Johnny Winter: Mean Town Blues

Rail-thin, cross-eyed and albino. It is hard to imagine what B.B. King thought in 1962 when a teenage Johnny Winter asked to sit in with him at a black juke joint in Beaumont, Texas, a city plagued by racial violence. Johnny grew up in the tough oil town, listening to the Big Bopper spin rock ‘n’ roll on a local radio station and playing in bands with his little brother Edgar. Entranced by the blues at an early age, Johnny would go anywhere to hear the music. “I went to black clubs all the time and nobody ever bothered me,” Winter says. “I always felt welcome.” This led to an early education in the blues by the true masters. Winter recalls seeing shows by Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Bobby Bland, among others. By the time B.B. came to town, he had been playing for years.

As for that night at the Club Raven, Winter remembers, “I was about 17 and B.B. didn’t want to let me on stage at first. He asked me for a union card and I had one. I kept sending people over to ask him to let me play. Finally, he decided that there were enough people who wanted to hear me that no matter if I was good or not, it would be worth it to let me on stage. He gave me a guitar and let me play. I got a standing ovation, and he took his guitar back!”

-Ari Surdoval


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