John Dawson Winter III (February 23, 1944 – July 16, 2014) was an American singer and guitarist. Winter was known for his high-energy
blues rock Blues rock is a fusion music genre A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from ''musical form'' and musical style, alth ...
albums and live performances in the late 1960s and 1970s. He also produced three
Grammy Award The Grammy Award (stylized as GRAMMY, originally called Gramophone Award), or just Grammy, is an award presented by the Recording Academy, the US Recording Academy to recognize "Outstanding Achievement in the music industry" of the United State ...
–winning albums for blues singer and guitarist
Muddy Waters McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913April 30, 1983), known professionally as Muddy Waters, was an American blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by Afric ...

Muddy Waters
. After his time with Waters, Winter recorded several Grammy-nominated blues albums. In 1988, he was inducted into the
Blues Foundation The Blues Foundation is an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United ...
Hall of Fame and in 2003, he was ranked 63rd in ''Rolling Stone'' magazine's list of the " 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".

Early life

Johnny Winter was born in
Beaumont, Texas Beaumont ( ) is a city in and the county seat A county seat is an administrative centerAn administrative centre is a seat of regional administration or local government, or a county town, or the place where the central administration of a Tow ...
, on February 23, 1944. He and younger brother
Edgar Edgar is a commonly used English given name English names are names used in, or originating in, England England is a that is part of the . It shares land borders with to its west and to its north. The lies northwest of England an ...

(born 1946) were nurtured at an early age by their parents in musical pursuits. Their father, Leland, Mississippi native John Dawson Winter Jr. (1909–2001), was also a musician who played saxophone and guitar and sang at churches, weddings, Kiwanis and Rotary Club gatherings. Johnny and his brother, both of whom were born with
albinism Albinism is the congenital absence of any pigmentation or colouration in a person, animal or plant, resulting in white hair, feathers, scales and skin and pink eyes in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish and invertebrates as well. V ...
, began performing at an early age. When he was ten years old, the brothers appeared on a local children's show with Johnny playing ukulele.


Early career

His recording career began at the age of 15, when his band Johnny and the Jammers released "School Day Blues" on a Houston record label. During this same period, he was able to see performances by classic blues artists such as Muddy Waters,
B.B. King Riley B. King (September 16, 1925 – May 14, 2015), known professionally as B.B. King, was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. He introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bendingString bending ...
, and
Bobby Bland Robert Calvin Bland (born Robert Calvin Brooks; January 27, 1930 – June 23, 2013), known professionally as Bobby "Blue" Bland, was an American blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the ...
. In the early days, Winter would sometimes sit in with
Roy Head Roy Kent Head (January 9, 1941 – September 21, 2020) was an American singer, best known for his hit song "Treat Her Right Treat Her Right was a rock music, rock group formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1985. The band originally featured Mark ...
and the Traits when they performed in the Beaumont area, and in 1967, Winter recorded a single with the Traits: "
Tramp A tramp is a long-term homeless Homelessness is the condition of lacking stable, safe, and adequate housing. People can be categorized as homeless if they are: * living on the streets (primary homelessness); * moving between temporary ...
" backed with "
Parchman Farm Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is a maximum-security prison farm located in unincorporated area, unincorporated Sunflower County, Mississippi, Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region. Oc ...
" (Universal Records 30496). In 1968, he released his first album ''
The Progressive Blues Experiment ''The Progressive Blues Experiment'' is the debut album by American blues rock musician Johnny Winter. He recorded it in August 1968 at the Vulcan Gas Company, an Austin music club, with his original trio of Tommy Shannon on bass guitar and John "R ...
'', on Austin's
Sonobeat Records Sonobeat Records was an independent record label owned by Bill Josey Sr. and Bill Josey Jr. The father and son team created an eclectic library of hundreds of recordings of singers, musicians, and bands in Austin, Texas between the years of 1967 an ...

Signing with Columbia Records

Winter caught his biggest break in December 1968, when
Mike Bloomfield Michael Bernard Bloomfield (July 28, 1943 – February 15, 1981) was an American guitarist and composer, born in Chicago, Illinois (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive ...
, whom he met and jammed with in Chicago, invited him to sing and play a song during a Bloomfield and
Al Kooper Al Kooper (born Alan Peter Kuperschmidt, February 5, 1944) is an American songwriter, record producer and musician, known for organizing Blood, Sweat & Tears, although he did not stay with the group long enough to share its popularity. Througho ...
concert at the
Fillmore East The Fillmore East was rock promoter Bill Graham's rock venue on Second Avenue near East 6th Street in the (at the time) Lower East Side The Lower East Side, sometimes abbreviated as LES and sometimes referred to as Loisaida, is a neighbor ...
in New York City. As it happened, representatives of
Columbia Records Columbia Records is an American record label A record label, or record company, is a brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other seller ...

Columbia Records
(which had released the Top Ten Bloomfield/Kooper/Stephen Stills, Stills ''Super Session'' album) were at the concert. Winter played and sang B.B. King's "It's My Own Fault" to loud applause, and within a few days, was signed to what was reportedly the largest advance in the history of the recording industry at that time—$600,000. Winter's first Columbia album, ''Johnny Winter (album), Johnny Winter'', was recorded and released in 1969. It featured the same backing musicians with whom he had recorded ''The Progressive Blues Experiment'', bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Uncle John Turner, plus Edgar Winter on keyboards and saxophone on 2 tracks, and (for his "Mean Mistreater") Willie Dixon on upright bass and Big Walter Horton on harmonica. The album featured a few selections that became Winter signature songs, including his composition "Dallas" (an acoustic blues, on which Winter played a steel-bodied, resonator guitar), Sonny Boy Williamson I, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson's "Good Morning Little School Girl", and B.B. King's "Be Careful with a Fool". The album's success coincided with Imperial Records picking up ''The Progressive Blues Experiment'' for wider release. The same year, the Winter trio toured and performed at several rock festivals, including Woodstock festival, Woodstock. With brother Edgar added as a full member of the group, Winter also recorded his second album, ''Second Winter'', in Nashville in 1969. The two-disc album only had three recorded sides (the fourth was blank). It introduced more staples of Winter's concerts, including Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited". Johnny entered into a short-lived affair with Janis Joplin, which culminated at a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, where Johnny joined her on stage to sing and perform.

Unofficial albums

Contrary to urban legend, Johnny Winter did not perform with Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison on the infamous 1968 Hendrix bootleg album ''Bleeding Heart (album), Woke up this Morning and Found Myself Dead'' from New York City's The Scene (performance venue), the Scene club. According to Winter, "I never even met Jim Morrison! There's a whole album of Jimi and Jim and I'm supposedly on the album but I don't think I am 'cause I never met Jim Morrison in my life! I'm sure I never, never played with Jim Morrison at all! I don't know how that [rumor] got started." Beginning in 1969, the first of numerous Johnny Winter albums was released which were cobbled together from approximately fifteen singles (about 30 "sides") he recorded before signing with Columbia in 1969. Many were produced by Roy Ames, owner of Home Cooking Records/Clarity Music Publishing, who had briefly managed Winter. According to an article from the ''Houston Press'', Winter left town for the express purpose of getting away from him. Ames died on August 14, 2003, of natural causes at age 66. As Ames left no obvious heirs, the ownership rights of the Ames master recordings remains unclear. As Winter stated in an interview when the subject of Roy Ames came up, "This guy has screwed so many people it makes me mad to even talk about him."

Johnny Winter And

In 1970, when his brother Edgar released a solo album ''Entrance (album), Entrance'' and formed Edgar Winter's White Trash, an R&B/jazz-rock group, the original trio disbanded. Johnny Winter then formed a new band with the remnants of the McCoys—guitarist Rick Derringer, bassist Randy Jo Hobbs, and drummer Randy Z (who was Derringer's brother, their family name being Zehringer). Originally to be called "Johnny Winter and the McCoys", the name was shortened to "Johnny Winter And", which was also the name of their Johnny Winter And, first album. The album included Derringer's "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" and signaled a more rock-oriented direction for Winter. When Johnny Winter And began to tour, Randy Z was replaced with drummer Bobby Caldwell (drummer), Bobby Caldwell. Their mixture of the new rock songs with Winter's blues songs was captured on the live album ''Live Johnny Winter And''. It included a new performance of "It's My Own Fault", the song which brought Winter to the attention of Columbia Records. Winter's momentum was throttled when he sank into heroin addiction during the Johnny Winter And days. After he sought treatment for and recovered from the addiction, Winter was put in front of the music press by manager Steve Paul to discuss the addiction candidly. By 1973, he returned to the music scene with the release of ''Still Alive and Well'', a basic blend of blues and hard rock, whose title track was written by Rick Derringer. His comeback concert at Long Island, New York's Nassau Coliseum featured the "And" line-up minus Rick Derringer and Bobby Caldwell. Also performing on stage was Johnny's wife Susie. ''Saints & Sinners (Johnny Winter album), Saints & Sinners'' and ''John Dawson Winter III'', two albums released in 1974, continue in the same direction. In 1975, Johnny returned to Bogalusa, Louisiana, to produce an album for Thunderhead, a Southern rock band which included Pat Rush and Bobby "T" Torello, who would later play with Winter. A second live Winter album, ''Captured Live!'', was released in 1976 and features an extended performance of "Highway 61 Revisited".

Muddy Waters sessions

In live performances, Winter often told the story about how, as a child, he dreamed of playing with the blues guitarist
Muddy Waters McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913April 30, 1983), known professionally as Muddy Waters, was an American blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by Afric ...

Muddy Waters
. He got his chance in 1974, when renowned blues artists and their younger brethren came together to honor the musician (Muddy Waters) responsible for bringing blues to Chicago, and the resulting concert presented many blues classics and was the start of an admired TV series: Soundstage (TV series), Soundstage (this particular session was called "Blues Summit in Chicago"). And in 1977, after Waters' long-time label Chess Records went out of business, Winter brought Waters into the studio to record ''Hard Again'' for Blue Sky Records, a label set up by Winter's manager and distributed by Columbia. In addition to producing the album, Winter played guitar with Waters veteran James Cotton on harmonica. Winter produced two more studio albums for Waters, ''I'm Ready (Muddy Waters album), I'm Ready'' (with Big Walter Horton on harmonica) and ''King Bee (album), King Bee'' and a best-selling live album ''Muddy "Mississippi" Waters – Live''. The partnership produced three Grammy Awards for Waters and an additional Grammy for Winter's own ''Nothin' But the Blues (Johnny Winter album), Nothin' But the Blues'', with backing by members of Waters' band. Waters told ''Deep Blues'' author Robert Palmer (writer), Robert Palmer that Winter had done remarkable work in reproducing the sound and atmosphere of Waters's vintage Chess Records recordings of the 1950s. AllMusic writer Mark Deming noted: "Between ''Hard Again'' and ''The Last Waltz'' [1976 concert film by The Band], Waters enjoyed a major career boost, and he found himself touring again for large and enthusiastic crowds".

Lawsuit against DC Comics

In 1996, Johnny and Edgar filed suit against DC Comics and the creators of the ''Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such'' limited series, claiming, among other things, defamation: two characters named Johnny and Edgar Autumn in the series strongly resemble the Winters. The brothers claimed the comics falsely portrayed them as "vile, depraved, stupid, cowardly, subhuman individuals who engage in wanton acts of violence, murder and bestiality for pleasure and who should be killed." The California Supreme Court sided with DC Comics, holding that the comic books were deserving of First Amendment protection.

Later career

After his time with Blue Sky Records, Winter began recording for several labels, including Alligator Records, Alligator, Point Blank Records, Point Blank, and Virgin Records, Virgin, where he focused on blues-oriented material. In 1992, he married Susan Warford. In 2004, he received a
Grammy Award The Grammy Award (stylized as GRAMMY, originally called Gramophone Award), or just Grammy, is an award presented by the Recording Academy, the US Recording Academy to recognize "Outstanding Achievement in the music industry" of the United State ...
nomination for his ''I'm a Bluesman'' album. Beginning in 2007, a series of live Winter albums titled the ''Live Bootleg Series'' and Live from Japan, a live DVD all entered the Top 10 ''Billboard charts, Billboard'' Blues chart. In 2009, ''The Woodstock Experience'' album was released, which includes eight songs that Winter performed at the 1969 festival. In 2011, Johnny Winter released ''Roots (Johnny Winter album), Roots'' on Megaforce Records. It includes Winter's interpretation of eleven early blues and rock 'n' roll classics and features several guest artists (Vince Gill, Sonny Landreth, Susan Tedeschi, Edgar Winter, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks). His last studio album, ''Step Back (album), Step Back'' (which features appearances by Joe Bonamassa, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Leslie West, Brian Setzer, Dr. John, Paul Nelson (musician), Paul Nelson, Ben Harper and Joe Perry (musician), Joe Perry), was released on September 2, 2014. Nelson and Winter won a Grammy Award in the Best Blues Album category for ''Step Back (album), Step Back'' in 2015. Nelson said Winter knew it was an award winner and Winter told him "If we don't win a Grammy for this, they're nuts." Winter continued to perform live, including at festivals throughout North America and Europe. He headlined such prestigious events as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, the 2009 Sweden Rock Festival, the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, and Rockpalast. He also performed with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theatre (New York City), Beacon Theater in New York City on the 40th anniversary of their debut. In 2007 and 2010, Winter performed at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festivals. Two guitar instructional DVDs were produced by Cherry Lane Music and the Hal Leonard Corporation. The Gibson Guitar Company released the signature Johnny Winter Gibson Firebird, Firebird guitar in a ceremony in Nashville with Slash (musician), Slash presenting.


Winter was professionally active until the time of his death near Zürich, Switzerland, on July 16, 2014. He was found dead in his hotel room two days after his last performance, at the Cahors#Culture, Cahors Blues Festival in France. The cause of Winter's death was not officially released. According to his guitarist friend and record producer Paul Nelson (musician), Paul Nelson, Winter died of emphysema combined with pneumonia.Torem, Lisa (February 9, 2015)
"Paul Nelson: Interview Part 1"
Penny Black Music. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
Writing in ''Rolling Stone'' magazine, after Winter's death, David Marchese said, "Winter was one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos, releasing a string of popular and fiery albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, becoming an arena-level concert draw in the process" ... [he] "made an iconic life for himself by playing the blues".

Recognition and legacy

Winter produced three
Grammy Award The Grammy Award (stylized as GRAMMY, originally called Gramophone Award), or just Grammy, is an award presented by the Recording Academy, the US Recording Academy to recognize "Outstanding Achievement in the music industry" of the United State ...
-winning albums by
Muddy Waters McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913April 30, 1983), known professionally as Muddy Waters, was an American blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by Afric ...

Muddy Waters
– ''Hard Again'' (1977), ''I'm Ready (Muddy Waters album), I'm Ready'' (1978), and ''Muddy "Mississippi" Waters – Live'' (1979). Several of Winter's own albums were nominated for Grammy Awards – ''Guitar Slinger (Johnny Winter album), Guitar Slinger'' (1984) and ''Serious Business (album), Serious Business'' (1985) for Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, Best Traditional Blues Album, and ''Let Me In (Johnny Winter album), Let Me In'' (1991) and ''I'm a Bluesman'' (2004) for Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Best Contemporary Blues Album. In 2015 Winter posthumously won the Grammy Award for Best Blues Album for ''Step Back (album), Step Back''.Tobias, Mike (February 8, 2015)
"Winter's ''Step Back'' Wins Grammy for Best Blues Album"
''The Beaumont Enterprise''. Retrieved February 9, 2015.
The album also won the 2015 Blues Music Award for Best Rock Blues Album. At the 18th Maple Blues Awards in 2015, Winter was also posthumously awarded the B.B. King International Artist of The Year Award. In 1980, Winter was on the cover of the first issue of ''Guitar World''. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the first non-African-American performer to be inducted into the Hall. Multiple guitarists have cited Winter as an influence, including Joe Perry (musician), Joe Perry, Frank Marino, Michael Schenker, Adrian Smith, and Alex Skolnick. In her audiobook ''May You Live in Interesting Times: A Memoir'' (2021), comedian and founding ''Saturday Night Live'' cast member Laraine Newman recounts losing her virginity to Johnny Winter at the age of 17 in the late 1960s.

Guitars and picking style

Winter played a variety of guitars during his career, but he is probably best known for his use of Gibson Firebirds. He owned several, but favored a 1963 Firebird V model. Winter explained: The Firebird V was a departure from Gibson's traditional configuration, with mini-humbucker pickups in place of the company's standard sized PAF (pickup), PAF humbucker or P-90 single-coil pickup models. In a 2014 interview, Winter described the tone: In 2008, the Gibson Custom Shop issued a signature Johnny Winter Firebird V in a ceremony in Nashville with Slash (musician), Slash presenting. In 1984, luthier Mark Erlewine approached Winter with his Lazer electric guitar. With its unusual design (for the time) without a headstock and having a small body, Winter responded immediately: "the first day I plugged it in, it sounded so good that I wanted to use it for a gig that night." He commented: Other guitars that Winter owned and played include a Gibson ES-125 (his first electric guitar), a Fender Stratocaster, a Gibson Les Paul/Gibson SG, SG Custom, a Fender Mustang, a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop with P-90 pickups, a Gibson Flying V, an Epiphone Wilshire, a Gibson Les Paul Custom, Gibson Black Beauty, a Fender Electric XII (with only the regular six strings), and an acoustic National String Instrument Corporation, National Resonator. Winter played with a Fingerpick, thumb pick and his fingers. His picking style was inspired by Chet Atkins and Merle Travis and he never used a Guitar pick, flat pick. Winter preferred a plastic thumb pick sold by Gibson and a steel pinky slide, later marketed by Dunlop Manufacturing, Dunlop.


Studio albums *''
The Progressive Blues Experiment ''The Progressive Blues Experiment'' is the debut album by American blues rock musician Johnny Winter. He recorded it in August 1968 at the Vulcan Gas Company, an Austin music club, with his original trio of Tommy Shannon on bass guitar and John "R ...
'' (Sonobeat 1968, re-released by UA/Imperial 1969) *''Johnny Winter (album), Johnny Winter'' (Columbia 1969) *''Second Winter'' (Columbia 1969) *''Johnny Winter And'' (Columbia 1970) *''Still Alive and Well'' (Columbia 1973) *''Saints & Sinners (Johnny Winter album), Saints & Sinners'' (Columbia 1974) *''John Dawson Winter III'' (Columbia 1974) *''Nothin' but the Blues (Johnny Winter album), Nothin' but the Blues'' (Blue Sky 1977) *''White, Hot and Blue'' (Blue Sky 1978) *''Raisin' Cain'' (Blue Sky 1980) *''Guitar Slinger (Johnny Winter album), Guitar Slinger'' (Alligator 1984) *''Serious Business (album), Serious Business'' (Alligator 1985) *''Third Degree'' (Alligator 1986) *''The Winter of '88'' (MCA/Voyager 1988) *''Let Me In (Johnny Winter album), Let Me In'' (Point Blank 1991) *''Hey, Where's Your Brother?'' (Point Blank 1992) *''I'm a Bluesman'' (Virgin 2004) *''Roots (Johnny Winter album), Roots'' (Megaforce 2011) *''Step Back (album), Step Back'' (Megaforce 2014) Live albums * ''Live Johnny Winter And'' (Columbia 1971) * ''Captured Live!'' (Blue Sky 1976) * ''Together: Edgar Winter and Johnny Winter Live, Together'' (Blue Sky 1976) – with Edgar Winter * ''Live in NYC '97'' (Virgin 1998) * ''The Woodstock Experience'' (Sony/Legacy 2009) * ''Live at the Fillmore East 10/3/70'' (Collectors' Choice 2010)


External links

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Winter, Johnny 1944 births 2014 deaths 20th-century American guitarists 20th-century American male musicians Alligator Records artists American blues guitarists American blues harmonica players American blues mandolinists American blues singer-songwriters American male guitarists American rock guitarists Blues rock musicians Columbia Records artists Electric blues musicians Grammy Award winners Guitarists from Texas Lead guitarists People from Beaumont, Texas People with albinism Relix Records artists Slide guitarists Singer-songwriters from Texas Texas blues musicians American male singer-songwriters Deaths from emphysema Deaths from pneumonia in Switzerland