Guitar Player was the only guitar mag in existence when it first covered Johnny Winter back in 1970, and over the years we caught up with him at various times—the last being for the December, 2011 issue following Winter’s release of Roots, which featured guest performances by Warren Haynes, Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, Edgar Winter, and others.
Johnny was always a fun guy to talk with—he put you at ease, and was always very forthcoming about anything he was asked. I recall hearing the sound of rolling dice in the background when I spoke to him via phone for the 2011 story, which only added to the effect of “dropping in” on this supremely talented blues guitarist who had made such a huge impact on me when I was young.
One of the last points he made that day was that there was no one around like Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf or T-Bone Walker anymore.
There’s no one around like Johnny anymore either.
Here are a few quotes from the interviews GP did with Johnny over the years...
ON FEELING THE BLUES
“Mood definitely influences what I do. Blues is a communication thing, like talking to people and letting them know how you feel, and actually showing part of yourself and part of your life through music.”—February 1970
“I really like a lot of other kinds of music, but blues just does something to my insides. I don’t get tired of it or bored with it at all.”—August 1992
ON KNOWING SO MANY TURNAROUNDS
“It’s just listening to all those records, because I probably listened to literally every blues record I could find. I don’t know anymore where those turnarounds come from. I guess I mix them up, and they kind of come out my own way.”—August 1992
ON HIS GUITAR HEROES
“Oh, definitely Robert Johnson. Son House, of course. T-Bone Walker was always one of my favorites. If anybody invented the electric blues style, it was T-Bone. I learned probably more from listening to his stuff than any other guitar player.” —August 1992
“Muddy Waters was my favorite blues player of anybody. But Elmore James was also a big influence on me and my slide playing—probably more so than Muddy.”—December 2011
“I’ve still got a Bassman at home in Texas—that’s probably my all-time favorite amp. I used that Bassman for years and then switched to a Concert or a Super Reverb, and that’s just about the same thing with a little more power. The four 10s work better than any other configuration.”—August 1992
ON HIS BEST GUITAR PERFORMANCES
“I always kind of liked ‘Boot Hill’ [from his album Guitar Slinger]. The slow blues ‘Third Degree’ was one of the prettier songs. ‘Be Careful with a Fool’ [from Johnny Winter] was interesting. It’s easier to pick albums. I like the first Columbia record. I like The Progressive Blues Experiment for what it was. My favorite rock and roll record was Still Alive and Well. I don’t know if it’s just because this record is new, but I seem to really enjoy listening to Let Me In as much as any of the records that I’ve made.” —August 1992
ON USING A THUMBPICK
“I listened to Chet Atkins a lot when I was young, and he played with a thumbpick. And then my first guitar teacher—a guy named Luther Nallie from Beaumont, Texas—played with a thumbpick and got me doing it too. I really can’t play with a flatpick. I wouldn’t even try it. I play with a thumbpick and my first finger, and I do as much with my finger as I do with my thumb.” —December 2011
ON JIMI HENDRIX
“Oh, I loved Jimi. I couldn’t believe there was anybody who sounded that good. The first time I saw him in Houston I thought, “This can’t be real. Nobody is this good.” He was my alltime favorite guitar player. Still is. I jammed with him several times, and we recorded one song together. It was a Guitar Slim song called “Things I Used to Do,” and I played slide on it. We played it at The Scene [a nightclub in New York owned by Winter’s manager Steve Paul], and after the place closed that night, we went over to the Record Plant and recorded it.” —December 2011
ON WHAT HE LISTENS TO FOR INSPIRATION
“Mostly blues stuff from the ’50s and’60s—those are my favorite decades. Of course, I also listen to guys like Son House, who was from the ’30s. There’s some good acts around today, but nothing like Muddy or Howlin’ Wolf or T-Bone Walker. Nobody like that is around anymore.” —December 2011