Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


WINTER, Johnny

(b John Dawson Winter III, 22 February 1944, Beaumont TX; d 16 July 2014 in a hotel room in Zurich) Blues guitarist. The family lived in Leland, Mississippi, but Winter's father, a cotton dealer, was in the US Army in 1944, and his wife went to Beaumont to be with her family when she gave birth. The family subsequently moved to Beaumont permanently, but continued to spend summers in Mississippi; Johnny said that he thought he was a native of that state until he was 12 or so.

He grew up in Texas with younger brother Edgar, brought up on Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters etc, and made his first record at 15: 'Schoolday Blues' by Johnny and the Jammers on Dart (with Edgar on piano). He moved to Chicago, playing with many obscure groups: Gene Taylor and the Down Beats, It and Them (aka Black Plague, with Edgar); early work was later released on Imperial as Progressive Blues Experiment, on GRT as The Johnny Winter Experiment at the same time as his proper debut Johnny Winter '69 on Columbia, which despite the heavy competition reached the top 25 LPs USA, with Second Winter '70 featuring Tommy Shannon on bass, John 'Red' Turner on drums, who'd played with him since '68, plus Edgar. Club owner Steve Paul signed him to management contract, linked him with the McCoys (of pop hit 'Hang On Sloopy' fame) for Johnny Winter And '71, which took him towards rambling acid rock. Guitarist Rick Derringer and Randy Hobbs on bass were joined by Bobby Caldwell on drums for Live/Johnny Winter And '71, covering Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones and others in a good-time rock vein. After a drug-imposed period of retirement, he re-emerged with Still Alive And Well '73; thenceforth returned to hard blues, where his heart was and where he was highly rated, producing Waters's popular Hard Again and touring with him. Saints And Sinners and John Dawson Winter III '74, Captured Live and Together (with Edgar) '76, Nothin' But The Blues '77, Red Hot And Blue '79 worked the same ground; he sparked briefly with Raisin' Cain '80, a trio with Jon Paris on bass and harmonica and drummer Bobby Torello. Most of the later LPs were on a custom Blue Sky label, most went out of print while the earliest LPs were still selling.

He signed with Chicago's Alligator label, with an unpretentious policy of ladling out the straight stuff for fans: no horns, no background singers, no synthesizers; Guitar Slinger '84 returned him to the charts, backed by labelmates; Serious Business kept him there, with Casey Jones on drums, Johnny B. Gayden on bass, Ken Saydack on piano; Third Degree '86 added guests Mac Rebennack on two tracks, old comrades Turner and Shannon on three. Reissues on Columbia included a two-CD compilation A Rock'N'Roll Collection; some of the Blue Skies have been reissued on CD; Hey, Where's Your Brother? and Let Me In are on Pointblank; The Winter Of '88 on MCA. He was recording for Relix in the '90s. Roots in 2011 covered songs by Robert Johnson, Elmore James and Little Walter, and featured guests Derek Trucks, Vince Gill and Edgar; Step Back was due for release in September 2014, with guitarists Eric Clapton, BIlly Gibbons and Joe Perry.