Hearing the introductory chords to the opening
track on his first album is all it takes for anyone to understand Johnny Winter. Even the provocative
title I’m Yours and I’m Hers is
a trademark of his unmistakable style of living blues and rock through
the neck of a guitar. His long albino mane became a part of the musical
landscape for over half a century until he dropped dead in a Zurich hotel room one balmy July night
in 2014. Seventy years old and still on the road.
Strictly speaking, the Johnny Winter album wasn't his recording debut. A year before, in that legendary year of '68, he had released The Progressive Blues Experiment on a local label in his native Texas, however this album was his debut for a major label, the stunning and definitive launching point to his career. He was already a legend by the time he walked onstage at Woodstock.
Rolling Stone magazine had already made it their mission to testify to his virtuosity. He just had to make a good blues album. Winter turned to the same band he’d used previously to record in Austin, which naturally included his brother Edgar in the line-up. It was a seasoned team, one he didn't have to explain anything to, one that covered his back while he launched into those intense solos that only Johnny himself had any idea of when they would end. He chose Willie Dixon as the special guest star to accompany him on Mean Mistreater.
Winter didn't disappoint and together with Good Morning Little School Girl, a fixture in his repertoire from that point on, rewrote songs by B. B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Johnson with an undeniable authority. The fastest fingers in the west, to be sure, but also inclined to demonstrate his talents in the song Dallas, by exchanging his habitual (back then) Fender electric guitar for a dobro, the genuine article when it comes to American acoustic instruments. The ukulele inevitably springs to mind, since his biography states he took his first musical steps on that instrument after failing miserably at the clarinet.
John Dawson Winter III was unquestionably a masterful guitarist unjustly relegated to the bottom half of the list of the 100 greatest axeslingers in history compiled by the same magazine whose praise brought him fame. One guesses that that probably didn't mean too much to him either. His dizzying scale runs transmitted high voltage excitement fueled by a notable sexual charge. The famous Rolling Stone article said it all: the ugly albino guy was the "hottest" thing to happen on the blues scene since Janis Joplin.
Columbia made a major commitment to Winter, with a lavish contract for that time which paid dividends for a more than decent showing on the sales charts. It was the perfect moment to book him a place of honor on the Woodstock bill a few months later and save a seat in the Olympus of Rock with his name on it. Luckily, Johnny Winter still had a lot of time and music left in him before he finally took up his place there.