Being an albino, skinny, and slightly cross-eyed never were hurdles to the Texan John Dawson Winter (aka Johnny Winter) in becoming one of the most prolific and influential blues legends of all time. His career goes from the 1960s to the 2010s, including iconic achievements, like gigging at Woodstock Festival in 1969, recording/jamming with Jimi Hendrix, and producing three Grammy awarded albums for another blues legend: Muddy Waters. His live performances were marked by the high energy and powerful sound distilled often with his Gibson Firebird straightly plugged on a Music Man amp. Aside from his own successful songs, Winter is also known for performing and recording several versions of blues and rock classics like Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”, Stone’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Let It Bleed”, Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” or B. B. King’s “Be Careful With A Fool”. In this list, we focus on Winter’s songs, written or first recorded by him.
Here are Blues Rock Review’s Top 10 Johnny Winter songs.
“Stranger” can be called a psychedelic ballad because of its rhythmic vibe guitar effects. The guitar solo goes throughout the song mixing with the piano lines. Regarding the vocals, “Stranger” got an unusual mild Winter that perfectly fits the song. It’s part of the album John Dawson Winter III (1974).
9. “All Tore Down”
Recorded on the minimalist but magical recipe of a power trio, in “All Tore Down” you can hear the essential: drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. It’s one of the pearls yielded under the partnership between Johnny Winter and the producer/stage/songwriting partner Rick Derringer. You can find this song on the album Still Alive And Well (1972).
8. “Mojo Boogie”
Officially, the studio version of “Mojo Boogie” was first a part of the album 3rd Degree (1985), but you can feel all the sweat and swing only achieved through extensive performances on stages, just embodying the energy and feeling of the crowd. The live version of “Mojo Boogie” can be heard on Live Bootleg Series Vol. 13 (2016). This song was also recorded by Freddie King, but all Freddie’s releases are, you guessed it…live!
7. “Leland Mississippi Blues”
First released on the album Johnny Winter (1968) as a “live in-studio” version, this song was part of the Winter’s legendary Woodstock Festival setlist, in 1969. It’s a classic blues that Winter wrote as a tribute to his father’s hometown.
6. “Roll With Me”
Another fruit harvested in the partnership of Winter & Derringer, “Roll With Me” is part of the albums John Dawson Winter III (1974), Johnny Winter Captured Live (1975), and another collection later released. It’s a rock tune in classic Winter style, with a powerful guitar riff and solo.
5. “Bladie Mae”
Nothin’ But The Blues (1976) is an album that Winter dedicated essentially to the blues (according to him, personified by his very best friend, Muddy Waters) either acoustic or electric, but without his well-known rock approach. It must be said, the recording of this album was one of the most impressive gatherings in blues history, with names like Muddy Waters himself, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, among others. Representing this album, we picked “Bladie Mae”, an acoustic blues where the highlight is Winter’s feeling when grabbing and playing a dobro guitar.
4. “Hustled Down In Texas”
This aggressive blues rock track is part of the album Second Winter, released in 1969. A curious fact about this song is that Winter recorded it with the wah-wah pedal turned on throughout the whole song, only altering the range of the pedal and obtaining different sounds in the rhythmic and solo parts. Besides that, if you are a guitar player you may know that “Hustled Down In Texas” is one of the most intricate and difficult songs to play and sing at the same time.
3. “Ain’t Nothing To Me”
Country music always was part of Winter’s songwriting, either directly or through its characteristics elements like slide lines, treble bends, etc. So, songs like “Love Song To Me” (John Dawson Winter III, 1974) and “Ain’t Nothing To Me” (Still Alive And Well, 1973) are good examples of that.
2. “Memory Pain”
This song was also recorded as a slow/funky blues by Jimmy Johnson under the title “Serves Me Right To Suffer aka Memory Pain” but, in spite of the same lyrics, Johnny Winter presents it as a totally different song. It’s part of the album Second Winter (1969) as an electrified version, of the most traditional angry rock style of Winter. The session bassman in the recording of this song was the legendary Tommy Shannon, one of the troublemakers of the band SRV & Double Trouble.
1. “Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo”
In our humble opinion, it’s the greatest song recorded by Winter, also as a partnership with Rick Derringer, who later recorded his own songwriting in 1973. Winter released this song on the album Johnny Winter And (1970). This song synthesizes our vision of Winter’s music. It’s simple and aggressive. It’s rock and it’s direct. It’s Johnny Winter.