RIP Johnny Winter: Texas Blues Icon Dies at Age 70


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Sony Archives
Johnny back in the day
"Yeah, there were several radio stations that played it. Beaumont had a black station, KJET," Winter remembers. "There was WLAC in Nashville, a 50,000-watt station. In Shreveport that was KWKH and a big station in Mexico, XKRS that Wolfman Jack was on. You could get those stations all the way up to Canada."

He adds that there was a good record store in Beaumont run buy a guy who owned few juke joints: "He had a good blues selection."

Houston has also played a role in Winter's life. "I loved Houston," he says. "We lived there several years and had a lot of good gigs there. A place called the Act III. There were holes in the dance floor!

"That must have been '66 or '67," he reflects. "And we played Rockefeller's a lot."

Among his many collaborations with musical heroes, peers and spawn, it's his relationship with Muddy Waters that stands above all. Winter produced the blue giant's last four records, including his 1977 comeback effort Hard Again.

"I loved Muddy," he offers. "We got to be great friends, real close. He liked me a lot too. I'd go over to his house in Chicago and he'd cook dinner for me."

Of any Texas musicians he feels never got the credit due them, Winter goes for an obscure one: Joey Long.

"Joey Long was really good," he says. "He played all over Texas and Louisiana, but never got successful. He was the first black guy I knew who made a living playing blues."

Today, as always, Winter is on the road, and is planning a series of celebratory birthday-night shows at B.B. King's in New York City. A new record is in the can and ready to be mixed, featuring collaborations with Dr. John, Billy Gibbons, Mark Knopfler, Joe Perry and Joe Bonamassa.

Finally, a trailer has just been posted for Down & Dirty, the documentary on Winter's life and career in music making its world premiere at this year's SXSW Film Festival.

"I've been working on it for a couple of years now, so I'm hoping it will be out [in general release] soon," he says, in the most animated tone of our entire interview. "It's exciting to have a movie done of your life!"


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