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Info 101: Musicbits 72: John Dawson "Johnny" Winter (1944-2014)

This photo captures the image of long ago memories of Johnny Winter onstage.
This photo captures the image of long ago memories of Johnny Winter onstage.
1980: Columbia Records: non-free use of CD cover to promote product with no intent to compete with or hinder copyright owner in any way.

In 1970, the music scene in Minneapolis was coming together thanks in large part to music venues such as the Depot (now First Ave.) and a run-down but serviceable joint in Northeast called the Labor Temple. Nearly every singer or band played one or both venues, attracting largely the same people who just wanted to groove to some righteous tunes. Johnny Winter was one of the artists who preferred the Labor Temple. He walked onstage, cigarette hanging from his lips, carrying his guitar lovingly and plugged it in. After strumming a few notes to check the tuning, he'd turn up the volume and play.

What came out was some of the sweetest blues picking any white boy ever played. He was in charge of his audience without saying a word. He never got very chatty with any audience, he just played and sang. Those early shows at the Labor Temple were no-frills affairs, not even offering any special lighting. It was just Johnny, his band and the blues.

Time and drugs took their toll on Johnny but he was a survivor. His 1973 album "Still Alive and Well" said it all. He continued to tour and record but also produced albums for his hero, Muddy Waters. He worked with his brother, Edgar, on and off during his career, maintaining an amicable relationship throughout his life. Johnny Winter was a class act always.

Two days after what would be his last show, Johnny Winter died in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 16, 2014. He had played at the Cahors Blues Festival in France. The cause of death has not been announced as of this writing but Johnny was believed to be as healthy as he'd ever been. That doesn't override the overwhelming sadness that comes with his death. Though vague, those memories of him playing at the Labor Temple live on along with his music. Solace will come with one final chapter when his last album is released this coming September, a final taste of Johnny's blues.