If there were any doubts that blues legend John Dawson “Johnny” Winter III has been on the road for some 52 years, they were erased immediately after he got on the phone last Friday.
His sand and gravel-pit voice reflects every single mile, every single gig, and he’s still out there touring at the relatively ripe old age of 67. (Yes, it’s true, he’s still a kid compared to Dylan.)
Next Sunday, June 19, he and his current quartet (two guitars, bass, drum) will return to eastern Long Island for a Father’s Day concert at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue. The show runs from 4 to 7 p.m., and the North Fork’s own Jon DiVello Band will be the opening act. For tickets call Peconic Bay Winery at 734-7361 or email [email protected]
How long has it been since Johnny performed on the East End (at the Stephen Talkhouse nightclub in Amagansett)? Well, he’s a little vague on that subject, but he’s pretty sure it was more than once, quite a few years ago. (Remember: many, many gigs.)
And, as it turns out, the man who may well be America’s most famous albino won’t be traveling far; he might even be coming here by ferry. He has not lived in his native Texas “for years,” he says, and now resides in Connecticut of all places. (His equally famous albino brother, Edgar Winter, lives in Los Angeles and still performs with his own blues band at age 64.)
When I tried to make a joke about the Nutmeg State being an unlikely hideout for a bluesman, Johnny pointed out that perhaps his most famous performance took place in none other than that bastion of blueblood suburbanism, Westport, Conn.
It was there, in a recording studio, that he produced and performed on fellow blues legend Muddy Waters’ classic record (yes, they called them records back in 1977) “Mannish Boy.” That’s the 33-year-old Johnny Winter who can be heard yelping enthusiastically in the background.
Asked if, as a teenage guitar phenom out of East Texas, he ever anticipated still being out there on the road after more than five decades, he replied: “I sure was hoping so.”
And how does he explain his extraordinary longevity in the business? Good genes?
“I’ve got no idea,” he said. “I guess I’m just lucky.”
And, apparently, strong like bull. That probably explains his ability to survive years of substance abuse, including a bout with heroin as a younger man and, more recently, pain medications, anti-depressants and alcohol. He’s been sober since the 1990s, he said, although the residual pain from two broken hips requires him to perform while seated. (Remember, the guy is sixty-bloody-seven.)
As we were winding up our conversation, I advised Johnny Winter that he and his group will be performing at one of the North Fork’s most scenic vineyards. That was news to him, but he vows not to go anywhere near the wine.
“I’ve been sober a long time now,” he said. “If I had kept it up, I probably would have been dead by now.”