Wachteligence - Johnny Winter -The Interview:

By A.J. Wachtel
July 2011

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Whenever Johnny comes by to perform in Massachusetts musicians listen hard: his incredible dexterity and imagination never ceases to amaze and awe everyone who hears his virtuosity. As intense and fiery as he is onstage, Winter is both gracious and unassuming as we sit in his tour bus and he answers all my questions. Read on and catch this icon reminisce about his glorious past and notable present and be prepared to become inspired by his incredible talent all over again.

Boston Blues Society: Hi Johnny, the last time I talked to you was at Harper's Ferry in Allston when James Montgomery brought me upstairs before your gig. It's nice to see you again.

Johnny Winter: You too.

BBS: Throughout your career you've played with a lot of New England artists. I'm gonna just mention a name and if you could just give me a comment. Bob Margolin from Muddy's band?

JW: Oh yeah, Bobby is good.

BBS: How about Tom Hambridge, who produced your album "I'm a Bluesman?"

JW: Yeah, yeah. It was fun working for Tom.

BBS: Bobby T. Torello? I spoke with him this morning and he said to say hi to you and tell you he wouldn’t be able to make this show. He said he saw you a few months back at Mohegan Sun. Mary Lou Sullivan, the author of your great biography also told me she wouldn’t be able to make it.

JW: They're not TOO close to here, are they?

BBS: Well, they're both in Ct., maybe an hour or an hour and a half away, but how often do you come to this area? To Boston? We love you up here.

JW: Well, as much as we can.

BBS: What about James Montgomery?

JW: Oh, I LOVE James Montgomery.

BBS: Yeah. He played at my wedding.

JW: Oh did he?

BBS: It was out of state in NJ, a Saturday night and he only charged me five hundred bucks!

JW: Ha Ha. Pretty good.

BBS: Jerry Portnoy?

JW: Jerry's good. Jerry's REAL good.

BBS: I recently spoke with him and he told me he's "semi-retired," living on the Cape, and only plays occasional shows.

JW: That's too bad. I wonder why he's retiring? He's not THAT old, is he? I didn't even realize Jerry was in Boston.

BBS: Oh yeah, he's lived here for years. I'm gonna do an interview on him soon but first I'm gonna speak with James Montgomery. I heard his new, unreleased CD and the songs you played on....

JW: Oh !

BBS: It sounds great!

JW: I haven't even heard it yet.

BBS: What about Susan Tedeschi?

JW: Susan's an unbelievable singer.

Paul Nelson: She's on Johnny's new record.

JW: Yeah, she is.....Is SHE from Boston? Susan is? (surprised)

BBS: Yes, I used to see her as a teenager get onstage and just burn the place down.

JW: That's a lot of people. I didn't know these people were from Boston.

BBS: Yes, I knew Susan when she was a very polite and very sweet young artist.

JW: Yes, she's a very sweet girl. She's a better singer then she is a guitar player. She's not a bad guitar player, but she's a GREAT singer.

BBS: And let me tell you her husband Derek Trucks plays the hell out a guitar...

JW: Yes, Derek is excellent.

Paul Nelson: He's on Johnny's new record too.

JW: Yeah, he's on the record too.

BBS: In the '70's I saw you 20 times or so but never heard you do "Still Alive and Well." Was this song ever in your set list?

JW: Ugh. I don't like "Still Alive and Well." I used to play it all the time. I just got tired of it.

BBS: Do you have any advice to young blues artists struggling to get their music heard?

JW: Oh, I don't know anything about the business part of it. No, I don't know anything about the business part of it at all. I try not to.

BBS: Should they just keep playing and to stay focused?

JW: That's all you CAN do ... (laughs) ... and hope things get better.

BBS: I recently saw a video of you taken at Woodstock doing "Mean Town Blues" and you have a 12 string guitar...

JW: Right.

BBS: With only 6 strings on it. Why?

JW: When I first got it, I couldn't afford another one (laughs). At Woodstock, I couldn't afford it and I just liked the way it sounded. It started out as a 12 string, and I did play 12 strings on it and then I decided "well it sounded real good - I'll just take 6 strings off it and use it for my slide.”

BBS: Speaking of slide, what do you usually tune to?

JW: Usually open D but sometimes I play open G too.

BBS: Not open E?

JW: Well...two steps down.

BBS: I have a Rock and Roll tattoo. Dickey Betts told me to get it from Lyle Tuttle and I did. In Mary Lou's great book I read that you have 19 tattoos. Is your Screamin' Demon tattoo on your chest your favorite?

JW: Yeah. That's my favorite. I just got this in Japan and it's one of my favorites too. (Johnny shows me his new tattoo - a vertical line of Japanese letters on his inner arm).

BBS: What's it say?

JW: Blues Sound Power. There wasn't a word for blues so they had to change the blues to Sound Power. There was no Japanese word for blues.

BBS: That's pretty wild.

JW: If you're in a band I guess they call it something else over there.

BBS: Currently, there is a lot of interest in the ukulele and I know it was your first instrument.

JW: Yes it was.

BBS: Any plans of having a Johnny Winter ukulele album?

JW: No. (laughs) No, that’s stupid.

BBS: In the future? So, we'll never hear "Self-Destruction Blues" done by you on a ukulele?

JW: The ukulele is not a blues instrument. I DID hear a guy though in Hawaii that did a great version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on ukulele that was just unbelievable. I couldn't believe he was playing it. He was playing LEAD ukulele. It was better then George Harrison's version (we laugh). It really was excellent. I couldn't believe he was doing it on the ukulele.

BBS: You played with Jimi Hendrix about 10 times. You mostly played rhythm guitar. What did you do as the second guitarist?

JW: Oh, it was lovely. And he played so it was a lot of fun. One night he played bass for me. I played lead and he played bass.

BBS: I've seen photos of that night.

JW: Yeah. That was EVEN COOLER (laughs). I'd rather have him play bass for me then me playing rhythm for him.

BBS: Yes, but it's a shame all of those times you played weren't recorded for posterity.

JW: Don't worry about it. We only made one record together, one song, "The Things I Used to Do," a Guitar Slim song.

BBS: How cool is it that at least that's preserved for people to listen to forever?

JW: Only one song. But at least there is one.

BBS: What about the times you used to jam with The Allman Brothers Band?

JW: Well, only once. I made one record with Greg. There is "Wasted Words" we recorded.

BBS: Yes, I've heard that but what about playing with Duane? You two sounded pretty good on "Mountain Jam" together.

JW: Yeah, that was a lot of fun.

BBS: What was it like playing with Duane Allman?

JW: I always liked Duane. I was never as good a friend with Duane as I was with Greg though for some reason. I was REAL close to Greg but never got to be good friends with Duane. But I loved his guitar playing.

BBS: I went fishing with Greg once and we did a lot more drinking than fishing. (Johnny laughs.) It was rough keeping up with Greg. I don't know what he's like now.

JW: I think he's calmed down some. He's lost a kidney.

BBS: James Montgomery told me that …

JW: Maybe it was a new liver and he can drink MORE now. (laughs)

BBS: Greg used to live on Seminary Lane in Oakland...

JW: He lived in Oakland, really?

BBS: Yes and I always thought it was ironic that Greg Allman lived on a street with a church name.

JW: That's very, very true.

BBS: Getting back to your tattoos, did Lyle Tuttle do any of your tattoos?

JW: I know Lyle. No, no he tattooed my name on my girlfriend's boobs (laughs).

BBS: Is he still alive?

JW: I don’t know.

BBS: I don't know either. Can I take a few photos with you?

JW: Oh sure.

BBS: If I remember right its no flashes.

JW: No, I don't mind flashes, that's just a rumor.

BBS: I was just with Edgar and Rick Derringer last month and his handler said "No flashes."

JW: No, I don't mind flashes.

*** A very special thanks to Screaming Second Guitarist Paul Nelson, Head of JW's Marketing and Promotional efforts, John Lappen, and Showcase Live God-Emperor Drew Granchelli

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