One of the great white blues players Johnny Winter has died in Zurich only days after playing a European Festival. In the seventies we were always fascinated by Johnny Winter and his brother Edgar with their long white hair. A rumour at the time was that born albino, this genetic condition would only allow them short lives. Ultimately Johnny (the eldest brother) lived till he was 70 (Edgar is 67). The title Still Alive And Well (1973) Johnny Winter’s fifth album perhaps fuelled the rumour.
Two immensley talented multi-instrumentalists growing up in Texas, Edgar played Keys, sax and drums (remember Frankenstein) Johnny also played clarinet but it was his guitar playing that stood out. He played with a quintessential blues feeling, that condition where the heart is directly connected to the fingers, alongside technique and a deep knowledge of the legends. His mentor was Muddy Waters for whom he produced three studio albums in the late seventies and early eighties.
Winter had an unshaking commitment to a R’n’R lifestyle that begot some serious drug addictions but carried with it a belief and a dedication to expressing emotion through the hot strings of an electric guitar. There was also his unique tone, a clarity or a purity from each note, a precision that reflected a lifetime of playing his most loved instrument.
His first album was The Progressive Blues Experiment (1968) but his discovery via Mike Boloomfield and Al Kooper’s Fillmore Live concert attended by hungry executives with blank cheque books is stuff of legend. The first of two releases after being signed by Columbia appeared in 1969, Johnny Winter and Second Winter (his third solo album) was unusual more than just in name as it was a three-sided double album with side four released with blank uncut grooves. More electrifying albums followed into the seventies and beyond (check the link below for his discography).
My favourite images of Johnny Winter were always when he was playing a Gibson Firebird. I managed to find a really great picture of him from 1979 that frankly says it all. He was due to release a new album on September 2nd. RIP Johnny and condolences to friends and family, we will miss those magic fingers.