Johnny Winter, who has died, was everything a white albino blues guitarist should be, says Richard Lutz
If any name would make me pull out my wallet or draw me into a club, outdoor concert or arena, it was Johnny Winter who died this week, aged 70.
I first saw the gangly white haired guitarist when he played with BB King in 1970 in New York’s Central Park. You got the feeling BB was looking over his shoulder as the Texan freakie musician, in his black leathers, tats, albino skin blew out the crowd. BB, after all, had indelible roots in southern gospel music and his songs reflected that sweet background.
Winter, from south Texas, had his roots somewhere between Neptune and Jupiter. And he was so wiped out and weird looking that he was once mistaken for old time blonde bombshell Mae West.
He had a patchy career, his life scarred by heroin, depression and a parade of pills. Muddy Waters called Winter his ‘adopted son.’
I caught up with Winter during his endless tours. I saw him twice at The Robin, a pearl of a joint for hard rock in Bilston just outside of Birmingham. By this time, he was in his mid sixties, ill, skeletal and emaciated. He had to be helped to a chair by a backing group musician.
His music was searing and will continue to be. And he ended the set with his late career classic of Dylan’s Highway 61, which to this day is one of my all time greats.
Rock and roll is the poorer with his death.