at the mention of Richard's name. ("On the outside, he seemed happy and all. But on the inside he was hurting. I know a lot of people like that," Winter sighs.) But these are better days, and right now Winter has a lot to be happy about, like his latest album, Live in NYC '97, a blistering account of blues rock from the Bottom Line, where Johnny has held court on and off for nearly 20 years.
Backed by bass player Mark Epstein and drummer Tom Compton, Winter makes a solid blues statement on his new release, having filled the club with exhilarating solos and blazing tributes to the likes of Freddie King ("Hideway," "Sen-Sa-Shun"), Muddy Waters ("Got My Mojo Working"), Elmore James ("The Sky Is Crying") and Ray Charles ("Black Jack"). When placed next to White Hot Blues, a compilation Sony/Legacy released last year featuring tracks from the dozen albums Winter cut for Columbia Records between 1969 and 1980, you get a good idea of where Johnny's been and why he remains the dean of American blues-rock guitar.
"Making a live album meant putting on record the songs we've been playing onstage for a while now," Winter explains. "Last year we were making some pretty good music, so a live album seemed like the right thing to do."
The fact that Live in NYC opens with a pair of Freddie King songs isn't necessarily coincidental. "Freddie is one of my biggest influences," Winter says. "I got to play with him a few times before he died [in 1976], and they're some of my fondest memories. I think I'll always play some of Freddie's music, out of respect for all the inspiration he's given me and the fact that we're both from Texas."
Freddie King was born in Gilmer, Texas, in 1934; Winter was born in Beaumont 10 years later. Young Johnny picked up the guitar at age 11. By the time he was 14, he was leading his own band, which included brother Edgar on piano. By the mid '60's, Winter was becoming well known in Texas as a guitarist who understood the nuances of blues and could rattle the rafters with rock and roll when necessary. Fellow musicians saw him as a potential member of a long line of Lone Star state blues legends, a legacy dating back to the days when Blind Lemon Jefferson was lead around the Deep Ellum section of Dallas by a young T-Bone Walker. Lightnin' Hopkins, Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Johnny Copeland, Freddie King, Albert Collins and later Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan would with Winter, all keep alive the idea that Texas was the place to hear riveting blues guitar.
"The thing about it is, there's very little difference between blues and rock and roll," muses Winter. "It's easy to blur the boundry. Back when I got my record deal with Columbia, I was crossing back and forth, from rock to blues and blues to rock. In the '70s and '80s I did the same thing - I'm still doing the same thing."
Need some proof? Check out a track like "Just A Little Bit," from Live in NYC, in which Winter winds up and pitches a rock and roll fastball. Laughs Winter, "That's a boundary crosser, sure is. I'll stick that song in the middle of some blues songs and people can get a real good idea how these two kinds of music ain't nothin' but first cousins to each other."
Winter worked his way through hard rock and roll in the mid '70s only to return to hard blues just as the rest of the music world was coming to grips with punk, disco and arena rock. Winter also produced albums for another mentor, Muddy Waters (two of which - Hard Again and I'm Ready - won Grammys), and recorded for himself Nothin' But the Blues, a stunning work of acoustic blues that still stands among Winter's best recording efforts.
As good as Winter can be with acoustic blues, he considers himself far less effective without electricity energizing his instrument. "I'm not good enough to be playin' much acoustic guitar onstage," he laughs. "Man, you got to get so right; I mean, the tones, the feel, the sound. Plus, acoustic blues guitar is just that much harder on the fingers. I really appreciate when someone can blow me away with live acoustic blues."
In the early '80s, after fumbling the blues ball with such mediocre albums as White, Hot and Blue (1978) and Raisin' Cain (1980), Winter was without a recording contract for the first time since the late '80s. "It made me realize that you can't take anything for granted. It was a bad time for the blues and a bad time for me," he remembers.
But Winter rebounded in a big way as of 1983 signing with Alligator Records, which resulted in a string of memorable albums, including Guitar Slinger and Serious Business. Almost overnight, Winter's guitar playing became more crisp and emotionally intense, his sound more precise, and his song selection more in line with the budding blues revival, inspired in part by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and later, Robert Cray.
But Winter saved his best blues effort for 3rd Degree, an album cut for Alligator in 1986, the same year he became the first white musician to be inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame. Said producer, Dick Shurman, a longtime associate of Winter's, "Johnny wanted more than anything else to be considered a father figure for younger blues artists. When he was on Alligator he was playing great blues because his heart was very much into it."
When Winter left Alligator and settled in with the Point Blank label - where he still resides - he brought Shurman with him to handle studio production chores. It's one reason why Winter's sound has remained consistent yet fresh and relevant in the '90s.
"Dick understands what I want from my sound, particularly my guitar sound," says Winter. "I speak mostly through my guitar, which is the way I always thought it should be for me. Dick understands the language, so you might say we communicate pretty good when it really counts."
Though the blues is enjoying a popularity and rejuvenation it so sorely lacked 20 years ago, Winter confesses that he doesn't listen to as much contenporary blues as he perhaps should.
"I'm still tryin' to catch up to all the good blues I still haven't gotten from the past," he explains. "I don't know where the blues is goin', but I know where it's been, and that's plenty good for me."
Blues Access - Summer 98
Also: Interview with Rick Derringer:
Guitar August 1998
100 Years of Blues - 1920 to 2020