Johnny Winter's 10 Top Songs

By Sergio Ariza

John Dawson Winter III (February 23, 1944 - July 16, 2014), better known as Johnny Winter, is an important link in that chain of white blues rock that goes from Cream to Stevie Ray Vaughan, of which he is one of the clearest antecedents. In his beginnings he was the great white hope (in his case albino) of blues rock, but drugs and ill health prevented him from reaching the top. Even so, his career is full of great moments in which the Texan shows off his six strings and his great vocal power. These are our ten favorites:  

10. Roll With Me

A song that Rick Derringer wrote for the album John Dawson Winter III, released in 1974, although its definitive version appears on the classic live album, Johnny Winter Captured Live, recorded in 1975 and released a year later. There Winter shows off some of the most rocking licks of his career, with his Gibson Firebird V smoking, perfectly accompanied by his second in command, guitarist Floyd Radford.


9. Dallas

Winter is usually remembered for his explosiveness and speed on the electric guitar, but the Texan was also a master of acoustic country blues like his idol Muddy Waters. On this signature tune from his Johnny Winter album, he proves that he doesn't need to race up and down the neck to demonstrate his enormous class. Simple and pure blues at its best.


8. Memory Pain

It is barely possible to listen to the beginning of this song and not think of the enormous imprint that Cream had on all the white blues rock and its later conversion into Hard Rock and Heavy, including Winter. The song was originally written by Percy Mayfield and the Texan turns it into what his bass player at the time, Tommy Shannon (who would later become a component of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble), aptly called "Power Blues". It was the opening track on Second Winter, an album that was originally issued as a three-sided LP, as the second side of the second disc was blank.


7. Johnny B. Goode

Winter's first love, above the blues, was rock & roll and Chuck Berry (which, as John Lennon would say, comes to be the same thing). On Second Winter, the second of the two remarkable albums he released in 1969, appeared this devastating version of Berry's greatest classic that allowed him to explore at ease with the guitar. Although perhaps the best known version is the one that closes the live Live Johnny Winter And, released in 1971. It was also the song with which he closed his performance at the legendary Woodstock festival in the early hours of August 17-18, 1969.


6. Be Careful with a Fool

Johnny Winter always considered his 1969 album of the same name the best he had ever recorded and I won't be the one to contradict him. This wonderful version of B.B. King's Be Careful with a Fool is possibly his best guitar performance ever recorded in the studio. It is not surprising that Winter was inspired by King, because seven years earlier, at the age of 17, he shared the stage with the King of blues guitar, receiving his paternal approval.


5. All Tore Down

Still Alive and Well
, produced by Rick Derringer, was the album Winter made in 1973 after overcoming a heroin addiction that had left him out of it for three years. The title was explicit but songs like this All Tore Down showed that the albino still had it. It's one of the most rocking and dirty songs of his career featuring the guitar that would define his career forever, his '63 Gibson Firebird V.


4. It's My Own Fault
(live version from Fillmore East: Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield - The Lost Concert Tapes 12/13/68)

The song with which the world discovered Johnny Winter, on December 13, 1968, when Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper gave a concert at the Fillmore East in New York. They had a best-selling album, Super Session, and the former was rightly considered the best white blues guitarist in the USA, but the guitarist of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited was always ready to discover new talents. That day he had invited on stage with them a Winter who was totally unknown to the general public, not even Kooper had heard of him, so imagine everyone's surprise when Bloomfield, who was running a 40-degree fever that day, decided to call him on stage to play with him this It's My Own Fault by B.B. King, which the Texan had recorded on his first album, The Progressive Blues Experiment. His performance was so memorable that Columbia executives signed him for the largest advance ever given to an artist, $600,000, breaking the previous record, which had been set a little earlier by guitarist Jimmy Page when he signed with his new band, Led Zeppelin, for $200,000 per Atlantic.


3. Highway 61 Revisited

Winter was an expert at doing covers but perhaps this is the best of them all: it was certainly his favorite and he used it in his live repertoires throughout his career, often as the last song of the night. Bob Dylan's original was played by the guy who gave him his biggest break, Mike Bloomfield, but in this version Winter takes it to his own territory proving that he is one of the greatest slide guitarists in history. Possibly the most defining song of his career.  


2. Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo

In 1970 Winter formed a new band with the remnants of the McCoys, a group that had had a huge hit in 1964 with Hang On Sloopy. There was guitarist Rick Derringer who was to give him one of his most iconic songs, Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo, which would appear on the outstanding Johnny Winter And, released that same year. Three years later Derringer would have a big hit with his re-reading of his own song but I think the superior version is Winter's, simple and aggressive, direct and pure rock & roll, with Winter's weathered voice fitting him like a glove. A true explosion of energy.


1. I'm Yours & I'm Hers

There may be no greater accolade in the rock world than the one paid to Winter by the Rolling Stones themselves in 1969. After signing with Columbia, the Texan released his eponymous album on April 15, 1969. Well, in less than three months, on July 5 of that same year, Their Satanic Majesties returned to the stage for the first time in more than two years, specifically in London's Hyde Park, and they would do it - after Mick Jagger recited a poem in honor of the recently deceased
Brian Jones (who was a big fan of Winter and of this song in particular) - with the song that opened Winter's album, the unstoppable I'm Yours & I'm Hers, with the best riff of his career, using the slide, which in Winter's case was a piece of pipe. For that record the Texan was still not using his iconic Firebird but a '66 Fender XII with six strings, with which he delivered our favorite song of his career.