UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Johnny Winter’s Fans Don’t Mind Getting the Blues


The Blues is a musical genre that has made an incredible impact on our American musical culture and history. It has taken many incarnations since its beginning as a music originally identified with the African roots of the Deep South. It is emotional and powerful with a special quality that helps to musically translate the human character and spirit. It has saved people from the horrors of slavery and of intense poverty to mourning a lost love. It is both complex and simple and with its words and rhythm, and no matter how it is performed, there is no other style of music that has ever come close in influencing so many generations of people.

Countless musicians have played the blues. Many have begun their musical career playing the blues and went different paths to other styles like jazz or Rock. But even though they changed the music, the blues will always be at their inner core. Fans who love rock and who follow such musicians as Jimmy Page: Led Zeppelin, Keith Richards of the Stones or Eric Clapton know that they all had their roots in the Blues and will always have the complete respect to musicians like Winter who kept the Blues alive.

Johnny Winter is one of those musicians who thankfully never stopped playing the Blues and at almost sixty-five can still saturate a room with a signature sound that is only his. He proved it again at a capacity crowd Showcase Live in Foxboro along with his current band; Vito Liuzzi, drums, Paul Nelson, guitar, and Scott Spray, bass, all  of who are amazing musicians. Winter played a short but comprehensive set that proved why he is one of the best blues guitar players that ever lived. Sitting down for his entire performance and looking a bit fragile, having his head almost completely down and covered by a huge Texan Hat, it would seem that this show if anything would be lacking in energy. But Winter played the blues like it was his second nature; which of course it is.

Covering over thirteen songs that included Freddie King’s “Hideaway”, Bob Dylan’s  “Highway 61” and Jimi Hendrix, “Red House” and Winter’s own, “Boney Maronie proved that the Blues were still very much alive and well in the 21st century.

Winter first became interested in music by listening to 50’s rock roll in his hometown of Beaumont Texas. His first band, which started when he was fifteen was primarily rock and roll, was called Johnny and the Jammers. A younger member of the band who played the keyboards was his younger brother Edgar who years later would also find a successful career with such hits as “Frankenstein” and ultimately taking the direction towards hard rock rather than the blues.

Beaumont, Texas in the fifties was racially divided and so was the music. But Winter often found himself in the black neighborhoods listening and playing the blues having no fear of racial problems. Interestingly, Winter is an Albino (born with no pigmentation) so if there was ever a color difference, this was it. But still, Johnny had no fear and felt comfortable attending clubs that were predominantly black but it did not matter, the blues was becoming a big part of his life.

In 1962 at just seventeen, Winter attended a show featuring BB King at an all black club in Beaumont called the Raven. Winter tried to get on stage to play with BB, finally got the chance, got an overwhelming applause from the audience and what seemed a jealous rage prompted BB to grab his guitar and throw him off the stage.

Winter eventually grabbed the attention of Rolling Stone magazine which wrote a piece promoting Winter’s talent. Then in 1969, Johnny debuts with an album that covered everything from BB King’s Memphis Blues  to Robert Johnson, Delta Blues and some Texan styles from Lightnin’ Hopkins. An adding to the mix was two of Winter’s originals called “Dallas” and I’m yours and I’m Hers”.

Winter was on his way and had also shown a new generation of what Blues was all about while helping Bluesman he had most admired like Muddy Waters by collaborating with the Grammy award winner “Hard Again” and other musical projects. Muddy considered him his “adoptive son”. Looking back I remember seeing Muddy Waters at U.Mass Amherst some years ago realizing now how fortunate I was to see him perform.

Now in 2010 and after a serious of not so productive years and rough times, Winter is back touring, often featuring local performers like Johnny A and James Montgomery and Barry Goudreau at his shows. Because of musicians there will always be a following for the Blues, a true dedication by the ones that play and the ones that listen. It is a collaboration and a connection that gives the Blues that unique strength and energy, making it one the most amazing musical genres of all time.

About the Contributor
Bonnie Godas served as the arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: Spring 2009; 2009-2010