Johnny Winter

Born: Feb. 23, 1944 in Leland, Miss.
Died: July 16, 2014

Johnny Winter and his brother, Edgar, grew up in Beaumont, Texas. Johnny learned to play the clarinet at five years old, followed by the ukulele at 8, and guitar at age 11. Starting in his mid-teens and through his early twenties, Johnny was touring with Gene Terry and the Downbeats, and working gigs in Texas and Louisiana with his own bands, Johnny and The Jammers, the Crystaliers, and The Black Plague.

 

Winter would sometimes sit in with Roy Head and the Traits (another MOGC Hall of Fame inductee) when they performed in the Beaumont area, and in 1967 Winter recorded a single with the Traits: "Tramp" backed with "Parchman Farm.” In 1968, he released his first album, "The Progressive Blues Experiment, on Austin's Sonobeat Records.

 

Seeking a major music contract, Winter traveled to England in 1968 in search of a more receptive musical climate. When he returned home, he discovered that Rolling Stone had printed an article raving about an unknown albino blues guitarist from Texas. Nearly every major label was on the phone, trying to sign him.

 

Winter signed with Columbia Records and quickly began to play major venues. He released the Johnny Winter album in 1969. His band included many local musicians; drummer “Uncle John” Turner (a Port Arthur native, singer and bass player), Tommy Shannon (who would later play with Stevie Ray Vaughn), plus Edgar Winter on keyboards and saxophone. Winter recorded his second album, Second Winter, in Nashville in 1969. The two-record album only had three recorded sides (the fourth was blank).

 

Woodstock’s promoter wanted to give lesser-known acts some exposure, and Johnny Winter made the most of it. His performance at Woodstock forever established his rightful place as a guitar superstar. Johnny also had a short-lived relationship with Janis Joplin, which culminated in a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, where Johnny joined her on stage to sing and perform--two southeast Texas kids, the toast of New York.

 

After overcoming a heroin addiction in the early 70s, Winter continued to perform live, including at festivals throughout North America and Europe. Johnny was influenced by Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. A producer of the first order, Winter produced three Grammy Award-winning albums for Muddy Waters; Hard Again (1977), I'm Ready (1978), and "Muddy Mississippi Waters – Live (1979)."

 

Winter was professionally active until the time of his death near Zurich, Switzerland, while on tour. Writing in Rolling Stone magazine, David Marchese said, "Winter was one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos, releasing a string of popular and fiery albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, becoming an arena-level concert draw in the process ... he made an iconic life for himself by playing the blues."

Johnny Winter performs at Woodstock in 1969.
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The Museum of the Gulf Coast is administered by the Port Arthur Historical Society in partnership with the City of Port Arthur.  

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