Johnny Winter Biography

23 February 1944, Leland, Mississippi, USA. Raised in Beaumont, Texas, with younger brother Edgar Winter, Johnny was a child prodigy prior to forging a career as a blues guitarist. He made his recording debut in 1960, fronting Johnny And The Jammers, and over the next eight years completed scores of masters, many of which remained unreleased until his success prompted their rediscovery. By 1968 the guitarist was leading Tommy Shannon (bass) and John Turner (drums) in a trio entitled Winter. This unit recorded a single for the Austin-based Sonobeat label, consigning extra tracks from the same session to a demonstration disc. This was subsequently issued by United Artists Records in 1969 as The Progressive Blues Experiment. An article in Rolling Stone magazine heaped effusive praise on the guitarist’s talent and led to lucrative recording and management contracts. Johnny Winter ably demonstrated his exceptional dexterity, while Second Winter, which included rousing cover versions of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, suggested a new-found emphasis on rock. This direction was confirmed in 1970 when Winter was joined by the McCoys. Billed as Johnny Winter And - with guitarist Rick Derringer acting as a foil - the new line-up proclaimed itself with a self-titled studio collection and a fiery live set. These excellent releases brought Winter much-deserved commercial success.

Chronic heroin addiction forced the guitarist into partial retirement and it was two years before he re-emerged with Still Alive And Well. Subsequent work was bedevilled by indecision until the artist returned to his roots with Nothing But The Blues (1977) and White Hot And Blue (1978). At the same time Winter assisted Muddy Waters by producing and arranging a series of acclaimed albums that recaptured the spirit of the veteran blues artist’s classic recordings. Winter’s work in the 80s proved equally vibrant and three releases for Alligator Records, a Chicago-based independent label, included the rousing Guitar Slinger, which displayed all the passion apparent on those early, seminal recordings. Together with his brother Edgar, he sued DC Comics for depicting the brothers in a comic book as half-human, half-worm characters. The figures were illustrated by the creator of Jonah Hex; the Winter brothers were shown as ‘Johnny And Edgar Autumn’.

Following a serious fall, illness and family bereavement in 2001, Winter was diagnosed with ‘radial nerve palsy’ leaving him temporarily unable to use his right hand. He returned to the stage soon afterwards although his physical frailty was readily evident. He bounced back to record 2004’s defiant I’m A Bluesman. His career may have failed to match initial, extravagant expectations, but Johnny Winter’s contribution to the blues should not be underestimated; he remains an exceptional talent.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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