Johnny Winter: A Blues Legend's Texas 'Roots'

Sep 30, 2011

In the late 1960s, Columbia Records won a bidding war to sign a young blues-rocker. More than 40 years and countless recording sessions later, Johnny Winter is still playing the blues.

Winter's latest album, just out, pays homage to the origins of that musical form: It's called Roots. Winter tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon that he fell in love with the blues early on, when he and his brother — rocker Edgar Winter — were growing up in Beaumont, Texas.

"Not many white people in Beaumont cared about the blues," he says. "I just liked the emotion and the feeling in the music. It was the most emotional music I'd ever heard."

Winter caught a break at age 17, when he went to see his idol B.B. King at a Beaumont club called The Raven.

"I went with my band, and I really wanted B.B. to hear me play, because I loved B.B.'s music and I wanted to show him what I could do. So I sent some of my friends over to ask him if it'd be okay," Winter says. "He was having tax problems at the time, and he thought, us being the only white people in there, that we'd come from the IRS to bust him for his taxes."

After some prodding, though, King relented — and invited Winter onstage to perform.

"He didn't know whether I could play or not," Winter says, chuckling. "I think he was just so glad that we didn't come to mess with him about his taxes, he didn't care."

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