over 30 years, Johnny Winter has been a guitar hero without equal.
Signing to Columbia records in 1969, Johnny immediately laid out
the blueprint for his fresh take on classic blues a prime
combination for the legions of fans just discovering the blues via
the likes of Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Constantly shifting
between simple country blues in the vein of Robert Johnson, to all
out electric slide guitar blues rock, - Johnny has always been one
of the most respected singers and guitar players in rock and the
clear link between British blues rock and American Southern rock
(a la the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.) Throughout the '70s
and '80s, Johnny was the unofficial torchbearer for the blues,
championing and aiding the careers of his idols like Muddy Waters
and John Lee Hooker.
His recent Grammy nominated "I'm A
Bluesman" disc Virgin/EMI, has only added to his
For this release, Johnny has again paired with his long-time
producer Dick Shurman (Robert Cray, Wayne June Albert Collins, Roy
Buchanan), as well as Tom Hambridge (Susan Tedeschi, George
Thorogood). Backing him on this CD is his road-tested touring band
of ace harmonica man James Montgomery, guitarist Paul Nelson,
bassist Scott Spray, drummer Wayne June with guest appearances by
such friends as keyboardist Reese Wynans (from Stevie Ray
Vaughan's celebrated backing group Double Trouble) among others.
"I'm A Bluesman" was a
question of finding the time and right material, he says. The
13-track collection includes three tunes by his friend and 2nd
guitarist Paul Nelson, who writes with Winter's bassist Scott
Spray. They collaborated on the prison themed
"Shakedown", a relationship-gone-bad song titled
"Pack Your Bags" and the album's title track, which
Nelson describes as a Johnny Winter biography set to music.
"I wanted to write a song about his life, who he is, and what
he represents to other musicians. I'm really proud that when he
heard the song he said I'd gotten it right."
Winter also opted to record two new songs by producer, Hambridge,
"Cheatin' Blues" and the first album single, Lone
Wolf." Johnny and his players cut the tracks for "I'm A
Bluesman" at several studios in New England, where Winter
makes his home these days. But Winter remains a native Texan, born
and bred in Beaumont, the town where the famous Spindletop gusher
came in to kick off the "black gold" rush in 1901.
Growing up in rough-and-tumble town populated by oilfield
wildcatters and shipyard workers, he spent long hours listening to
a local deejay named J.P. Richardson - The Big Bopper of
"Chantilly Lace" fame - and became hooked on 50's rock
& roll. He formed his first band, Johnny and the Jammers, in
1959 at the age of 15, with his 12-year-old brother Edgar on
He also became friends with Clarence Garlow, a deejay at the black
radio station KJET in Beaumont. Who opened Winter's eye's and ears
to rural blues and Cajun music. Clarence, who recorded for the
swamp boogie specialty label Goldband, KRCO, Frolic, Diamond,
Moon-Lite, Hall-Way and other regional labels.
There's a famous story about a time in 1962 when Johnny and his
brother went to see B.B. King at a Beaumont club called the Raven.
Johnny already had his chops down and wanted to play with the
revered B.B. "I was about 17," Johnny remembers,
"and B.B. didn't want to let me on stage at first. He asked
me for a union card, and I had one. Also I kept sending people
over to ask him to let me play. Finally, he decided that there
enough people who wanted to hear me that, no matter if I was good
or not, it would be worth it to let me on stage. He gave me his
guitar and let me play. I got standing ovation, and he took his
Winter's big breakthrough came a few years later in 1968 when
Rolling Stone writers Larry Sepulvado and John Burks featured him
in a piece on the Texas Music scene, which prompted a bidding war
among labels that Columbia eventually won.
Johnny's self-titled 1969 disc announced loudly that there was a
new guitar slinger on the new national scene. The disc included
audacious covers such blues classics as B.B. King's "Be
Careful with a Fool", Sonny Boy Williamson II's "Good
Morning Little School Girl", Robert Johnson's "When
You Got a Good Friend" and fellow Texan Lightin'
Hopkins' "Back Door Friend".
It also featured two prime original Winter songs, "Dallas"
and the controversial "I'm Yours and
I'm Hers", that went into heavy rotation on FM
The album peaked at No.24 on the billboard chart and was promptly
followed by Second Winter later that same year. Looking back,
writer Cub Koda described the period as one when "Straight
out of Texas with a hot trio, Winter made blues-rock music for the
angels." That trio, by the way, included bassist Tommy
Shannon who would go on to be part of SRV's Double Trouble and
drummer Uncle John Turner.
Winter stayed with Columbia and it's boutique Blue Sky label for
more than a decade, turning out such well-received platters as
"Johnny Winter And" (1970), "Still Alive and
Well" (1973) and "John Dawson Winter III" (1974).
He also helped to introduce blues giant Muddy Waters to another
generation of listeners by producing and playing guitar on the
Grammy-winning "Hard Again" (1977), as well as the
Grammy nominated "I'm Ready" (1978), Muddy
"Mississippi Waters Live" (1979) and "King
Bee" (1981). The collaborations were so successful that
Waters took to referring to Johnny as his "adopted son"!
The Texas guitar tradition runs deep. A gutsy school of blues
playing, marked by thick tones, aggressive attack and tons of
technique, all delivered in a flamboyant, swaggering style that is
endemic to the Lone Star State. From T-Bone Walker and Clarence
Gatemouth Brown on through Albert Collins and Freddie King, Billy
Gibbons and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, the tradition of the
Texas guitar slinger has lived on. The one name that ranks at the
top of that exclusive list is Johnny Winter, an international
ambassador for rocking Texas blues and still going strong!