Born in Beaumont, Texas, Johnny Winter’s story reads as a veritable fairy tale with its “right place at the right time” rise to success. Having been exploring and playing blues music since he was young, Winter cut a record for a small Houston label in 1968. Late that year, his friend Mike Bloomfield asked him to jam during an Al Kooper concert at Filmore East. Winter played on stage with Muddy Waters; not realizing a Columbia records representative was in the audience. Winter signed a contract with the label for the unprecedented high advance of $600,000. In 1969, the musician released two successful and acclaimed albums, toured extensively (including a Woodstock appearance), even had a fling with Janis Joplin (occasionally joining her onstage in concert).
Rumors have circulated that Winter appears on the 1968 Jimi Hendrix bootleg album “Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead” but Winter always denied it to interviewers (including this writer). “I knew Jimi pretty well but I not only never played with Jim Morrison, I never once met him.”
Brother Edgar had been in Johnny’s blues band, but went off to form his own rock/R&B outfit in 1970. Johnny then added others to his band (including guitarist Rick Derringer) and also investigated more of a rock sound. Also in the 70s, Winter produced three Grammy winning albums for Muddy Waters.
Johnny Winter kept touring and recording for several labels, but it is said that the majority of his album output consists of unauthorized releases, some of them including later overdubs by other musicians, much to Winter’s chagrin. He has said he doesn’t care about not getting royalties, he just doesn’t want the work out there because the claims it is bad music. There are many official releases that show what a fine musician and producer Winter always was.
In 1996, Johnny and brother Edgar, who both suffered from albinism, unsuccessfully sued DC comics and the creators of the Jonah Hex series claiming the Autumn Brothers strongly resembled them.
Winter’s latest Grammy nomination was for a 2004 release, and his most recent album came out in 2011. He had performed live only four days before his death at the Lovely Days festival in Switzerland. He had a number of tour dates scheduled at the time of his death, and plans to release a new album on September 2.
In a 2010 issue of Guitar World, Winter stated: "I was not in the best shape for a while there. I was going through some really difficult personal issues, and I started taking prescription drugs to help with the problems on the advice of a doctor. But I ended up taking too many prescription drugs for too long. Combined with drinking, the adverse effects just got worse and worse. I feel great now.”
Last month, in an interview with JournalStar.com, Winter said, "I just hope I'm remembered as a good blues musician."