The guitarist who rocked the Texas blues

Johnny Winter 1944–2014

When Johnny Winter started playing the rock circuit in the 1960s, he looked and sounded like nobody else. Tall and stick thin—with pink eyes, bone-white skin, and long white hair—he played blues guitar faster, louder, and more ferociously than any of his contemporaries. He’d fallen in love with the blues as a teenager growing up in Beaumont, Texas, where he was relentlessly bullied over his albinism. Winter sought sanctuary in the blues clubs on the edge of town and discovered that the black musicians he played with there never judged his appearance. “We both,” he explained, “had a
problem with our skin being the wrong color.”



Winter formed his first band, Johnny and the Jammers, at 15 with his younger brother, Edgar, on keyboards, and in 1968 was singled out by Rolling Stone as one of the stars of the Texas music scene. The following year, he signed with Columbia Records for $600,000—an unprecedented advance for a solo artist—and produced a string of hit albums that “set new blues-rock standards for speed and searing intensity,” said The Wall Street Journal. But a heavy heroin habit derailed his career in
the mid-1970s.

“After Winter got clean, he returned to his chief role”— celebrating the sound of the electric blues, said the Los Angeles Times. He produced three Grammy Award–winning albums by blues legend Muddy Waters in the late 1970s, and continued to record and tour until his death. In one of his final
interviews, he was asked how he’d like to be remembered. “Hopefully they’ll say I was a good bluesman,” he said. “That’s all I want.”

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