New Haven, CT
Johnny Winter is a living blues legend. These days he looks a bit frail as he was helped out to the front of the stage at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT. He eased down into a chair set up in the front and stayed there all night. But, the man still has his chops.
I was at the Johnny Winter Live album show in Dania, FL back in the early 70’s. (At least they told me I was there.) It was the good ol’ days of rock n’ roll...post Woodstock. Johnny was on fire! Thirty years later, he’s still rockin’.
Now residing in Connecticut, the Texas albino guitarist proves that a white guy can play his ass off with the Blues. His lightning-quick fingers are hard to follow as he rips into another boogie tune. You can barely hear his voice as he sings, but then again, you don’t really have to. It’s all about the feel.
Loyal Johnny fans packed Toad’s. It was a rough looking crowd. Hard miles...lots of hard miles. Thick with smoke, (everybody there was chain-smoking) the crowd cheered and screamed his name in honor.
The touring band consists of this drummer that I swear was straight out of the movie “Beetlejuice”. (You can't tell from the publicity photo.) He captured my attention with his outrageous 50’s style hair, black suit, black tie, white shirt, shades and cartoon facial expressions. Really an added visual element, drummer Wayne June stood out. The bassist, Scott Spray, played like a backup lead/rhythm guitarist...running up and down the bass neck. He really filled the holes for Johnny. James Montgomery rounded out the group on harp...bringing good strong vocals.
This night was well worth it. Johnny Winter is a guitar hero in the truest sense. He’s paid his dues.
Born in Beaumont, Texas on February 23, 1944, he grew up surrounded by blues, country and Cajun sounds. He and his brother, Edgar, showed musical talent early on.
“We sang regularly,” Johnny remembers, “because Daddy loved to sing harmony. He sang in a barbershop quartet and in a church choir, so Edgar and I started singing as soon as we were born, almost.”
Johnny began on clarinet at age five and then took up ukulele. At age 14, he began his first band with Edgar on piano. He’d frequent Beaumont’s black Raven Club, where he’d see musicians like Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Bobby Bland.
In 1968, Johnny began playing in a trio with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner. Soon to follow were the albums The Progressive Blues Experiment, the self-titled Johnny Winter and my personal favorite; the double-record set with only three sides recorded – Second Winter. (If you have only one Johnny Winter album in your collection, make it Second Winter. Another gem is John Dawson Winter III.)
Today, Johnny continues to tour the world. He’s got gigs in Europe this summer (2003) and various outings in the states. Support the blues and go see this incredible man when he comes to your town. Johnny Winter – Still Alive and Well.