Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Dead of Winter - Johnny Winter

I heard the bad news today that one of the great guitarists of all time passed from this life into the next. John Dawson Winter, better known to most of us as Johnny Winter, died yesterday in his Zurich, Switzerland hotel room. Details of the cause of the 70 year-old’s death have not been released.

Winter was a king of the slide guitar – whether he was playing his National Duolian or Tricone resonator models or one of his many Gibson Firebirds, Johnny put many other slide players to shame. While he played other guitars besides Nationals and Firebirds, they were his signature instruments.

Unfortunately, I’ve only seen him play once and that was during the summer of 1977. My brother, bassist friend Nick Brack, and I piled into one of our Chevy Vegas (Chuck and I both had one) and traveled west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to see Johnny play at Youngstown, Ohio’s Tomorrow Club. It was our mother’s birthday, but we celebrated with Johnny. I hope she has forgiven us after all these years.

Johnny’s playing was unmistakable and his gritty voice was like none other. Prior to going to college, I picked up several of his early albums including “First Winter” on Buddha Records, which Johnny never legitimized. When Johnny began to make noise on the musical scene, one of his early cuts that got airplay was his raucous rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”

This classic was issued on his third legitimate album and the second for Columbia appropriately called “Second Winter.” This 1969 album was unique as it was a three-sided LP. I have 15 thousand LPs and believe that it’s the only three-sided album I have. There probably were several others, but I can’t think of any – however I have a number of one sided records in my collection. Really “Second Winter” was a typical double-sided record coupled with a one sided LP.

From a talented family, Johnny and his younger brother Edgar began signing together as children and often collaborated over the years while also pursuing solo careers. The world will miss this gifted musician who was slated to begin a US tour next month. Unfortunately, that won’t happen. Rest in Peace Johnny.

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