If you check out those comments under the Johnny Winter videos on YouTube, you’ll find an outpouring of love and respect for the guitar legend. Not only by those who are his contemporaries but from younger fans, too.
Since the beginning of his career, over 50 years ago, Winter’s been giving back to that audience with shows and records that are energetic and musically vibrant. Despite health problems and battles with drug addiction, he’s always bounced back. “I just love to play,” he said in a recent phone interview. That thrill, it seems, has never left.
Winter is currently promoting his guest appearance on the forthcoming Sly Stone tribute collection I’m Back! Family and Friends, to be released August 16 on Cleopatra Records. He is featured on Stone’s classic “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, which Stone chose especially for him. Winter was an admirer of Stone’s back in the '60s and '70s, played with him many times, but never recorded with him until now. Winter's punchy, funky guitar work breathes new life into this version of one of Stone’s best known works.
Another project in the pipeline is Winter’s homage to his heroes entitled Roots, which he is currently recording in Carriage House studios in Connecticut. Confirmed guests on the album include Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Vivino, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, and Winter’s brother Edgar. The album will pay tribute to the classic blues music of Elmore James, Little Walter, Larry Williams, T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and many others.Winter’s manager came up with the idea for the record. “I thought it was a good one,” Winter said. He doesn’t have a favorite among the tracks. “I like them all.” When I suggested they were all “like family,” he wholeheartedly agreed. It was good to hear that Edgar Winter will be participating in the project, and when I asked if they might record together again in the future, Winter said he hopes so.
The third and most unusual of Winter's new projects is his contribution to William Shatner’s forthcoming release. On what looks to be quite a unique collaboration, Winter plays slide guitar as Shatner recites the lyrics to Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’.” Was Winter a Star Trek fan back in the day? “Yeah,” he said. “I liked Star Trek.”
Of all Winter's recordings, his debut album, Johnny Winter, is still his favorite because “It was the first time I was able to do what I wanted." Winter continues to issue recordings in the Live Bootleg series to combat the unlicensed, sub-par material distributed widely prior to his intervention. “These are all good,” he promised.
We talked about his Grammy award-winning production work with Muddy Waters back in the '70s. I wondered if there was anyone in the business today Winter would consider working with in the same way. Sadly his answer was no. In fact there aren't any new artists he cares to work with. The reason? “Nobody’s good enough.”
Winter isn’t much of a fan of newer music either. He mostly listens to “stuff from the '20s up through the '60s.” He owns an iPod and likes the music on it but is more a vinyl fan than he is of digital music because “vinyl sounds better.”
Winter hopes the music of the old blues masters as well as his own will influence his younger listeners. He said, “Most people who come to my shows are over 50,” then added, "there are young kids, too.”
His advice to those interested in a career as a guitar player is to “listen to as much of the old music as you can.”
Back to those YouTube comments. I suggest that if he’s ever having a bad day he might surf over to the video site and bathe in the accolades. Johnny Winter got a chuckle out of that.