Interview: Johnny Winter
Frank Kuznik quizzes the American blues guitarist ahead of his November 15 Prague show
Johnny Winter has been turning up in some odd places lately. He plays on Seeking Major Tom, the new release of campy rock covers by William Shatner of Star Trek fame. He's also on
I'm Back! Family and Friends, Sly Stone's reworking of his seminal '60s and '70s hits. That's just one indication of the status Winter enjoys after a 40-year career as America's premier electric blues guitar player.
A better measure is Winter's own new release, Roots, a tribute to blues legends like T-Bone Walker, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Muddy Waters. It's not surprising to see blues guitar players like Sonny Landreth, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks joining him on the disc, but the range of collaborators from other genres is remarkable: jazz keyboardist John Medeski, country star Vince Gill and Johnny's brother Edgar Winter, a rock star who so overshadowed him at one time that Johnny titled one of his albums, Hey, Where's Your Brother?
But Johnny has become the enduring legend, a fiery player whose raw, electric brand of deep American blues has won him fans around the world. At 67, he's still on the road for about 100 shows a year -- in April, he sold out three nights in Tokyo. He's also articulate in e-mail, adding some "laughs" comments in responses to questions about his upcoming appearance in Prague. The only thing missing were emoticons.
So now everyone from Sly Stone to William Shatner wants you on their albums. Why do you think that is?
I guess they just appreciate my music (laughs). I am contacted to do these things on a regular basis, but I especially enjoyed working on the new Captain Kirk recording.
On your current tour, you're playing six dates in France. Was that just how the booking worked out, or do they love you in France more than anywhere else in Europe?
A little of both. My music does very well all over, but especially in France. My new CD, Roots, has been well-received there. So yes, we are returning there once again.
Are you touring with your regular band: Paul Nelson on guitar, Scott Spray on bass and Vito Liuzzi on drums?
Yes, and they are the same musicians that played on my latest release. They did a great job. I consider them to be one of the best lineups in my career.
Will you be playing cuts off the Roots album?
Yes, a few songs like Got My Mojo Workin'. I've also added a little rock to my set. So these shows should please my fans, both young and old alike.
Your favorite thing about touring in Europe?
The fans seem to be more intense in Europe. Their love for music is much deeper.
What is it about your music that speaks to people of all cultures, all over the world?
Blues and rock music is universal, that's why I love it so much. I guess if I love it and perform it the way people like hearing it, it becomes a winning combination.
You've played with almost every major name in blues over the past 40-odd years. Anybody you missed that you wish you could have played with?
Robert Johnson, but that'll never happen (laughs).
Your all-time favorite blues guitar players?
Chuck Berry, BB King, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson, Elmore James and many more.
You're a superstar who could sit home and take it easy and just record occasionally. What keeps you out touring and performing live dates?
My love for playing. I'll be a bluesman until the day I die.
Any thoughts about coming back to Prague?
It's one of my all-time favorite cities. I've enjoyed playing there over the years. I look forward to performing there for my fans once again.
• Johnny Winter plays Lucerna Music Bar on Tuesday, November 15, 2011, from 8pm. Advance tickets are available from the Lucerna Music Bar box office and through the Ticketpro and Ticketstream networks
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