The world lost a true blues legend today. And I lost a hero. The original guitar hero.
They don’t make ‘em like Johnny Winter anymore. Not even close. He was the bridge between American blues and rock and roll. His music blazed the trail for Southern rock like The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Muddy Waters called him his son because that’s what Johnny Winter was, the son of the blues.
This is the album and image I’ll always remember when I think of Johnny Winter. The quintessential rock star and guitar hero.
I remember my friend, Eric and I used to sit in his bedroom and listen to Johnny on his old portable Decca stereo where the turntable folded down and the speakers had lights that pulsed to the music. We were like 10 years old in 1972 when I first heard Johnny Winter from another classic album, Johnny Winter And…Live. The album begins with the classic rock and roll onslaught, Good Morning Little School Girl, which pretty much sums up Johnny’s playing and singing style in one song. It also pretty much sums up why I play rock and roll guitar.
Johnny’s guitar and voice just cut right through you like a Texas chainsaw. His playing was like a tornado. So raw and furious, so rock and roll and so blues all at the same time you couldn’t help but play air guitar to his solos. And if you really listened to Johnny Winter then you had to love his signature ‘YEAH!!’ that he would belt out in the middle of a solo like a rock and roll battle cry.
It was as though Johnny Winter took his cue from Chuck Berry and strapped that music to a 100,000 GigaWatt transformer, creating his own unique brand of supercharged American rock and roll. Listen to Johnny’s version of Johnny B. Goode and you get the whole picture.
I wonder if this generation will ever get to appreciate the depth and breadth of Johnny Winter’s contribution to music in general and blues in particular. Maybe Jimi Hendrix took the Rock God award and rightly so. But even Jimi would tell you the picture could never be complete without Johnny Winter.
Every guitar player out there today who ever played the blues owes a major debt of gratitude to Johnny Winter for embodying the true meaning of the blues and the outlaw spirit of rock and roll.
I could go on but there will be enough tributes and discographies mentioned for the curious to follow.
I’m just happy to have grown up at a time when Johnny Winter ruled the roost. When everyone who was anyone in the blues and rock and roll mentioned his name as a major guitar tour de force. Every rock and roll note I play has a little bit of Johnny in it. So thank you from the depths of my rock and roll soul, Johnny.
We bow our heads today to a true guitar hero.