The following is an interview I conducted with Johnny Winter in August 2010 for Maximum Ink. I will be adding various past interviews from there in the event our readers here at van Gogh’s Ear might have missed them. Thank you for reading.
Johnny Winter is best-known as a legendary blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He was rated 74 on the Rolling Stone list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” His recording career began at the age of 15. He performed at Woodstock with his brother Edgar joining for two songs during the nine song set. He is also an inductee of the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.
Do you think it was helpful to your future career as a musician to have your parents nurture your interests at an early age?
Johnny Winter: Oh yeah. We sang together. Daddy would teach me songs from his younger days. Most of those songs were from the 1920s and 1930s.
Why do you think you love music as much as you do?
Not being able to see as good as hearing was all I had. So what I heard was very important.
I read somewhere that you and Edgar were born with Albinism. Was that difficult to deal with as a child? Do you have any advice for others that are affected by it?
All you can do is do the best you can. You damn sure can’t change it. There’s no use fighting it, just make the best of it because it’s not going to go away. The only time it was bad was when I was in school. After that it was okay. The kids teased me and it was impossible to see the blackboard. I couldn’t read nearly as fast because I couldn’t see the books.
What was it like to begin your recording career at the age of 15? How would you say the industry has changed most since you first started playing?
It was exciting as hell. I loved hearing myself on the radio. That was the biggest thrill I got. I would go into the radio station and ask them to play my song and then go into the car and listen to it. It’s a lot harder to make it. There’s too much business and not enough art. It’s always been that, but now it’s gotten worse. They just don’t care about the music anymore.
Who where some of the artists that influenced you starting out?
Chuck Berry was a big influence. Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and early Elvis.
What was it like to produce Muddy Waters on three Grammy winning albums? What was it like to work with him?
It was fucking great. That was the biggest charge I ever got. No one else could’ve fucking done that for Muddy but me. I knew exactly what he needed and nobody else seemed to. Everyone else was trying to modernize him and I just took him back to where he started. He was great the way he was and he didn’t need to change.
What was it like for you to perform at Woodstock?
It was the biggest festival that’s ever been, but at the time we didn’t know it. I slept up until it was time for me to play. I went to the press trailer and put my head on a bag of garbage and went to sleep. It was just a sea of people and mud.
What other genres of music do you enjoy?
Just 1950s rock and roll and blues. That’s it.
I find it truly inspirational that you continue to tour in spite of recent health issues. Do you think it is important to pursue your passions even in the face of illness? What do you attribute your drive to keep performing to?
I love to play and I’ll play the blues until I die.
Is there anything you would like to say to your fans? What are your future plans?
To my fans: keep listening and buying my records and coming to my shows. My future plans are to make new records.