The blues world lost another one of its few remaining giants with the unexpected death of Johnny Winter on Wednesday. People may pass on but when it comes to a celebrated artist, their music lives on forever.
Larry “Mud” Morganfield, son of the legendary Muddy Waters – and a blues performer himself – described Winter as a “true legend.”
In addition to his lighting fast – yet still tasteful – playing, Winter will be forever revered by blues fans for resurrecting the career of the legendary Muddy Waters, producing three Grammy award-winning albums, beginning with Hard Again in 1977.
Morganfield noted Winter “died doing what he loved best,” and added, “What a way to go, on the road again.”
France-based blues artist Carl Wyatt, of Carl Wyatt and the Voodoo Kings, who is very Winter-esque in appearance (thin frame, long hair topped by a brimmed hat of some sort, and multiple tattoos), took it hard when he learned of Winter’s passing.
“Johnny had a huge influence on my music,” said the fellow slide player. “I never much covered his music besides the odd song here and there, but his guitar playing, and his persona, influenced me immensely.”
Wyatt added, “I think not many weeks passed by within the last 40 years where I didn’t listen to at least one song or even an album by Johnny… For me Johnny’s death is a big shock. For me it is way up there with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King and Lightnin’ Hopkins. A sunny day has turned to gray.”
A legally blind rail-thin albino who struck a memorable visage onstage, Winter was the fastest of the white blues players from the 1960s, and will go down as one of the best to play slide, white or black.
Wyatt, who lived with blues legend John Lee Hooker for a couple of years in the late 1990s, had the chance to open for Winter in France in November 2010.
“The gig ended up being well received and Johnny enjoyed it a lot too,” he said. “He actually went out of his way to tell me this.”
Female singer/guitarist Dani Wilde opened for Winter in 2011 in New York City’s Times Square as part of a “Girls with Guitars” collective that included Samantha Fish and Cassie Taylor.
For Wilde, it was a dream come true, as she grew up on the blues. Her parents were playing tunes by Winter and Waters, among others, when she was but two or three years old.
Wilde said Hard Again was the album whereby she discovered Johnny Winter and “it sure is one hell of a blues album.”
She added she got into his solo work in her teen years,”watching him rock out on “Hideaway,” “Messin’ with the Kid,” and “Jumping Jack Flash” on the Old Gret Whistle Test” videos.
When Wilde was 16, she had gotten tickets to a Winter concert but due to his ill health, he was unable to perform. He did make an appearance however.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Wilde. “Drink and drugs had really taken their toll on him and he looked like an old man even though he wasn’t so old at the time. I didn’t think he’d be around much longer. Fortunately, I was very wrong and he managed to get clean (with the help of manager and band mate/guitarist Paul Nelson) and have a huge comeback.”
Morganfield said of Winter, “I love him and I hope he reaches my dad and tells all the greats (up there) how well the blues and music is doing.”
Mark Southwick, owner of Connecticut-based Just Guitars, has always cited Winter, who settled in Easton, CT, after having lived in Texas and New York, as his all-time favorite guitarist.
“He played with such intensity, from the bottom of his soul,” said Southwick. “The music bled from him. He would do a lead run and just when you thought there was no more he would take you to another level, and do it time after time. There was no let-up and it was so effortless.”
Southwick added, “When I first heard him in 1968 he hit me hard and I knew he was special. When I first heard Leland Mississippi Blues the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and it still does to this day. Still to this day it makes me feel like it’s the first time.”
While Southwick is saddened by the fact he will never see his idol in concert again, he hopes that in death, Winter’s music “will become well known to many more people.”