For over 40 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. Throughout the '70s and '80s, Johnny was the unofficial torch-bearer for the blues, championing and aiding the careers of his idols like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
Though now residing in New England, 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 keyboards.
Racial tensions in Beaumont were still high in those days. The town had been side to one of the worst race riots in Texas history just nine months before Johnny's birth. Mobs wandered the streets, businesses burned, martial law went into effect, and more than 2,000 uniformed National Guardsmen and Texas Rangers sealed off the town from the rest of the world until tempers cooled. Despite the brutal legacy, Johnny remembers never hesitating as a kid to venture into black neighborhoods to hear and play music.
Looking back, he believes people in the black community knew that he was sincere, that he was genuinely possessed by the blues. "Nothing ever happened to me. I went to black clubs all the time, and nobody ever bothered me. I always felt welcome." 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. The only whites in the crowd, they no doubt stood out. But 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 guitar back!"