“I always like stories about people that drink and have drug problems and women problems,” says Johnny in this film. “Its just interesting.”
The feature length documentary, Johnny Winter Down & Dirty is available right now for download on iTunes and on DVD from Amazon. Directed by Greg Olliver, this film is Winter in his own words; his own clean and (mostly) sober words.
An addict for most of his life, Johnny Winter took the world by storm in the late 1960s as one of the premier purveyors of electric blues. Being born an Albino in the East Texas town of Beaumont, he felt a kinship to the African-American blues artists he heard on the radio. “Just cause you’re a different color, they don’t like it? You don’t like black people because they’re black? They didn’t like me because I was too white.”, he explains about his young days with the bullying and fights that came with them.
It was this sentiment, in reverse order, that convinced BB King to let a 17 year old Winter come up on stage with him during a performance at Beaumont’s Raven Club.
This film is chock full of stories just like that. Told by either Winter himself, or through flashback footage of television interviews with the legends he admired. King, Muddy Waters, James Cotton and a host of other blues greats share their stories and feelings about the slide guitar slinging phenom.
Rare and sometimes never before seen footage and photographs intermingle with the anecdotes of Winter as the film follows him on a two year world tour. From France, Hong Kong, New Orleans and his very own hometown, Winter regales the viewer with tales of his successes and failures with no holds barred and no sores not opened.
One of the main focal points is his recovery from addiction with the help of his manager and band mate, Paul Nelson. The rumors of Winter’s heroin addiction are the stuff of legend, however when the truth comes out we learn that he only used heroin for a couple of years. It was the 35 year methadone addiction that nearly killed him on more than one occasion.
We also get extremely intimate glimpses into other aspects of his personal life. His working relationship with his band members, past and present; the drugs he used for the better part of five decades; his switch from playing the blues to rock & roll and back again; stories of other famous players he knew personally and his wife of over 20 years.
Winter’s younger brother Edgar, his guitar teacher Luther Nallie (of Sons of the Pioneers fame) and former band mate Tommy Shannon give their respective accounts of their personal relationships with Johnny as well as on his meteoric rise to fame and near fall from grace. Other artist/fans including Clive Davis, Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Joe Perry, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi also share their thoughts.
There are bits of humor where you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at Winter’s shenanigans and moments such as his return to his childhood home or his reflections on Muddy Waters where you may find yourself caught with a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye.
Our favorite facet of the film was in learning, many of us for the first time, Winter’s feelings about some of the artists and managers he’d worked with over the years and bits of trivia that made us say, “a-ha” aloud. A prime example was realizing how the Water’s album, Hard Again, got its name.
This is two years in the company of a legend, compressed into less than an hour and a half; but an hour and a half that you’ll want to relive again and again. At one point near the end of this unembellished chronicle, the interviewer asks Winter, “Why should people watch this film?” His response, “I’ve been through a lot of shit…” That may well be our second choice for the title.
Johnny Winter Down & Dirty
Running Time: 84 minutes
Release Date: March 4th, 2016