Johnny Winter recently
signed a five-year contract with CBS for around 600,000 dollars, the
largest sum ever paid for a new performer writes Mark Knopfler. If you can
excuse the bandied work, Winter is the newest superstar, described as the
ultimate white blues-man. In fact, he couldn’t be any whiter. For Johnny
Winter is an albino. The boy brought up on a cotton plantation who learned
to love the music of the coloured labourers has now been hailed as “a
charismatic performer” who is now enjoying the fruits of his talent and
experience. Paid his Dues.
After six years touring the South, the spotlight was turned on Winter
after a feature in the “Rolling Stone” magazine describing him as “a 130
pound cross-eyed albino with long fleecy hair, playing some of the
gutsiest fluid blues guitar you have ever heard.” Since then he has shared
the stage with names such as B.B.King, Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield,
Peter Green and Steve Stills. But like so many artists at the top, Winter
has paid his dues in experience.
He was born in 1944 in Beaumont, Texas. His father plays sax and banjo and
sings in church choirs; his mother played the piano. While he was still an
infant his family moved to Leland in the Mississippi Delta country where
his father owned a cotton plantation. Winter still laughs about growing up
as the plantation owner’s son, while his Delta bred idols were descendants
of the slaves.
He learned the ukulele at eight, moved on to the guitar, and was soon
playing clubs with his brother Edgar. The plantation failed and his family
moved back to Beaumont, where there weren’t many places to play. So Winter
left school for Chicago where he played with many notable artists, among
them Mike Bloomfield. After Chicago came six years of on-the-road playing
in bars and clubs, mostly in the South.
Then in December last year Winter was featured in the “Rolling Stone”.
Personality-club owner Steve Paul flew to Houston to meet him, and inside
a few weeks the Texas boy was pulling packed houses and playing alongside
the best figures in the business. The explosion came later that month when
Bloomfield introduced Winter from the stage of the Fillmore East, the rock
palace of the East Coast. At the end of his set the audience stood and
yelled for more.
Since then, the record companies have been at each other’s throats, and
Winter has produced some very good records. He has not yet appeared in
Britain, and is not yet widely known on this side of the Atlantic. But it
is only a matter of time