Saturday, August 02, 2014

Good-bye, Johnny Winter: Renaissance Angel and Texas Blues and Slide Guitar Genius

It was partly his music, but it was mainly that he looked like an angel with his pale blonde hair, his porcelain skin, and his light amber eyes. When he burst onto the rock and roll / blues scene in the early 1970s, John Dawson Winter III (Johnny Winter) often dressed in Renaissance-inflected loose, flowing shirts and shiny slacks along with elegant platform shoes -- he could have stepped off the canvas painted by Botticelli, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, or other Italian Renaissance artist. His younger brother, Edgar, was also an albino and a musician. Edgar, however, was not beautiful, nor was he the least bit angelic, despite the fact that he adorned himself with chunky women's necklaces and you had to wonder who came first - Edgar Winter or David Bowie. I remained unmoved by Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. However, when it came to Johnny Winter, I was utterly transfixed.

 I loved Johnny Winter's music because it was so expressive, although I did not even like the blues. His slide guitar work was mesmerizing, especially when I could watch him perform at a concert recorded for television.  I liked it also that Johnny Winter was a man of few words; he spoke through his costuming and also through his music. When Johnny Winter died, he was no longer beautiful in the same way that he had been when he was in his 20s and 30s. Years of heroin addiction will do that to you. However, there was still something in his stage presence that pulled in the ineffable, and at 70, he had the same heart-stopping phrasing and his voice the same forceful growl; a sound utterly at odds with his frail, often other-worldly appearance. He was still an angel, albeit one whose appearance tugged your heartstrings because he still did what angels did, which was to be in touch with the divine, and bring the music of the spheres to our own mortal coils.

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