Johnny Winter is a blues guitar hero. A living legend although some are surprised that he’s still with us given his many years of wanton lifestyle. But while Johnny Winter has lived quite the storied life, he remains one of the preeminent guitarists in the world and it’s a rare treat to have him play a small venue in Hamilton.
Johnny Winter developed his blues guitar style in the ‘60s moulding himself on the classics and became a stand out player in his native Texas but when Mike Bloomfield invited him to guest at a Fillmore East concert, Columbia Records new they had something special and offered what was reportedly one of the largest advances until that time, $600,000 dollars.
By 1969, Winter’s first Columbia album, Johnny Winter, was released; he’d play Woodstock and spend the ‘70s helping to define a new era of electric blues. As his success grew, the sex, drugs and music all went to an extreme — documented in part in the bio pic scheduled for release this year entitled, Down and Dirty. Not a man to mince words, Winter is still excited by music talk although his thoughts are offered as precisely as he picks out a solo on the guitar.
“Oh goodness yes, I have fond memories of playing Woodstock,” replies Winter on the era defining event of 1969. “I enjoy talking with fans about the old stories. I never get tired of that. I don’t mind talking to people about the past. I have a lot of stories but the fans like to tell them more than I do. I just love the music.
“I’ve had an extremely lucky life,” adds Winter. “One stand out memory was playing with Muddy Waters. He made the best blues records ever made so it was a big thrill to get to work with him. I was a fan of his since I was 12 or 13. It was an honour to be able to produce some albums for someone as great as that as well.”
Winter’s fabled career sees a long list of arena shows, a major drug addiction, corrupt managers, financial lawsuits and a phoenix rising from a decade or two of debauchery. Johnny Winter now comes out some three decades later as a man that is much more sober these days and concentrating on what really made him get into this business. His 2011 released Roots CD might be a look back before the fame and all of its trappings were involved in Johnny Winter’s life.
“I thought it was important to look back on the roots of my music,” notes Winter. “They’re songs that I was first influenced by and that I liked when I first got into music. I’ve got a new album called Step Back in the works. It’s the same idea as Roots with mostly songs from the ‘50s with different guests. They’ve also put together a new box set of my music. I’m glad they would finally put out a box set. It’s a real good thing.”
Some fifty plus years since he started, the now seventy–year–old Winter has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity — receiving accolades from his peers and even developing a signature Johnny Winter Firebird guitar through Gibson Guitars. There are live and even instructional DVDs, Grammy Awards, the aforementioned boxed set, bio pics and more to come for this living legend and when he comes to Hamilton, Johnny Winter could probably play wherever he’d want and draw a mob. But Steeltown knows the blues and Johnny Winter chooses a special 200–seater bar to play the Hammer.
“You’re going to see three/fourths blues and one/fourth rock and roll — that’s the recipe and I like it that way,” chuckles Winter on what fans can expect to see from his Hamilton performance. “I still like making music just like the old days and hopefully I’ve got a lot of years left doing it.
“But it’s exciting for me to play a smaller venue — it’s a nice experience to be that up close when I’m playing,” adds Winter. “To me, the blues is the most emotional music I’ve ever heard — it’s got the most feeling and for me, I try to bring that kind of feeling every time I play — that’s what you’re going to see.”
Johnny Winter plays this Wednesday March 19 at This Ain’t Hollywood with Terry Edmunds & Tim Gibbons.
Click on johnnywinter.com