Happy Birthday, Johnny Winter
Guest Blogger: Mary Lou Sullivan, author of Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter (Backbeat Books)
I met Johnny Winter in 1984, shortly after his 40th birthday. It’s hard to believe that almost 28 years have passed since then and that he’ll be 68 on February 23, 2012. When I asked him about turning 40 back then, he viewed his birthday philosophically. “When you’re 40, there’s no getting around it,” he said. You’re not a kid anymore, you’re middle-aged, you’re an adult. It was kinda nice to me to make it this far and still be a successful musician. To me, the greatest thing in the world was to get paid enough so you didn’t have to get a day gig, where you could just be a musician. That’s all I’ve ever done and it’s a good feeling,” he added with a laugh. “I hope I’m still doing this when I’m 75 or 80.”
Almost 20 years later, when I asked him how long he planned on playing during our weekly interviews for Raisin’ Cain, he’d had a change of heart. “I used to say I wanted to be playing the blues when I’m 80,” he said, as we chatted on his living room couch. “But 80’s nothing now; I’d like to go to 100.”
When I embarked on my seven-year journey to capture Johnny’s story, my goal was to preserve his legacy and give him his rightful place in music history. But the results of writing Johnny’s biography have been even more than I had imagined. Accolades for the book have come from far and wide and from some very unexpected places. Dan Aykroyd, a.k.a. Elwood Blues, called Raisin’ Cain “one of the world’s great music biographies,” and invited me to chat with him on two of his House of Blues Radio Hours. Jimmy Page’s manager David Enthoven took the time to send me an email to tell me Raisin’ Cain was “a great read.”
Johnny’s fans contacted me from around the world, praising the book and thanking me for writing it. I received emails and letters from throughout the US, the UK, Canada, Spain, Hungary, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Argentina, and Australia. A copy of Raisin’ Cain made it to the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, where one of Johnny’s old roadies is serving time for too many DUIs. Another copy holds a place of honor in the Library and Archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
There were other honors as well. The Blues Foundation in Memphis presented me with the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive Award in Literature, and the Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) gave its 2011 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research to both me and Johnny.
Raisin’ Cain not only reached Johnny’s fans and followers; it exposed his story and music to a new generation. A 10-year-old boy interviewed me for a school report about Johnny, and used the latest technology to embed you tube videos into his PowerPoint presentation. Nearly 150 college freshman heard Johnny’s music and story for the first time when I was invited to be a guest lecturer at a music history class at the University of Connecticut.
Johnny’s legacy, like the man himself, continues to thrive. He celebrates his 68thbirthday playing the Sighisoara Blues Festival in Romania on a tour that includes shows in Italy, Croatia, Poland, Greece, Germany, and Switzerland.
Happy Birthday, Johnny. May you still be playing at 110!
Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter (Backbeat Books) by Mary Lou Sullivan
Author Mary Lou Sullivan sat with Johnny Winter for hours of exclusive, no-holds-barred interviews, covering the guitar slinger’s entire career. From toughing it out in Texas to his appearance at Woodstock, his affair with Janis Joplin, his stadium-filling tours, and washing out on drugs and the temptations of the road before finally fulfilling his dream of becoming a 100-percent pure bluesman, resurrecting the career of Muddy Waters, and winning a Grammy Award for his effort, this is a raucous roller coaster of story. Raisin Cain is available from Amazon, B&N, independent bookstores, and BackbeatBooks.com.