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Top 10 Johnny Winter Albums

Blues rock legend Johnny Winter is one of the greatest guitarists the genre has ever produced, with his stellar playing style, powered by his outstanding vibrato and obscenely fast, incendiary pentatonic-based phrasing, becoming the touchstone for blues rock guitar. Beyond pure guitar proficiency, Winter was also a unique vocalist and a strong songwriter who built a musical legacy that only very few can match, either adding his iconic stamp to established numbers or penning his own fiery originals.

Johnny Winter was born in Beaumont, Texas, on February 23, 1944. Raised on a diet of early blues and rock and roll, Winter started his musical career in the mid-60s, along with his brother Edgar, and after a resounding initial impact, signed a contract with Columbia in 1969 for an astronomical advance fee. Set to become the next big superstar, Winter alternated between records more focused on either blues or rock for much of the next decade. Winter ultimately leaned toward the blues for the later part of his career.

Although not a mainstream artist, Winter had a prolific and successful career. Often backed by high-caliber musicians such as Tommy Shannon, Rick Derringer, and later Paul Nelson, in addition to the aforementioned Edgar Winter, he crafted an immense and immortal body of work. Unfortunately, Winter passed away in Zürich, Switzerland, on July 16, 2014, just two days after his final live performance.

To honor such a monumental man and legacy, here are Blues Rock Review’s top 10 Johnny Winter albums.

10. Nothin’ But The Blues

Inspired by having produced Muddy Waters’ Grammy-winning Hard Again, Winter returned to a blues-focused approach in 1977 with the aptly titled Nothin’ But The Blues. Backed by the same band present on Hard Again (including Muddy Waters himself), Winter focuses on a selection of vigorous original numbers and delivers incisive, inspired performances throughout the album. Highlights include the harmonica-heavy mid-pace stomper “Tired of Tryin”, the stirring slow blues “It Was Rainin”, the strong acoustic number “Bladie Mae” and the infectious “Walkin’ Through The Park”, a joyous duet with Waters.

9. Third Degree

Released in 1986, Third Degree is the final installment in Johnny Winter’s trilogy of mid-80s blues albums. It showcases Winter in fine form, remaining an uncompromising blues traditionalist even in the face of an unfavorable decade for the genre. The blazing uptempo number “Mojo Boogie” kicks off the record with its piercing slide charge with the fiery mid-pace stomp of “Love Life And Money” also being an early highlight. However, the album’s best moments are found on the slow-burning workouts of the exceptional slide-heavy version of “Tin Pan Alley” and the magnificent title track, both platforms for some of Winter’s finest leads.

8. The Progressive Blues Experiment

Released in 1969, The Progressive Blues Experiment is Johnny Winter’s debut album. While not as ground-breaking as suggested by its title, the record is still a fresh and inspired affair and features some of Winter’s most audacious and biting leads. The record kicks off with a vibrant version of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ And Tumblin” before Winter’s very own “Bad Luck and Trouble” comes about and showcases his early strong acoustic skills and songwriting capabilities. And there’s also Sonny Boy Williamson’s pre-war standard “Help Me” receiving the full electric blues treatment while the masterfully executed original “Mean Town Blues” soars brilliantly. Further proving his credentials, Winter lays down a merciless barrage of notes on B.B. King’s slow blues “It’s My Own Fault.”

7. Let Me In

Released in 1991, Let Me In has Johnny Winter expanding his strong catalog by returning to a gutsier approach after experimenting with a silkier, more accessible blues sound on The Winter of ’88. The flaming, rapid-fire slide attack of “Illustrated Man” brilliantly set things in motion with the dancing rocker “Barefootin” closely following. Then, the slow blues “Life Is Hard” comes into play. The original composition, enriched by a superb piano accompaniment by Dr. John, contains some of Winter’s most inspired vocals and a stellar lead work, ranking as the album’s best song. The intensely catchy acoustic piece “Blue Mood” and the mid-paced slide guitar behemoth “If You Got A Good Woman” are the additional standout tracks.

6. Step Back

Posthumously released in 2014, the Grammy-winning Step Back is Johnny Winter’s final studio album. Featuring A-listers such as Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons and Joe Bonamassa, the record showcases Winter still at the top of his game and breathing new life into a selection of blues classics. Some of the highlights are the soulful, heavy-on-horns rocker “Unchain My Heart”, the energetic blues number “Where Can You Be”, and the supreme take on “Sweet Little Sixteen”, in which Winter and Bonamassa trade inspired solos. And coming later on the record, a version of Son’s House’s “Death Letter Blues” masterfully provides some relief from the album’s electric assault. A crashing convergence of Winter’s rugged vocals and substantial acoustic skills, the song is one of Winter’s finest late-career achievements.

5. Johnny Winter And

Released in 1970, Johnny Winter And is Johnny Winter’s fourth album. Being arguably his most rock-oriented offering, with the blues elements being significantly sidelined, the record demonstrates that Winter had all the makings of a pure rockstar, had he gone that route. The album kicks off with the crisp riffage and abrasive soloing of “Guess I’ll Go Away”, which also features one of Winter’s all-time best vocal performances. The borderline cheesy “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” is arguably the record’s best song thanks to its blazing yet catchy guitar work while the emotive ballad “Am I Here” features rich harmonized vocals. Then, “Look Up” is called into play, retaining some blues flavor with its devastating slide raid while the ballad “Let The Music Play” impresses for its rich textures, which surprisingly feature elements of soul and pop.

4. Live Johnny Winter And

Released in 1971, Live Johnny Winter And is the definitive account of the Texan six stringer’s live prowess. Despite being named after Winter’s previous rock-oriented release, the record focuses on both blues and rock material. It kicks off with a devastating version of “Good Morning Little School Girl”, which is followed by an extended incendiary take on “It’s My Own Fault”. Then, Winter unleashes his arguably superior version of The Rolling Stones’ classic “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” before diving into the dynamic colossus that is his “Rock and Roll Medley”. The definitive version of “Mean Town Blues” and the ripping take on “Johnny B. Goode” conclude the magnificent exercise.

3. Second Winter

Released in 1969, the originally three-sided LP Second Winter is Johnny Winter’s second major label full-length effort. Widely regarded as Winter’s most eclectic opus, the album expands his established blues rock sound and combines it with an added flair of funk and jazz. The result is an inflammable and iconic exercise, with Winter slashing and wailing through a number of iconic covers and originals. The album kicks off with the stinging acid blues of “Memory Pain”, with Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin” following and showcasing Edgar’s stellar saxophone skills. Winter continues to honor the rock and roll pioneers by adding his merciless charge to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” before unleashing a larger-than-life version of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.” The stellar jazz-based rocker “I Hate Everybody” and the somewhat experimental tour de force “Fast Life Rider” conclude the outstanding record.

2. Still Alive And Well

Released in 1973, the brilliantly titled Still Alive And Well is a return to form for Winter after a troubled hiatus marked by substance abuse. Imbued with new enthusiasm, Winter unleashes an immense rock-focused performance, packed with both flair and fire. The record kicks off with the hard-charging onslaughts of B.B King’s “Rock Me Baby” and the original “Cant’ Make You Happy”. Subsequently, Winter experiments with West Coast country on “Cheap Tequila” while the rocker “All Tore Down” strides with pure authority, swaggering on its proto-metal riffage. Winter continues to showcase his underrated riffing skills with the hyper-charged title track, the blues paladin all of a sudden bragging like the arena rocker he could have become, before the flute-infused original blues number “Too Much Seconal” graciously cruises into the ears. Finally, the scorching take on The Rolling Stones’ “Let It Bleed” drives homes one of the most notable statement records in rock history.

1. Johnny Winter

Released in 1969, Johnny Winter’s first major label album is nothing short of iconic. It has the Texan six-stringer at the peak of his powers, furiously cutting and ripping through both covers and originals with unmatched ferocity but also providing the much-needed dynamics with a strong acoustic output. The fierce blues rocker “I’m Yours And I am Hers” is a slide guitar masterclass while the inventive acoustic original “Dallas” could easily pass for a forgotten delta blues number. “Leeland Mississippi Blues” borders on hard rock and plays out with gritty confidence while the inspired take on the pre-war classic “Good Morning School Girl” remains unsurpassed. Robert Johnson’s “When You Got A Good Friend” receives the distinctive Winter treatment while “Back Door Friend”, on the other hand, focuses greatly on its punchy harmonica sound (courtesy of Big Walter Horton). There is also, surprisingly, a gorgeous R&B ballad with Ray Charles’ “I’ll Drown In My Tears”.

However, the album’s highest point belongs to Winter’s take on the B.B King number “Be Careful With A Fool”. Winter turns King’s somewhat lighthearted song into a vicious launching pad for a thermonuclear lead guitar inferno, one that perfectly matches the lyrics and their account of a man tired of being mistreated by his woman.

Johnny Winter’s self-titled opus remains his all-time finest effort, capitalizing on a perfect balance of intricate acoustic mastery and raw electric intensity

Fidel Beserra

Fidel Beserra is a professional translator and an occasional writer. As one would expect, he's also an enthusiastic lover of everything music-related.

20 thoughts on “Top 10 Johnny Winter Albums

  • While I respect Mr. Beserra’s selections, as well as the research effort going into providing us with this well-deserved homage to Johnny Winter, I
    would be remiss, as a life-long J.W. fan, to not amend this listing.

    Primarily, the albums I would definitely include are, in no specific order, except chronologically, are:

    Roots (2011)
    Live in NYC ’97 (1997)
    Together – Live (w/Edgar Winter-1976)
    Captured Live (1976)

    As you likely noticed, my inclusions lean towards the Live performances, because that is where true talents really shine (or fall short). and Johnny Winter really, really, shined.

    I have been to a number of Johnny Winter’s concerts/shows since 1971, until his unfortunate passing.

    Johnny Winter was an incredible “force-of-nature” live performer, particularly during his healthier years; the man played guitar like NO ONE else, and like an incinderary inferno, during those live shows.

    It was undeniable, during that era, that he loved the stage, as well as his audience.

    Support Live Local Music

    Reply
    • Thank you for your valuable input, my friend.

      My grandfather had the privilege of attending a number of Johnny Winter concerts during his time, and he would always tell me how electrifying the whole thing was. Winter was undoubtedly among the best in a live setting, that’s for sure.

      Your picks are great and could have easily made the list, but, ultimately it’s quite the challenge to fit all of Winter’s strong offerings in mere 10 slots. Unfortunately, there will always be great albums left out.

      Reply
  • In the late 60’s and through the 70’s I had the pleasure of seeing Johnny perform over a dozen times. The man never disappointed. I have just about everything he ever released and his recordings are in regular circulation on my playlists. Gone but never forgotten. RIP.

    Reply
  • Always interesting in looking at some level if critical analysis. Besides previous comments I propose including Saints and Sinners. Includes fin rocker with Edgar called Feedback on Highway 101. Anyone from the west coast can appreciate that tune. Rock on Johnny!

    Reply
  • I couldn’t agree more with the previous comments. Johnny’s album, Captured Live, is a tour de force of blues/rock guitar. The fact that he paired himself with accomplished rhythm guitarists like Rick Derringer, Floyd Radford, and Paul Nelson, shows his unmatched talent. The back and forth solos between Johnny Winter and those guys still gives me chills when I hear them.

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  • Now in my 70’s, live in UK. Best song? Without doubt for me ‘Prodigal Son’ from JW And

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  • John Dawson Winter III… Is his greatest work. It has everything. To name a few of the greatest music of all time “Self Destructive Blues” “Rock Roll People” – (written by John Lennon just for Johnny) and the coolest most personal piece “STRANGER”! STILL GLAD You’re A Voice for Johnny Winter….R&R HALL OF FAME LET’S GO.

    Reply
  • Today (02/23/2023) would have have been Johnny’s 79th Birthday.

    As Mahogma48 stated above – gone, but never forgotten.

    Rest In Peace Brother.

    Reply
  • “John Dawson Winter III” …Greatest Album in Music History! Thank you for keeping his name alive ..mand R&R Hall of Fame all the way.

    Reply
  • Winter of 88

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    • Despite poor critical reception, I have the opinion that The Winter of ’88 is actually a solid, underrated album. “Rain” is a great song.

      Reply
  • Johnny Winter would have been 79 years young yesterday, on his birthday, 02/23/2023.

    As mahogma48 stated above – “Gone, but never forgotten”.

    Very true – Spinning “Highway 61 Revisited” from “Captured Live” on the Thorens turntable, as I am typing this.

    R.I.P. Brother Johnny.

    Reply
  • I was lucky enough to get to interview Johnny in 2007. I was telling him how Johnny Winter and live was my favorite . He replied that it was his least favorite. I was completely caught off guard by that and when I asked him why he replied: “Because Rick kept stepping on my leads”.

    Reply
  • I had the privilege of seeing Johnny Winter several times and he was in my opinion one of the best guitarist ever my favorite album is still alive and well,but all of his songs were great,a true rock and roll legend

    Reply
    • He is a legend and an inspiration, that’s for sure.

      Thank you for your comment, Lisa.

      Reply
  • Winter of 88. Absolute my favorite,,look away!!!is magic

    Reply
    • As stated above, I think that Winter Of ’88 is actually underrated. It could have made our list without any loss.

      Reply
  • The best I saw JW was the’69 ,Pop festival in West Palm Beach on Thanksgiving weekend wherehe introduced Edgar on a pink Saxophone & later teamed up with Janice Joplin to Jam with The Vanilla Fudge. Live is always best!

    Reply
  • So happy Edgar made Brother Johnny for his brother. First time I saw Johnny was 1971 at the Fillmore in N.Y. I saw him 22 times until just before he passed away. I feel he is the best guitarist and I saw many of the best. He should be in the hall of fame. My favorite song he did in concert was Be careful with a fool

    Reply
  • Couldn’t agree more on picks one and two (listen to both with headphones….) Not a bad cut on either album. Couple of notes….Keith Richards is quoted at one point saying he wished the Stones coulda done Let it Bleed like JW. If I had to pick one cut from the above “top two albums” it would be “Be Careful with a Fool” for pure clean in-the-pocket finger picking e-lectric blues guitar playing. (again, listen with headphones..lol)

    Reply

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