The buzz. Everybody in the music biz keeps an ear to it. What's the latest, greatest. Most people who make, and especially those who listen, to the buzz, usually don't have a clue, but occasionally something seeps through. In '68, there was news of a Blues guitarist/vocalist tearing up the Texas club circuit. That might not have attracted too much attention except that the musician in question was albino. In other words, an ultra-white guy playing the Blues. What a gimmick!
After reading a blurb in Rolling Stone magazine, promoter Steve Paul flew down to Texas to sign what he thought would be the next big thing. Having accomplished his mission, he turned around and negotiated a contract with the Columbia label for a record $600,000 advance. Johnny Winter had arrived. And he was good enough to install his kid brother Edgar, on keyboards.
While Winter was a great guitarist and a passionate vocalist, he wasn't much of a songwriter. On top of that, he was a Bluesman, and as the '60s slipped away, the Blues were no longer in vogue. Still, with the buzz doing its thing, the self-titled debut just cracked the Top 25 album charts.
However, the much better "Second Winter," a three sided "double album" (more than a single album's worth of material but not enough for four sides), didn't fair half as well. His version of "Johnny B. Goode," while Rockin', was the umpteenth cover of that chestnut. Nor was there much interest in '70 for a cover of Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin'." Where Winter really stepped out was on the ultimate version of Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited." Like Hendrix on "All Along The Watchtower," Winter redefined "Highway 61 Revisited" and made it burn. It was a career performance.
Winter kept on with CBS through the '70s but without much impact. Eventually, he signed on with smaller labels where he could play the Blues in an encouraging, and less corporate, atmosphere.
The Johnny Winter saga came to a conclusion on July 16th, '14 when the guitarist passed away Zurich, Switzerland, while on tour, at age 70.
1968 The Progressive Blues Experiment
1969 Johnny Winter
1970 Johnny Winter And
1973 Still Alive And Well
1974 Saints & Sinners
John Dawson Winter III
1977 Nothin' but the Blues
1978 White, Hot and Blue
1980 Raisin' Cain
1984 Guitar Slinger
1985 Serious Business
1986 Third Degree
1988 The Winter of '88
1992 Let Me In
Hey, Where's Your Brother?
2004 I'm a Bluesman
2014 Step Back
While never the huge commercial success his original record label had hoped, Johnny Winter kicked-ass.
"Johnny Winter," ('69), "Second Winter" ('70), "Johnny Winter And" ('70) and "Johnny Winter And... Live ('71) are Blues/Rock straight shots led by Winter's searing guitar and throaty vocals.
"Second Winter," originally a three-sided record, contains both live and studio material. The concert performances are better and since Winter is definitely a live wire "Johnny Winter And... Live" delivers. "Johnny Winter And" is notable for the original version of "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo." Rick Derringer, who was in Winter's band and wrote the song, had a huge hit with it a couple years later.
After taking time off to kick his heroin addiction, Winter returns in '73 with the outstanding "Still Alive and Well."
Once it finally dawned on the record people that Winter was never going to be the next "big thing," they cut him loose. Rather than disappearing, Winter veers toward the Blues and launches a highly successful and rewarding career on smaller labels like, Alligator and Pointblank Records, where he could be who he was and do what he wanted. He probably should have done that in the first place.
At least once a decade and sometimes more often, Winter unleashes a classic Blues album.
'70s - "Nothin' But The Blues ('77)
'80s - "Third Degree" ('86)
'90s - White Hot Blues ('97)
Also from the '90s, check out "Scorchin' The Blues" and "Hey, Where's Your Brother."