Born in Beaumont Texas in 1944, John Dawson Winter III grew up surrounded by cajun, country & blues music. He organized his first band called Johnny and the Jammers when he was just 14 years old. His brother Edgar played piano in the group and it wasnt long before they became a local phenomenon.
By age 15 Winter released his first single called School Day Blues. Since then Johnny Winter has gone on to enjoy a career that spans 40 years and has solidified his place in music history. What sets him apart is the distinctive voice, the wizard-like guitar style and the passionate fury he displays as an accomplished slide player.
Between 1968 and 1980 he recorded 15 albums that defined the blues-rock form that made him a household name. He has shared the stage with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King to name a few. With the commercial success of tunes like Rock N Roll Hoochie Koo it is obvious that he has not only inspired blues artists abroad, but rock players as well.
In the midst of a busy concert schedule I was fortunate enough to get an interview from the legend himself.
NE: There seems to be a resurgence in the blues scene, how has it changed, if at all since you started.
Winter: Its not as traditional today, not as rootsy.
NE: How does it feel to be touring again and what do you do to stay fit?
Winter: Fantastic! First I stopped drinking and then I started eating right. Being on the road keeps me active and in much better shape.
NE: Who is managing your career?
Winter: My second guitarist Paul Nelson, and he is doing a fine job as well as being one hell of a guitar player.
NE: Are you being well received by a new breed of fans?
Winter: Yes! Recently I have noticed a growing number of younger fans coming to my shows.
NE: Who were some of your biggest influences growing up and who continues to inspire you today?
Winter: Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin Hopkins, Clarence Gatemouth Brown and of course T Bone Walker. I still listen to them today.
NE: What are your memories of working with Muddy Waters and other blues greats?
Winter: Working with Muddy was one of the highlights of my career. I did four records with him, three of which won Grammys. I also enjoyed working with Sonny Terry.
NE: What was it like playing Woodstock in 69?
Winter: I dont remember that much about it except it was wet and muddy. I never thought it would be as historic as it now is at that time.
NE: Are you doing any producing these days?
Winter: I co-produced my last Grammy nominated CD Im A Bluesman on Virgin/EMI.
NE: What kind of equipment are you using on the road?
Winter: Musicman amp with 4x10s, a boss chorus pedal and my Laser guitar and Firebird for slide.
NE: Where do you draw all of that emotion from when you strap on the guitar.
Winter: It just comes out of me. You just have to have that feeling.
NE: How does it feel to have made such an enormous impact on so many peoples lives through your music?
Winter: Feels great! Real great.
NE: How has the internet and file sharing affected your career?
Winter: It has made my music
more accessible to more people,
especially through my web site
Mark your calendar, Thursday July 27, 7:30 p.m. The Petoskey Blues Festival at The Emmet County Fairgrounds community building will feature a one - two punch of distinguished blues masters. Opening the show is Larry McCray who is a superb guitarist and singer enjoying a stellar career, followed by Johnny Winter. Paul Koch of Ram Productions plans to make this blues extravaganza an annual event.
Tickets can be purchased for $25 online @ www.frankenmuthfestivals.com, 800-386-3378, or at Borders Book Store in Traverse City 231- 933-0412, Hops N Schnapps South in Gaylord 989-344-1228, Bridge Street Book Shop in Charlevoix 231-547-7323, Grain Train in Petoskey 231-347-2381, Between The Covers in Harbor Springs 231-526-6658, Island Book Store in Mackinaw City
906-847-6202, Dharma Music in Grayling 989-344-1228 & Concert Connection in Alpena 989-356-4900.