WINTERíS FIRE FOREVER BURNS:
PCCíS VINTAGE INTERVIEW WITH GUITAR LEGEND JOHNNY WINTER


By Paul Freeman

Born in Beaumont, Texas in 1944. Died in Zurich, Switzerland in 2014. In between, guitarist Johnny Winter delivered some of the most electrifying blues-rock music ever heard on this planet. He was a man of few words who spoke through an infinite number of lingering licks.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
Youíre returning to the Fillmore in San Francisco. Does the venue hold special memories for you?

JOHNNY WINTER:
Yeah, there are a lot of special memories.

PCC:
What makes the atmosphere of that place so special?

WINTER:
Oh, man, itís just all the days of acid andÖ [laughs]Ö and sex and rock íní roll. You know?

PCC:
You remember good times there yourself?

WINTER:
Yeah, definitely.

PCC:
And receptive audiences.

WINTER:
Yeah, really good audiences.

PCC:
Have you found that, over the years, there has really always been a loyal audience for the blues, whether the media is paying attention or not?

WINTER:
Oh, definitely, yeah.

PCC:
You hear about a revival or a resurgence, but itís pretty steady, isnít it?

WINTER:
Yeah, it never goes away.

PCC:
Why do you think that is?

WINTER:
Thereís just always going to be an audience for the blues. I donít know what it is that makes some people love it and the majority of people not care about it. The average person doesnít like blues. But the people that feel it and love it are going to always be there.

PCC:
Do think itís the emotion of the music that fans do respond to?

WINTER:
Yeah, I do.

PCC:
In blues music, it seems like thereís an appreciation for artists getting better with age, something you donít necessarily find in pop, where theyíre always looking for the next teen sensation. Do you feel that people anticipate blues artists improving as they gain more life experience?

WINTER:
Yeah, they do.

PCC:
How about your own playing style? How has that evolved over the years?

WINTER:
I donít think itís changed a whole lot. The way I play is just always going to be the way I play. I donít know if Iíve improved that muchÖ but Iíve probably mellowed out a little bit.

PCC:
So does that mean getting a bit more subtle in the playing?

WINTER:
Yeah.

PCC:
When you were a kid, you started out on clarinet?

WINTER:
Yeah, when I was a little kid.

PCC:
Do you think that could have been a lifelong instrument for you, under other circumstances? Did you connect with it?

WINTER:
I had an overbite that kept me from playing the clarinet. Thatís why I had to stop. I had a bad overbite and the clarinet would maybe make it worse.

PCC:
But you enjoyed it while you played it?

WINTER:
Yeah, I loved playing clarinet. I hated it, when I couldnít play clarinet anymore.

PCC:
And then you went to the ukulele?

WINTER:
Yeah, that was fun. I got to be pretty good at that. But I donít think I could make a living as a uke player.

PCC:
With guitar, did it seem like there was some kind of magical connection, right from the start?

WINTER:
Yeah, it felt real good.

PCC:
And at the beginning, did you play roots songs - Sun records, Buddy Holly?

WINTER:
Yeah, that kind of stuff.

PCC:
And then how did you segue into the blues?

WINTER:
Uh, I just finally found it on the radio. There were radio stations that had blues shows on. And Iíd listen to Ďem in bars that would pick up the stations. That was a big source of enjoyment - my love of the blues.

PCC:
Did you start out by trying to copy licks off the blues records you heard?

WINTER:
Yeah, I sure did.

PCC:
Did it take quite a while before your own style evolved?

WINTER:
Yeah, it did.

PCC:
Is that something that just happens naturally or do you have to work at it consciously?

WINTER:
It happens naturally.

PCC:
What was it about the blues that appealed to you?

WINTER:
Itís pure. It wasnít just manufactured music. It was music from the heart.

PCC:
It must have meant a lot to you to be able to actually get to play with legends like Muddy Waters.

WINTER:
Yeah, that was a big deal for me.j

PCC:
Do you feel like youíre part of history, when youíre on stage with somebody like that?

WINTER:
Yeah.

PCC:
Have you been conscious along the way of trying to preserve the blues? People sometimes warn that it might be disappearing.

WINTER:
Yeah, I definitely want to do that.

PCC:
As you play to new generations, it must be satisfying to introduce the blues to new audiences.

WINTER:
Yeah, definitely.

PCC:
Is that one of your goals?

WINTER:
Yeah, I want to keep doing it. Iím not ready to chuck it in yet.

PCC:
Youíve had health problems in recent years. Howís everything now?

WINTER:
Real good. I still canít play standing up. I have to sit down. I had the hip surgery.

PCC:
Is it difficult to summon up all the energy you need for the touring?

WINTER:
Not at all. I just canít stand up for a long time.

PCC:
Isnít it hard to bring all that energy, night after night, year after year?

WINTER:
No, itís not hard. Itís the music that gives me the energy.

PCC:
Are the satisfactions different after all these years?

WINTER:
I think theyíre probably a little different. I think that before, I was just playing to get a girl and now Iím just concentrating on the music.

PCC:
Youíre married now?

WINTER:
Yeah.

PCC:
Youíre based in Connecticut?

WINTER:
Yeah.

PCC:
What made you decide to live there?

WINTER:
We used to have a place in New York. But thing were getting really hairy in there [chuckles]. So we decided to get a place in Connecticut, because my wife likes to grow things. We found a nice place. And itís not far to New York, so I can play. So weíve got everything. Iíve gotten really used to Connecticut now. Itís real nice.

PCC:
Do you find that music has a healing quality for you, either emotionally or physically?

WINTER:
Oh, yeah. Definitely.

PCC:
What does it do?

WINTER:
It just makes me feel good.

PCC:
And you do feel confident that the blues will survive indefinitely?

WINTER:
Definitely.

PCC:
What makes you feel that way?

WINTER:
It just seems like, throughout my life, and it seems like even before that, from the first of the century and further back, it was there. And it changes sometimes, but itís still there. Itís there for each new generation. It just seems like itís always going to be around, because itís just got such a great feeling to it. People feel this music.

PCC:
Do you think it has to change along the way to survive?

WINTER:
Itíll probably change.

PCC:
And thatís okay?

WINTER:
Yeah, I think so. But I think there will aways be the artists who want to be traditional and not change.

PCC:
Any young guitarists whose work excites you?

WINTER:
Yeah, uh [pauses]Ö Let me think. That guy that was playing with The Allman BrothersÖ

PCC:
Derek Trucks?

WINTER:
Yeah, Derek. I think heís just an excellent player.

PCC:
What projects do you have coming up next?

WINTER:
Iíll be recording again as soon as I get off, after this tour.

PCC:
What direction do you think it will take?

WINTER:
Pretty much blues. Weíve got some songs that are a bit more commercial blues, I guess youíd say. Weíve got a little bit of everything, really.

PCC:
I read that youíre going to be working on your autobiography.

WINTER:
Yeah, thatís going to be happening very soon. I donít how hard itís going to be. Iím not sure. But Iím going to give it a try.

PCC:
What do hope people will take away from your story?

WINTER:
That Iím still here to tell the story [laughs].

PCC:
Youíre a true survivor.

WINTER:
Yeah, itís unbelievable. I never thought Iíd live this long.

PCC:
And your music living so long, whatís the key to that?

WINTER:
I canít really say.

PCC:
Maybe just the honesty of your playing, keeping your music real?

WINTER:
Yeah, I believe so.

PCC:
Was it tough to stay true to yourself, true to your music, while having to deal with the industry?

WINTER:
Sometimes the record companies see the blues as something thatís hard to sell. They donít see it in the front ranks. Youíre not going to make as much money. Youíre not going to sell as many records as you would doing commercial music. But luckily, Iíve found labels that stuck with me over the years, through thick and thin.

PCC:
Were you ever tempted to go in a more commercial route?

WINTER:
I think I always knew, deep down, what was right for me. I tried rock íní roll for a while and it didnít make me happy. I just missed the blues.

For more on this great artist, visit www.johnnywinter.net.