You might think playing 120 blues shows a year and touring internationally at age 68 after decades of substance abuse and ill health would be hard work. Not for Johnny Winter.
The legendary Texas blues guitarist has been to hell and back in the past 20 years, so playing again at shows such as the Broadway Center’s Rock ’n’ Blues Fest at Tacoma’s Pantages Theater this Sunday is exactly where he wants to be.
“It’s not work at all,” said Winter, sparing a few minutes out of a CD signing in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a phone conversation.
For Winter, though, it’s been a long road to get here. The Beaumont-born guitarist with the long white hair and gutsy guitar sound had some bad times after his career soared with top-selling recordings, collaborations with performers such as Muddy Waters, and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame. His heroin addiction of the 1970s and the prescription drug-alcohol combination of the 1990s and early 2000s took its toll on recordings, gigs and health.
Last fall, though, Winter released his first album in eight years: “Roots,” hailed by AllMusic.com as “powerful and brilliant.” He followed that with an appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman” in January, then recently toured Asia for the first time. He is now on the annual national tour Hippiefest, billed at Pantages as the Rock ‘n’ Blues Fest.
As with “Roots,” Winter’s playing the show with other musicians, including Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds, Rick Derringer and Johnny’s younger brother Edgar Winter.
It’s a definite comeback.
“He’s much healthier,” said Paul Nelson, the guitarist who pulled Winter from his addictions and disastrous management in 2004 and became his manager. “Music and touring got him into that state; it’s those things that are helping him come back – though he says he never went anywhere! He’s exercising, walking to shows, standing up for shows where he used to sit down. He’s giving interviews, theaters are inviting him back. ... His whole life is benefiting.”
On the phone, Winter is taciturn, but clear as he outlines what he’ll play in Tacoma: a mixture of old stuff and new, including the 1969 cover “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” and the new “Dust My Broom,” to which Winter gives a hard-edged rock sound accompanied by Derek Trucks on slide guitar. Winter will play both slide and regular guitar for the show, which is presented by both the Broadway Center for Performing Arts and the blues-focused Immanuel Presbyterian Church.
And playing with Edgar again? It’s good to be back on track.
“We’ve played together since we were kids,” said Johnny Winter. “He knows all the stuff I do. He likes jazz, and I don’t understand that much; we have different ideas. But we don’t ever argue.”
“I got to see (Johnny and Edgar) in action together on this tour,” said Nelson. “It’s pretty cool. It’s just second nature for them, they feed off each other. ... ‘Roots’ brought back all those memories for him. Ten years ago, it didn’t happen; now he’s working with his brother and all these guest artists. It’s a good sign.”email@example.com 253-597-8568 blog.thenewstribune.com/arts