Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader
Johnny Winter has lived the dream and toured the world, but there’s nothing like coming home.
Music legend and Beaumont native Johnny Winter is returning home this month with a performance as part of the Beaumont Blues Fest on Saturday, Oct. 19 inside the historic Jefferson Theatre in downtown Beaumont. Tickets are $10 for everyone and available at all Ticketmaster outlets, including the Beaumont Civic Center box office, HEB on Dowlen Road in Beaumont, online at www.ticketmaster.com and charge by phone at 800-745-3000. Also appearing are James Cotton and J. Paul Jr. and the Zydeco NuBreedz. The doors open at 3 p.m.
Winter began playing music as a child playing music with his brother, Edgar. Although he first played the ukulele, he made the switch to guitar at age 12 and never looked back. Even at the experienced age of 69, Winter has never lost that desire to play or perform.
“I still love it. I still love performing and it’s fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t,” Winter said in a telephone interview with a laugh. “I get tired of traveling, but not playing. Riding on the bus isn’t too bad because I have my own bus, but I hate to fly.”
Winter released his first record, “The Progressive Blues Experiment,” in 1968 and his first major label release, “”Johnny Winter,” in June 1969. That album featured songs by artists such as B.B. King, Robert Johnson and Sonny Boy Williamson, along with Winter’s own songs “Dallas” and “I’m Yours and I’m Hers.”
Now, more than 40 years later, Winter is paying tribute to many of those who inspired him once again.
In September 2011, Winter released the album “Roots,” a collection of blues standards which were handpicked by Winter.
“Once Johnny decided to do that album, I asked him what artists he wanted to cover,” said Paul Nelson, Winter’s friend, guitarist and band manager. “He picked the songs in 15 minutes.”
The album features a collection of material from musicians like Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, and even a cover of “Honky Tonk” by Orange, Texas-native Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Special guests included on the record were Vince Gill, John Medeski, Sonny Landreth and even his brother, Edgar Winter.
Now, Winter is recording another album which will recognize the rock guitarists which helped inspire his style of playing as well.
“The new record is currently being mixed and it’s set for an early 2014 release,” Winter stated. “It’s pretty much like ‘Roots’ but it’s more rock instead of blues-oriented. We’re doing songs like ‘Blue Monday,’ ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Okie Dokie Stomp’ too.
“We got a lot of good people to agree to play on it, and we got some good ones,” he added. “I know about all of them too, and that made it a lot of fun.”
Special guests set to appear on Winter’s forthcoming record include “Who’s Who” list of musicians, such as Eric Clapton, Joe Perry, Billy Gibbons, Dr. John, Leslie West, Brian Setzer and Mark Knopfler.
Winter is playing and sounding better than he has in many years, according to his friend and bandmate Nelson.
“Johnny is doing so well. He is off everything and doing really good,” Nelson explained. “He’s off the cigarettes and alcohol and you can see the difference in his performance. He’s even standing some of the time now. It’s great.”
Nelson said Winter’s 2011 performance on David Letterman helped to re-energize his career.
“Ever since we went to Letterman to promote the ‘Roots’ record, the public’s awareness of Johnny has shot through the roof,” Nelson continued. “He’s doing 100 to 140 shows a year, and we are seeing a mix of younger and older fans at his shows now.”
Winter has experienced a lot of changes in the music industry, whether it be the recording on tape or digitally, or whether the product was released on vinyl, cassette, compact disc or strictly digital, he was weathered it all.
“I really don’t like the way music has changed so much, but that’s part of it,” Winter said. “But it’s the music itself that has changed. It’s not near as good as it was 20 years ago. Heck, not even 10 years ago. But that’s how it is now.”
Winter may not be able to get back to Southeast Texas as often as he likes, but he knows what a special event any performance in the Golden Triangle is and he is happy to get the chance to perform locally on Oct. 19.
“I’m excited to be coming back to Beaumont,” he stated. “It’s always fun to get a chance to play in my hometown. There’s a lot of good people there and that’s where it all began. I can’t wait.”
Visit www.johnnywinter.net for more information on Winter. Call the Beaumont Civic Center at 409-838-3435, Ext. 1 for more information on this event.