The Texas guitar tradition runs deep. It’s a gutsy school of blues playing, marked by thick tones, aggressive attack and tons of technique, all delivered in a flamboyant, swaggering style that is endemic to the Lone Star State. From T-Bone Walker and Clarence Gatemouth Brown on through Albert Collins and Freddie King, Billy Gibbons and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, the tradition of the Texas guitar slinger has lived on. One name that ranks atop that exclusive list is Johnny Winter, the international ambassador for rocking Texas blues for the last thirty years.
Johnny Winter’s new release entitled Roots on Megaforce/Sony is out now! This recording finds Johnny performing a selection of songs that helped shape his legendary talent. Produced by guitarist Paul Nelson the CD features such notable guests as: Vince Gill, Warren Haynes, John Popper, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and more along with his new band.
After years of playing for a lot of artists it turns into a job, but for you it still seems to be an adventure. What do you do to re-inspire yourself and keep yourself fresh?
“I’m a blues man and I will be that way until the day I die. I never get tired of playing for my fans. I still enjoy recording and touring all over the world.”
To whom do you recommend a learning guitarist should listen? Any particular albums or tracks?
“The musicians that did it for me were guys like Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters. Basically, I enjoy listening to the same thing that other blues purists listen to which is music recorded in the 1950s.”
Are there any scales you recommend?
“I don’t really think of scales when I play. I have learned by playing by ear and copying riffs from recordings and then piecing everything together. I would recommend listening to as much music possible from whatever style you enjoy.”
If you never met Mike Bloomfield, how would your life be different?
“That’s a tough one because I know performing with him at the Fillmore in 1968 was what helped launch my career. I was signed soon after that to Columbia Records.”
What lessons did you learn from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters?
“I didn’t really learn anything from them when I finally met and performed with them. I already knew all of the material. I will tell you that Muddy was a true gentleman and performing and recording with him was the highlight of my career. I received three Grammys while producing with him. Although I didn’t work as much with Hooker, it was an honor as well.”
What did you learn about yourself by being a producer and did it influence your playing in a different way?
“When I produce I try to get a more raw, traditional sound out of an artist. This usually means recording the whole live in the studio at once. That what I did with Muddy and that’s what I do with all of my recordings, for the most part.”
What is your gear setup?
“I use a Earlwine Lazer guitar for straight, lead and rhythm playing and my 60’s Gibson Firebird for slide guitar. I use a Music Man 4×10 amp. For effects I use a Boss CE-2 Pedal and that’s about it. Everything is set loud and bright.”
Most memorable gig and why?
“That would be Woodstock. At the time I was doing arena-size shows already, but I had seen that this was developing into something bigger and more important. I knew I had to be a part of it. I played at 12 p.m. midnight on Sunday. My band was Tommy Shannon on bass, Uncle John Turner on drums and Edgar sat in too.”
Worst gig and how did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?
“The worst gig was playing on a rotating stage. I was very spaced out at the time. The stage had rotated so much we couldn’t find the exit. (laughs)”
What current artists do you like and why?
“I like Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Sonny Landreth, actually all of the people who joined my on my latest CD, Roots. They all have their own unique style and they are very talented in their own way.”
Why did you change out your stock pickups?
“I’ve always sought out a brighter, thicker tone that cuts through. Once I was introduced to Seymour Duncan pickups, they were exactly what I was looking for to get me the sound I wanted to express myself more freely.”
Which Seymour Duncan pickups do you use and for which guitars?
“SM-1n and SM-1b Vintage Mini Humbuckers in the Firebird®, SSL-1 Vintage Staggered for Strat® in neck and SH-1B ’59 Model Humbucker in the bridge position for the Lazer. Like I said, the pickups are thick, bright, full of tone. They bring out the sound of the instrument. You can play better and more freely knowing that the sound is always there.”
“My Seymour Duncan pickups amplify the sound, the style and the feel that’s already in you. They allow you the freedom to play your ideas consistently night after night. Seymour Duncan pickups give me the sound that I need which allows me to effortlessly express myself on tour and in the studio night after night.”
Johnny Winter band is:
Paul Nelson on guitar, Scott Spray on base and Vito Luizzi on Drums.