Johnny Winter passed away yesterday in Switzerland at the age of 70 while on tour in Europe. Johnny was one of my first guitar heroes. When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my brother joined Columbia Record Club (anyone remember record clubs? records?) and got a mess of albums for something like a dollar as their initial membership deal. One of those records was his first album for Columbia. Wow! It blew my little mind away. When I think about it, it was probably one of my first exposures to straight blues. For that alone I will always be in debt to the man.
The first thing that strikes you about his guitar style was his speed. God, that man could play fast. But beyond that, there was an incredible fluidity to this playing as well as rhythmic momentum that carried everything forward. Hearing him play was like going on a roller coaster. A definite thrill ride.
Johnny Winter was very much a student of the blues. In interviews, he spoke of getting every blues record he could find and learning how to play along with them. He was an example of one of the things that make a great artist: Being part of a tradition, being aware of its history and at the same time, extending it.
The clip below is from the Fillmore East, recorded on October 3, 1970, around the time that “Live Johnny Winter And” was recorded. The interplay between Johnny and Rick Derringer is fantastic. It’s a pity that this lineup did not last longer. They could have been one of the best dual guitar teams ever.
Honor the man’s memory by listening to some blues today.