Interview with Johnny Winter
February 15, 2014
Hi, I’m Steve Hefter and I’m sitting here with legendary blues guitarist Johnny Winter. We’re here (on Johnny’s bus) at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, Md. Johnny, thanks a lot for a few minutes of your time.
Next week you turn 70 years old. Congratulations! What do you think about when you think about turning 70?
I'm just glad I’m still around.
We’re glad you’re still around too. There were a few times there you might not have made it to 70?
Yeah, I didn’t think I’d live this long.
I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t stopped doing all the stuff that was bad for me.
Yeah, I heard you gave up most of the vices.
I gave up all of them. It’s boring as hell (laughing). I don’t do anything fun anymore.
I even heard you stopped smoking cigarettes too.
Yeah that was the hardest thing. I want to smoke every day. I really miss it.
Yeah, I know the feeling..
It wasn’t good for me. I was coughing all the time. It was really hard to sing. I had to stop.
You’ve been sounding great though.
Yeah, that’s why. I stopped (laughing).
So next week, timed for you’re 70th birthday, is also a release of a four CD box set.
That’s been in the works for some time?
Yeah (yawn), don’t know when they started working on it but they’ve been doing it for a while.
And you’re happy with how it sounds?
I haven’t heard it. I’ve heard the songs that’ll be on it.
Of course I’ve heard all the stuff before, because I recorded it.
And you also have an album coming out in the spring called “Step Back”.
And who’s on that album with you? You have some guest players?
We’ve got Joe Perry, Billy Gibbons, Mark Knopfler, Joe Bonamassa, Joe Walsh, Dr. John, Jason Ricci...
Paul Nelson: Who’s that other big guy on there?
Clapton, oh yeah, Clapton.
I also read that there’s a documentary.
What’s that called, “Down and Dirty – The Johnny Winter Story”, and when does that come out, do you know?
I don't know. I’m REALLY looking forward to that.
I think that premieres in March – being put out by South by Southwest?
Yeah, it premieres in Austin.
That’s going to be a nice thing for people to see.
I’m really looking forward to it coming out.
It’s a long time overdue I think. How’s your health holding up on tour?
I’m fine now, I’m not doing anything to hurt myself anymore, so I’m in pretty good shape.
I’m glad that you’re health is good. You went through some scare, you had a hard time a few years ago.
Yeah, the 90’s was bad.
You had some people that helped you through that?
This guy back here? Mr. Nelson (Paul Nelson)?
What did I do…? (joking - from back of the bus)
I also read recently there’s a Director’s cut of Woodstock movie where Mean Town Blues, … you actually …
That’s been out a long time.
Yeah you’re actually in that movie.
As opposed to the original Woodstock movie.
Yeah my manager didn’t think that’d be a good idea. He was really badly mistaken about that.
Yeah you were on at a good time slot that night. Do you remember much of that night?
Not really, I was asleep right before we went on. I just went out there to see what’s going on, they said: “you guys are all here, why don’t you go play?” I just woke up like 5 or 10 minutes ago.
But it went well ……..
It went real good! It was a great set. I don’t know how it could have been but until you see 500,000 people out there, it wakes you up pretty good.
Have you seen your entire performance from that night?
Oh yeah sure sure, a bunch of times. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it but I was real happy with it.
Of all the things you’ve done throughout your career, and there’s been too many to list, you know, there’s been dozens and dozens of albums you’ve put out, helping to produce Muddy Waters, his albums and his comeback, playing with him, what stands out for you as sort of the thing you’re most proud of?
Working with Muddy, definitely.
Oh yeah, can you tell me a little bit about why?
Yeah, well, Muddy was just somebody I just loved and I thought he put out the best blues anybody ever made. I was listening to Muddy since I was 12 or 13. Being able to produce and play with him was really a big thrill. Once Chess folded and he went to GRT, they didn’t have any idea what to do with him,
and it was really messed up – he was playing for like 50 people. Somebody told Scott his manager, Muddy’s good but he’s a has-been. I wanted to prove him wrong, and he did.
And you stepped in?
I knew exactly what to do with Muddy, I knew what he was supposed to sound like.
You had been listening to him you’re whole life.
Yeah, I knew Muddy’s music - Muddy said I knew his music better than he did. I reminded him of things he’d forgotten. I don’t believe that was true but it was nice of him to say that.
You miss him?
Yeah I miss him. I wish he was still around.
Who are the guitar players that are out now that you find yourself listening to or who you think are the up and comers?
Well the guys that were on my last record – Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Sonny Landreth, are all good.
Yeah, Derek Trucks knows how to play that slide guitar.
Oh, he’s nasty, just nasty.
And he says the same things about you. He says you were one of his big influences.
Well, that’s nice, heh, heh.
Anything tonight we might hear that is different than you’re normal sets?
No we play pretty much the same set. Different stuff from different time periods.
But you’re up standing up and playing now?
No, not usually. Ever since I broke my hips I don’t stand up anymore. Broke both hips at different times.
Of all the albums you’ve put out is there one you like the best?
The first Columbia record I like the best.
And which one was that?
It’s just called “Johnny Winter”.
What was the very first album you put out? Was it “Johnny Winter” or was there one before that?
The Progressive Blues Experiment was recorded before but it came out about the same time. That was the first album I made.
That was with Tommy Shannon ….
...and Uncle John Turner.
That must have been a fun experience.
Oh, it was real nice. We did it when we’d been playing a lot …. It was pretty much a live record except there weren’t many people there. We’d been playing all those songs in our set. It was an easy record to make.
Well we really look forward to the performance tonight. I can’t thank you enough for taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to sit down and talk to us.
We’ll be seeing you on stage later on.
Allright, thanks Johnny.