Johnny Winter

Born in Beaumont, Texas on February 23rd, 1944, John Dawson Winter III and his brother Edgar, younger by three years, were was surrounded by music during their childhood. Their father sang in a barbershop quartet and in a church choir and by age five, Johnny began playing clarinet. A few years later, Johnny had taken up the ukulele and Edgar played piano. The pair began performing as a duet, winning talent contests and appearing on local television shows. When Johnny was 11, The Winter Brothers traveled to New York to audition for Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. At age 14, Johnny organized his first band, Johnny And The Jammers. A year later, in 1960, they cut two songs at Bill Hall's Gulf Coast Recording Studios in Beaumont. The singles, "School Day Blues" and "You Know I Love You", were released a month later on Houston-based Dart Records, gaining The Winter Brothers some local notoriety. Johnny also frequented the Beaumont's all Black Raven Club, where got to see Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Bobby Bland for the first time.

In the early '60s, Johnny continued to record for regional labels and in 1963, moved to Chicago to check out the Blues scene. Upon his return to Beaumont, Johnny cut "Eternally", a Pop-flavored tune with a horn section arranged by Edgar, for Atlantic Records. The song became a regional hit around the Texas-Louisiana area and Johnny was soon booked to open up shows for The Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis. His regular band around this time was alternately known as The Crystaliers. After two-and-a-half years of barnstorming the Deep South, they settled in Houston where they spent 1967 as the house band at the Act III Club.

In 1968, Johnny began playing in a trio with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner. Their shows at Austin's Vulcan Gas Company and Houston's Love Street Light Circus attracted the attention of a writer for Rolling Stone magazine who had been writing an article about the Texas hippie scene. The author devoted three paragraphs to Johnny, whom he referred to as "the hottest item outside of Janis Joplin". The story brought nation wide attention to the album "The Progressive Blues Experiment", a collection of songs that Johnny's trio had recorded live at the Vulcan Gas Company, which was quickly picked up for national release by Imperial Records. Johnny then traveled to England for a short stay. When he returned to Texas, he became the focus of a furious bidding war between major labels, eventually signing to Columbia. His debut album, "Johnny Winter" was released late in 1968. He followed it another hard Rock 'n' Roll/Blues LP, called "Second Winter" in 1969.

By 1970, Johnny had teamed up with some former members of The McCoys (of "Hang On Sloopy" fame), including second guitarist Rick Derringer. The band was called "Johnny Winter and...". They achieved a Gold record in 1971 for "Live / Johnny Winter and...". The follow-up, 1973's "Still Alive and Well", became his highest-charting album. The seventies saw more recorded material, "Saints and Sinners" in 1974, "John Dawson Winter III" and "Captured Live" in 1976 and "Nothing But The Blues" in 1977. '77 also saw Johnny being joined by legendary bluesman, Muddy Waters on one of his most critically acclaimed albums, "Nothin' But The Blues". This led to Johnny producing Water's comeback album, "Hard Again", which won a Grammy Award for the single, "Blue Sky". The pair made a formidable team, following up that success with the 1978's Grammy winner, "I'm Ready", the 1979 Grammy winner, "Muddy, Mississippi Waters Live" and 1980's "King Bee". Winter also released albums of his own, including "White Hot And Blues" in 1978 and "Raisin' Cain" in 1980.

Taking a four year break from recording, Johnny signed with Alligator Records for the Grammy nominated "Guitar Slinger", followed by l985's "Serious Business", also nominated for a Grammy, and 1986's "Third Degree", which was listed in a book by Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Archivist Robert Santelli as one of the '101 Essential Blues Albums'. His album for the MCA-distributed Voyager label, "The Winter of '88", was an attempt at crossing over to a more contemporary flavored product.

Next up was 1991's "Let Me In". It too displayed Johnny Winter at the top of his form, mixing the best of the Blues and Rock 'n' Roll with unsurpassed power and passion, helping to insure his place as one of the most dependable and enduring Blues/Rock stars of all time. 1992 brought the LP "Hey, Where's Your Brother?" (Named after perhaps the most frequently asked question Johnny has heard). Fan reaction to this effort however, was mixed. After a hiatus from recording, Johnny and his band of long-time drummer Torn Compton and bassist Mark Epstein, took the stage at his home base, New York City's Bottom Line in April 1997, and recorded the hard-hitting, "Johnny Winter Live In New York City '97" for Pointblank Records. Some fans consider this to be one of his weaker efforts. Johnny spent the rest of the '90s touring the United States and abroad. He his brother Edgar, sued DC Comics for depicting the pair in a comic book as half-human, half-worm characters called Johnny And Edgar Autumn.

Despite some setbacks like the death of his father and his own hip surgery, 2001 also marked the year of Winter's first Video/DVD release that covered over thirty years of live performances, aptly named "Pieces & Bits". A greatest hits compilation called "The Best Of Johnny Winter" was released in 2002 and two studio efforts entitled "I'm A Bluesman" and "Second Winter" came out in 2004.

Touring all the while, Winter continued to turn out new albums at a break-neck pace. August of 2005 brought "Johnny B. Goode", followed by "Johnny Winter: Extended Versions" in September. 2006 continued the rapid release pattern with "An Introduction To Johnny Winter" in February, "Gangster Of Love" in May, "Rockin' Bluesman" in August and "Black Cat Bone: Live At The Texas Pop Festival" in September. The year 2007 saw a full slate of concert dates scheduled for across the United States. That same year, a series of live Winter albums titled the "Live Bootleg Series" and a live DVD all entered the Top 10 on Billboard's Blues chart. In June, 2009, Sony Legacy issued a two disc set called "The Woodstock Experience", which includes eight songs that Winter performed at the 1969 festival. Johnny then signed with Megaforce Records and released a new studio album called "Roots" on September 27th , 2011. It included Winter's interpretation of eleven early Blues and Rock 'n' Roll classics and featured several of Johnny's friends, including Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, Warren Haynes, John Popper, Jimmy Vivino, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, John Medeski as well as his brother Edgar. On January 5th, 2012, Johnny appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman and was slated for a heavy touring schedule of Europe, America and Japan throughout the rest of the year.

Johnny Winter remained active in the music business until the time of his death on July 16th, 2014 at the age of 70. He was found in his hotel room near Zurich, Switzerland just two days after his last performance at the Cahors Blues Festival in France on July 14th. The cause of Winter's death was not officially released, but his associates say he died of emphysema combined with pneumonia.

Be sure to read Gary James' interview with Johnny Winter