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Legendary Johnny Winter Performing in Knoxville

johnny winter
Legenday blues singer/guitarist, Johnny Winter

john disqueBy John Disque

The man/blues-legend/all-out rocker Johnny Winter himself will be stopping in Knoxville TN and playing at the Bijou Theatre on Friday, August 12.

There's already a buzz brewing amongst the artist community. You can feel the changes taking place. Knoxville is managing to attract the best musicians of our time, and Mr. Winter is on his way.

In the process of kicking off his tour in the midst of a very busy schedule, Johnny and his management team gave the Knoxville Daily Sun the rare privilege of his time and attention.

Before we got started I explained to him that I decided to go to some of the Knoxville Daily Sun readers and get some of their questions mixed in with my own. I told him we were all looking forward to his arrival and thanked him for including Knoxville in his new tour. Then I reminded myself to breathe, and we got right to it.

John Disque: "You're ranked up there with the very best in the world. Does this fact add a lot of pressure? Is it hard to continually live up to your legacy?"

Johnny Winter: "Yeah, it is sometimes. You just do the best you can. That's all you can do: 'the best that you can' and hope the people like it."

John Disque: "So, you just pretty much just do it and let them decide and it doesn't weigh on you too much?"

Johnny Winter: "No, it really doesn't."

John Disque: "You've recorded an awful lot of music: I read somewhere that you've released 134 albums. Is this right?"

Johnny Winter: "I don't know. (laughter) I can't keep count. With all the bootleg stuff it probably is. Those (bootleg music) are the unauthorized albums so there probably are that many."

John Disque: "With all this music how do you choose what to do live? Is there a set of songs that are your favorite to perform live or do you just wing it every night?"

Johnny Winter: "We pretty much do the same stuff every night. We change it up every once in awhile. When you do the same stuff for too long it gets old."

John Disque: "Are you going to be doing some stuff off your new CD?"

Johnny winter: "Yes."

John Disque: "Which do you prefer – live performance or studio work?"

Johnny Winter: "Oh, definitely live. You don't get the audience response in the studio. In the studio you're just playing for the tape machine. That's usually work and not always fun."

John Disque: What do you think about today's high-tech stuff? We have new stuff coming out, especially in the recording industry, every day and everything has changed from music stores. Everything has gone to the Internet."

Johnny Winter: "I know. I'd like to go back to analog if I could. I think analog sounds better."

John Disque: "Some of this stuff comes in the studio which can take weeks just to figure out how to work it."

Johnny winter: "Oh yeah, it's ridiculous."

John Disque: "I love your version of Bob Dylan's - Highway 61 Revisited. Has Bob been a big influence on you? "

Johnny Winter: "Yeah. I always loved Bob Dylan's music. There's no way we'll ever see someone like him again."

John Disque: "A few years ago you were having some health problems. How are you feeling nowadays?"

Johnny Winter: "I feel good. I'm not drinking or taking any drugs."

John Disque: "Yeah, that was one of the things that someone wanted to know, but I didn't want to pry into that too much."

Johnny winter: "Ahh, I don't mind."

John Disque: "How is your hip? I know you were having issues with your legs."

Johnny Winter: "Yeah, I had two hip replacements. It's still bad but I can walk."

John Disque: "Are you still sitting down when you're playing live?"

Johnny Winter: "Yeah. I stand up for one song usually."

At this point I explained to Johnny that I was doing the interview a little different than most: Most interviews start out getting the background on the person and then they'll move to more current issues but I wanted to conclude the interview with the fans getting to know a little about the man behind the music.

John Disque: "What do you do when you're not playing or writing music? (hobbies, interests, etc.)"

Johnny Winter: "I spend time with my wife and watch a lot of television." (laughter)

John Disque: "That's cool. Ya don't go fishing or anything?"

Johnny Winter: "No, I haven't been in a long time."

John Disque: "You grew up at a time and in a place (Beaumont, TX) that was plagued with a lot of racial tension yet you remained unprejudiced. This is very rare. Where do you give the credit to that; was it your parents, your own open mind, the music or a combination of everything?"

Johnny Winter: "Well, I was around a lot of Black people. My father built houses for Black people. I could always feel the pressure of Black people because I was always too light (referring to his pale skin) when I was growing up. I could definitely feel the pressures of people not liking you for your skin color, so I could kind of relate to all that."

John Disque: "So, it was pretty much the fact that you related and you were exposed to a lot of Black people? I have noticed that a lot of prejudiced people don't even know any Black people. "

Johnny Winter: "Exactly."

John Disque: "Your new CD (Roots): Last I heard it's going to be released on September 27, 2011?"

Johnny Winter: "That's right. September 27th."

John Disque: "How is the studio work going?"

Johnny winter: "We're all through. It's completely done. It's ready to go."

At that I told him that I understood how busy he was (after all, he was kicking off his tour in Connecticut in just a few hours), thanked him on behalf of everyone in Knoxville, and we said our goodbyes.

Growing up in Beaumont, TX, Johnny Winter and his younger brother, Edgar, have been playing music from the cradle.

He switched from mandolin to guitar when he was around 8 years old and the whole world seemed to open up and take a listen. He was playing live by age 10 and recording by age 15. In 1968, after a very complimentary Rolling Stone article, he signed the biggest record deal of the time with Columbia Records.

Johnny always "did it his way" while never turning his back on his roots. As he climbed the ladder of success there was never any doubt where he was drawing his inspiration. Less "glitz and glamour" than your typical "guitar hero," Johnny proved that you could "rock the house" while remaining grounded and embedded in tradition.

Johnny Winter is a blues rocker. While many have tried to copy his style over the years, I believe the blues are just something that you're born with. It's something in your blood or in your soul. I, and many others, have spent countless years trying to understand it. Very few of us "have it," and most do not.

The result speaks for itself. Although there was some tough times with drugs and "the roller-coaster of fame" the music never faded away. Today he's regarded as one of the biggest and best to ever hit the stage.

It's not just his music that stays grounded: Johnny is uncomfortable with being worshipped. In an interview with Living Legends Music he explains that it's great to be appreciated but "being worshipped" is not fun. He goes on to tell the listener how his sudden and fast rise to fame wasn't exactly what he was expecting and the imposed pressure was too much.

He eventually regained control, returning to what he did best. In the process Johnny managed to gain the appreciation of all musicians and music lovers worldwide. In a business where artists seem to come and go he's still with us and still rocking the world.

While many people in the media business constantly hunt and beg for opportunities like the one I got today, I want to explain that I didn't find Johnny. He and his management team found me, and I still don't know how or why. I like to think it had something to do with my social articles (East TN homelessness, youth, artists, veterans, etc). If it's something else - please don't tell me.

To Johnny and all his people -- one last time, welcome to Knoxville!

For more information on Johnny Winter, visit

Published June 23, 2011

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