Johnny Winter played the electric guitar like no one before him and I doubt that anyone will ever play like this again. His style probably came form all the early greats he heard on record or saw playing Live, but he developed that special “ something “ that set him apart. From this writer’s view it was his incredible singing and being able to express the music like two people at the same time who would trade off riffs often with no two in a row exactly as the ones before them. He could sing low and controlled or full out balls-to-the-wall screamo with that high but rough and gravelly grit coming straight from his guts!
The first time I heard Johnny and his very famous brother, Edgar Winter playing and singing together it was on a vinyl LP. Then subsequent albums would be stacked near my stereos and I’d listen until I wore out the grooves. In those days of the early to mid seventies, Johnny and Edgar together or solo were taking the world by storm. Johnny Winter was being called names like the greatest Blues Guitarist Ever, back when he would have been the first to admit he was a work in progress. Soon afterward, Winter released a single cover of the Rolling Stones’ “ Jumpin’ Jack Flash “ and he would appear on every major concert arena with his Gibson Firebird or Explorer and a metal slide on his pinky – shouting out the lyrics and taking the Rock-Blues guitar somewhere we’d never been before.
After his bursting onto the Pop and Rock scene doing a few covers and selling records, he collaborated with his old friends from the “ McCoys” (Hang On Sloopy) and especially Rick Derringer for an album that would go down into history and would become a cult favorite of collectors the world over called simply “ Johnny Winter…And “ . The song “ Rock and Roll Hootchi-Coo “ first emerged from this record and would later be re-released as a mega-hit by Derringer and his own band. But on “ And “ there was a song written by Randy Zehringer called “ Am I Here “ where we were treated to a vocal side of Johnny Winter that showed the world he was truly one of the greatest ballad singers in Pop history.
In the nineteen-eighties Johnny Winter came to our Capitol city of Olympia Washington and played one show in a three hundred-seat venue. I was there. Johnny came out with a headless Stienberger guitar, being played wirelessly without any effects and playing directly through the PA system; no stacks of Marshall amps at all, just a simple set up and along with a Bassist and drummer, he sang and played his ass off for the next three hours without a break. No backup singers, horn sections, B3s or anything – Just Johnny! Not since Jimmy Hendrix’s performance at the baseball stadium had I stood with my jaw hanging open, speechless for so long. Johnny gave it 110 per cent, just as though he was at Woodstock in front of a half million people, we were just as important to him.
We say goodbye again to another loved one, a guitar hero and a gentle soul who lived for music and to entertain. He always gave his very best and even when he wasn’t healthy the show would always go on. Johnny Winter loved us all, loved his fans and loved to travel the planet making people feel and think. To say he was a Blues guitar great would only be telling part of the truth, for Johnny Winter was also a record producer with nine incredible full albums to his credit. He was a songwriter, vocalist and showman. He had an amazing smile when he played and would be up on a stage looking out at the crowd who in many had traveled far and had saved up to buy a ticket to his show. He was an Icon, American born in Texas who was just a skinny little white kid who, with his brother would go on to carve out his place on the airwaves and into the world media as a forerunner, a pioneer of modern music and guitar technique. I suspect that Johnny’s albums are selling off the shelves today and I hope that there’s a little boy or girl in Iran, Nigeria, the UK or somewhere down in Mississippi who will hear clips of this and wonder if he or she could learn to play the Blues, sing with passion and make the world dance. And….I think Johnny would like that..
Bruce J Maier