On the heels of his latest CD Roots, legendary American bluesman Johnny Winter performs at the Memorial Centre Oct. 13.
Winter has enjoyed a long and fascinating ride at the forefront of his genre, first signing to Columbia Records back in 1969.
Over the next couple of decades, he was the unofficial ‘torchbearer’ for the blues.
Winter formed his first band Johnny and the Jammers in 1959 at the age of 15 with his 12-year-old brother Edgar on keyboards. It was a rough time in Texas in those days, with racial tensions surfacing.
But Winter always felt welcome in the African-American community and was indeed influenced by the musical styles and cultural richness he encountered.
“I went to black clubs all the time, and nobody ever bothered me. I always felt welcome.”
He also became friends with Clarence Garlow, a deejay at the black radio station KJET in Beaumont. He opened Winter’s eyes and ears to rural blues and Cajun music.
There’s also a famous story about a time in 1962 when Winter and his brother went to see B.B. King at a Beaumont club called The Raven.
“I was about 17 and B.B. didn’t want to let me on stage at first,” he recalls. “He asked me for a union card, and I had one. Also I kept sending people over to ask him to let me play. Finally, he decided that there enough people who wanted to hear me that, no matter if I was good or not, it would be worth it to let me on stage. He gave me his guitar and let me play.
“I got standing ovation, and he took his guitar back.”
Winter’s big breakthrough came in 1968 when Rolling Stone writers Larry Sepulvado and John Burks featured him in a piece on the Texas Music scene. The attention prompted a bidding war among labels that Columbia won. His self-titled 1969 disc announced there was a new guitar-slinger on the national scene.
The album peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard chart and was followed by Second Winter later that same year.
Winter stayed with Columbia and for more than a decade, turning out such well-received projects as Johnny Winter And (1970), Still Alive and Well (1973) and John Dawson Winter III (1974).
Meanwhile, his latest disc, Roots, pays homage to the iconic blues heroes whose pioneering music influenced Winter’s own signature sound and style.
The CD is a follow-up to his Grammy-nominated I’m a Blues Man.
Winter also continues to tour nationally and internationally with his acclaimed band, performing more than 120 shows each year.
For tickets to his Red Deer show, visit www.centralalbertatheatre.ca or call 403-347-0800.