Born cross-eyed and albino, Johnny Winter (John Dawson Winter III) disregarded Mother Nature's unkindness to forge a career as one of the few great white blues-rockers.
Winter's father was from Leland, Mississippi. A career army officer who graduated from the Virginia Miliary Institute, he was in Texas on official business when he met his wife-to-be. The new Mrs. Winter moved to Leland, but her husband was shipped overseas, so she returned to her hometown of Beaumont, Texas, where on Wednesday 23 February 1944, she gave birth to John Dawson Winter III. Mr Winter sang in a barbershop quartet and in a church choir and by age five, Johnny began playing clarinet.
Uncle John Turner (UJT) remembers: Johnny's parents were living in Leland Miss. where Johnny's dad was the "boss" of Stovall's plantation. There were no good hospitals or medical care in that area, so Johnny's mother went to her parent's home, who were old Beaumont pioneers, to have Johnny. She stayed there a few weeks and then returned to Leland. Within a few years, they moved to Beaumont.
Johnny's grandfather had been a cotton broker in Leland. When WWII ended, Johnny's father took over the business but was unable to compete with the volume dealers who dominated the industry. Edgar was born when Johnny was 3, a year or 2 later, the family moved to Beaumont for good, but returned to Leland every summer. "I pretty much thought of myself as being from Mississippi till I was 11 or 12," says Johnny.
Initially started playing clarinet at the age of 5, switched briefly to ukelele. "My father told me: The only two ukelele players I ever knew that did anything were Arthur Godfrey and Ukelele Ike, and I think you got a much better choice of makin' it with a guitar."
After school, Johnny entered Lamar technical college and specialized in a commercial branch. But nearly every weekend he hitch-hiked to Louisana to play in small night-clubs. Six months later, he gave up his studies and devoted himself to music.
Growing up in Beaumont/Houston, where from his earliest years he heard the rich, pungent sounds of Negro blues and gospel music all around him.
He also learned country licks from Luther Nalley, a Beaumont music store employee, as well as the current rock tunes of the late 1950s.
At age 11, together with Edgar, the two brothers performed as an Everly Brothers-style duo and even auditioned for Ted Mack's Original Amateur hour.
His first band Johnny (Macaroni) and The
(aka Johnny Winter's Orchestra), together with his brother Edgar . Johnny
the much pubiliczed "Johnny Melody" contest held by radio station KTRM in connection
with the movie "Johnny B. Goode". Along with the publicity, Johnny got a chance
to make good in the record world. After deciding on two songs, the band
"School Day Blues" and "You
know I love you" on Dart Records.
They both rated high on the charts in Beaumont. This really gave the Jammers
a boost. Johnny
of Johnny Winter, Edgar
Winter, Willard Chamberlain, Dan Polson, and Melvin Carpenter. issued
the single "School Day Blues b/w
You Know I Love You" (Pappy Dailey's Dart
records at the Bill Hall's Gulf Coast Recording Studios in Beaumont) which
local number hit.
Johnny and the JammersFurther the band Johnny Winter and The Jammers recorded the records "Creepy" and "Oh my darling" Rated number 7 on KRIC. Also different members of the band who backed up Ronnie Bennett on his hit "In this letter" and "Just wait and see".
After the band Crystaliers was renamed into Coastaleers, Johnny records his first record: "Night Ride" b/w "Geish Rock" with the Coastaleers.
A local disc jockey named Clarence Garlow turned Winter on to the blues through his Bon Ton Show on radio station KJET
He hitchhiked to Louisiana, where he backed up local blues and rock musicians, and in the early sixties he traveled to Chicago. Where as a teenager, he pined for the grittier, more enduring part of the city's music, while playing "twist music" on the trendy Rush Street.
Johnny Winter continued to play and record in Texan R&B outfits throughout the 60s, often with brother Edgar Winter. He gained a strong local reputation as a guitarist, commanding a good wage accompanying visiting black blues legends on stage and in the studio. Johnny records many records under fictitious group names like: "Neal and the Newcomers", "The Crystaliers", "It and Them", "Black Plague", (Edgar Winter, Isaac Payton Sweat and Bobby Mizzel (piano) as well as being a sideman for many artists and groups of the Texas Area, including: Gene Terry and his Kool cats and Gene Terry and the Down Beats , Rod Bernard, Junior Cole and
| Johnny Winter performed regularly with Gene Terry and the Down Beats from
Big Oak club,
to the Catholic Hall in Iowa, LA.
Terry Gene DeRouen was born on 7 January 1940 in Lafayette, Louisiana. In 1942, his family moved to Port Arthur, Texas. Gene grew up listening to his father and grandfather performing Cajun music. He also attended house and barn dances with his uncle, R. C. DeRouen, a Cajun musician. His uncle taught him how to play guitar and eventually Gene accompanied him on stage. Gene formed his own group, the Kool Kats in the mid-1950's playing country and western songs. Gradually rhythm and blues began to enter the band's repertoire as Gene became influenced by Little Richard, Elvis Presley and local KTRM deejay J. P. "the Big Bopper" Richardson. The band changed its name to the Down Beats and began attracting a loyal following. Word spread to Lake Charles, LA gaining the attention of local club owners and a five year contract with Goldband Records. Gene Terry and the Down Beats recorded several singles for Goldband including classic "Cindy Lou."
The first drummer was R.C. DeRouen which was later on replaced by Ray Tommasini. On bass and guitar were the Hall brothers. I think they were from around Lake Charles, Louisiana. Two saxes, Mike Belile and Doug Dean. Later Mike Aiken from Groves, Texas played drums. Maybe one of the Solis brothers on piano; I'm not sure about that. Mike Aiken, the drummer went on to play with Johnny Courville(Johnny Preston, of "Running Bear" fame).
He made a good number of commercially viable records, under such synonyms as "Texas Guitar Slim".
Johnny Winter with It and Them or the Black Plague around 1965
Johhny Winter dropped out of Lamar State College and headed north to Chicago to join his friend Dennis Drugan's band, The Gents, but by the end of 1963 he was back in Texas. He recorded the single "Eternally" for the Ken Ritter KRCO label who then leased it to Atlantic. It became a big regional hit and Winter found himself opening for major acts like "The Everly Brothers" and "Jerry Lee Lewis".
In 1964 he toured the south with "The Crystaliers" and "It & Them" before stopping in Houston to record with the Traits on the Universal label in 1967. During the period 1965-66 Buzzy Smith was playing piano in Johnny's band, see photo gallery with Buzzy
|Huey P. Meaux remembers: my magic never worked for two talented young boys from Beaumont, Johnny and Edgar Winter, whom he recorded under the names The Great Believers (Amos Boynton - drums, Dave Russell - Bass, Edgar Winter - Keyboards, Johnny Winter - Guitar/Vocals) and Texas Guitar Slim. "We'd put them on a local television show called Jive at Five, and their records would stop selling like you turn a light switch off," Meaux said. "People would freak out, being as they was albinos."|
This summary (in chronological order) of Johnny Winter bands and artists Johnny working with during the period: 1959-1969. A complete list of Johnny Winter recordings during this period can be found in the singles section.
|Period:||Band / Description|
|1959-1962||Johnny (Macaroni) and the Jammers aka Johnny Winter's Orchestra|
|1962-1965||Johnny Winter and his Crystaliers, later renamed in the Coastaleers|
|1963||Johnny Winter and The Beaumonts
|1962-1965||It and Them (no known recordings), The Gents, Black Plague|
|1965-1967||The Great Believers|
|1966||Texas Guitar Slim, Diamond Records: "Broke and Lonely", "Crying in my Heart", Moon-lite Records: Crazy Baby|
|1966||The Insight - Cascade Records, "Out of SIght", "Please Come Home for Christmas"|
|1967?||Neil and the Newcomers, recorded on Hall-Way records 'Night Ride', 'Lost Without You' and 'How do you Live a Lie?'|
|1969||Johnny Winter, Uncle John Turner and Tommy Shannon|
His solo break came while hawking an album he'd recorded with "Uncle" John "Red" Turner (drums) and Tommy Shannon (bass) for an obscure regional company (Sonobeat). The Rolling Stone journalists Larry Sepulvado and John Burks caught wind of it and wrote a celebratory piece, entitled "Texas" stated, "Imagine a 130-pound cross-eyed albino bluesman with long fleecy hair playing some of the gutsiest blues guitar you have ever heard.", catapulting Winter from local hero to headline status at New York's Scene club and the prestigious Fillmore East.
Coinciding with a compilation of old recordings called The Progressive Blues Experiment, Johnny's 'official' debut album, Johnny Winter (1969), was enthusiastically welcomed by the likes of John Lennon and The Rolling Stones, who opened their famous Hyde Park concert with Winter's "I'm Hers and I'm Yours". Each wrote songs for Johnny - "Rock'n'Roll People" and "Silver Train", respectively. Buoyed by such big-time approbation and his own self-confidence ('In my own mind, I was the best white blues player around,' he said), Winter plunged into an exhausting, if lucrative, schedule on the hard rock circuit. He hit Woodstock and went down a storm.
Formed with ex-McCoys Rick Derringer (guitar), Randy Jo Hobbs (bass) and Randy Z (drums) the band: "Johnny Winter And"
Z was replaced by Bobby Caldwell for the live Johnny Winter And (1970), Johnny's biggest seller outside the US. Showstoppers such as "Rock 'n' Roll Hoochie Koo", "Stormy Monday" and Eddie Boyd's exquisite dirge, "Five Long Years", were drawn mostly from Johnny's Texas repertoire and the McCoys' bluesier stuff.
Between 1968 and 1981, Johnny cut a series of classic albums: Johnny Winter and Second Winter (his albums with the original blues trio plus brother Edgar), Johnny Winter And and Johnny Winter And Live with his new band featuring Rick Derringer on second guitar. Johnny Winter And Live was his best seller ever, and is still considered an essential hard rock landmark.
Johnny's increasing dependency on narcotics, and related bouts of suicidal depression, led to long lay-offs and a fall in quality on the patchy Still Alive and Well (1973) and John Dawson Winter III (1974). Disgruntled, Derringer and the others offered their services to the steadier Edgar - who, nevertheless, teamed up with his brother for 1976's workmanlike.
Together (mostly soul and old-time rock'n'roll favourites). This merger made commercial sense, as did Johnny's move to cut back on touring, moving to production duties for Muddy Waters ' great comeback albums of the late 70s. Though the past fifteen years have not seen much risk-taking by Winter, at least his steady flow of albums - particularly 1987's Grammy-nominated Third Degree (with Dr. John) - has demonstrated that his fretboard dexterity has not deserted him.
For "Nothing but the blues" Winter was joined by by Muddy Waters and his band, but the set received only moderate critical reaction and went largely unnoticed. Winter toured and frequently played festivals as a member of Waters' backing band, as well as touring on his own. He produced and sat in on Waters' LPs "Hard Again", "Im Ready", "King Bee" and "Live Hard Again" And Muddy "Mississipppi" Waters live both won grammy awards.
Winter released a couple more albums before taking four years off.
In 1984, after a four-yeor hiatus from recording, Johnny leaped back into the national spotlight with his first album for Chicago's Alligator Records, Guitar Slinger. It was widely hailed as his best (and bluesiest) album ever, and charted in both Billboard and Cashbox as well as earning a Grammy nomination. The album produced Johnny's first video, "Don't Take Advantage of Me", which received regular play on MTV for over six months. He performed over a hundred concerts following the release of Guitar Slinger, and was featured in dozens of magazines and newspapers, as well as MTVs "Guitar Greats" special. In 1985, Johnny followed up Guitar Slinger with Serious Business, a scorching collection of what Johnny does best - rough and raucous electric blues. The album won Johnny his second Grammy nomination on Alligator Records and was introduced to over 200,000 fans on a month-long tour with George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers, playing major venues.
Johnny's last record for Alligator, Third Degree, came out in 1986. The release features several special guests and an array of blues styles, including guest appearances by his original blues cohorts, Tommy Shannon and Uncle John "Red" Turner, as well as Mac "Dr. John'' Rebennack. Johnny also played two solo acoustic cuts on the National Steel guitar (the first time he'd played the National in the studio since 1977).
Like many of his white-blues rock contemporaries. Winter suddenly found himself out of vogue. The grammy-nominated "Guitar Slinger" marked his return but in a more blues-roots vein. It, along with "Serious Business" and "Third Degree" were critically acclaimed. "The Winter of 88" brought Winter back toward rock & roll but nowhere near the popular success he had enjoyed in the seventies. He remains one of the preeminent white bluesmen of his generation.