Beaumont-born bluesman Johnny Winter is having a very busy year for a man who is 67. Not only is he set to release his first album of newly recorded material in eight years, Winter is also featured on I'm Back! Family & Friends, the album being released later this month by none other than the legendary psychedelic funkster Sly Stone.
Winter's own latest album, Roots (Megaforce Records), drops in September and features interpretations of two classic Houston blues songs, Bobby Bland's "Further On Up the Road" and Gatemouth Brown's "Okie Dokey Stomp," as well as classics by Junior Parker, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ray Charles, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and Chuck Berry.
Winter also added guitar to an upcoming release from Captain Kirk/Priceline deal-finder William Shatner. Rocks Off caught up with longtime Muddy Waters guitarist at his studio in Connecticut, where he has lived for some years.
Rocks Off: That's such a strong classic blues set list on your new album.
Johnny Winter: Yeah, those are all songs I go way, way back with.
RO: And you've brought in some guests to record with you?
JW: Yes, just some people I really like - Warren Haynes from Govt. Mule, Derek Trucks, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Vivino, Susan Tedeschi. And we tried to get Billy Gibbons, but we just never could make his schedule work with ours.
RO: We've been seeing more blues in Houston in the past year and the scene here looks pretty vibrant and vigorous right now. What's your take on Houston currently?
JW: You know, we haven't played Houston much the past ten years or so, just a couple of times I think. So I don't really have a handle on what's happening in Houston today. But Houston has always been a great blues town.
RO: Who would be one of your big Houston influences, if you have any?
JW: Gatemouth [Brown] for sure. Such an entertainer and a great musician.
RO: We've been trying to interview Sly Stone for some time now and aren't getting anywhere. Did you actually record with him, meet with him?
JW: No, I haven't seen him. Some of his people got in touch and asked me if I'd like to be on the album. They sent the material up here and I added my parts. So I didn't see him or talk with him.
RO: What about the William Shatner record?
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JW: [laughs] That's another one, his people just got in touch and said he would like me to play some guitar on the album. That was another deal where they just sent the material up here, though. I didn't meet him or anything.
RO: You've had health issues, but it seems you've been in good shape for quite a while. How is your health?
JW: I'm great. I'm still playing about a hundred dates a year, still recording. And I still like doing this because it's what I do. And I take pretty good care of myself, I think.
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RO: How is your brother, Edgar?
JW: He's doing great. He's on my new album. We cut that great old Bill Doggett instrumental "Honky Tonk" together. It was a lot of fun.