Guitarist Johnny Winter released his first studio album in seven years, “Roots” — a collaboration with several of the who’s-who of blues-rock — last September. He just got back from a hugely successful tour in Japan and in China, played the “David Letterman Show” for the first time in 20 years this past January, and he and his band have just kicked-off a promotional tour of the U.S.
Now 68, Winter seems healthier than ever years after a tough lifestyle of drinking and drugging and non-stop touring. He’s able to stand again on stage — he had to sit for a time due to a bad hip.
And almost exactly this musical wizard with the white-blond hair and Firebird guitar will once again bring his gutsy Texas blues with an unmistakable thick tone to the East End, this time headlining the Riverhead Blues Festival Sunday night.
But don’t call it a comeback.
“People are saying I’m on a comeback, but I never went anywhere,” Winter told Patch during a phone interview before he took the stage in Pennsylvania this past Sunday. “Things are really picking up though.”
“Roots” is an homage to the powerful classic blues that continues to shape Winter’s life and career. All-star guest musicians on the album include Gregg Allman, Vince Gill, Susan Tedeschi, and Johnny's brother, Edgar Winter, who plays with Johnny on the true Southern blues instrumental “Honky Tonk,” one of his favorites and a throw back to his days playing high school dances. Guitarist Derek Trucks’ guest appearance on Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” is the perfect complement to Winter’s signature soaring guitar, making this classic as exciting as ever.
Allmusic.com said “Roots” is "easily one of the best blues albums of the year, and with the raw yet elegant grace that Winter brings to these songs, it’s also one of the finest albums of his long career.” Producer and bandmate Paul Nelson said that doesn’t surprise him.
“Johnny used to play with Eric Clapton on these ‘Crossroads’ projects every four years or so, and he’d always include one or two of these traditional songs on every album,” Nelson said. “We thought – ‘Why not do an album of all traditional songs that everyone loves? I asked Johnny to pick out the songs and it took him 15 minutes. I had these different musicians in mind and I knew how they’d fit. It was an honor to do.”
Nelson added that interest in playing with Johnny has grown so much that he’s planning on creating a series of “Roots” albums.
While on tour in 2012, Winter is also being filmed for an upcoming documentary on his career, which began with deep roots blues influences in Beaumont, Texas, catapulted to fame in 1969 with a record deal and at Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, influenced generations of players and fans — and is still going strong.
It might not be a comeback, but Winter is once again enjoying the limelight.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I can’t imagine retiring — not until I’m too unhealthy to play, but that seems a long time coming.”
The Riverhead Blues Festival happens this Saturday and Sunday in downtown Riverhead. Click here for the full schedule and go here for more information on Johnny Winter: www.johnnywinter.com, www.megaforcerecords.com
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