Song of the Day: Billy Sedlmayr Weighs in on Old FM Staple 'Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo' and Johnny and Edgar Winter

Johnny Winter was born in Beaumont, Texas in the early '40s. He and little brother Edgar would often catch blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland and B.B. King on the Chitlin Circuit's lower stops.

By the time the bros began gigging they knew firsthand what prejudice could do to those inflicted, and to those inflicting. And, while they embraced black music and black culture, they felt like freaks so they chose to flaunt their albinism, long white hair, hard pale eyes and pearl skin. There has been nothing like them before or since. The best argument ever in favor of white people playing the blues.

Those boys were meant to shine.

Johnny signed a big money deal with Columbia Records on the praise of blues axeman Mike Bloomfield and the ever growing rock 'n' roll community in Texas. He had was an original voice, a searing steel guitar sound, while fearless with a hand-me-down Fender, turning rock 'n' roll tricks to further his true love—the Blues.

Edgar had started White Trash, an R&B and jazz-inflected rock 'n' roll outfit while Johnny
hit full stride with remaining members of The McCoys, (yes, Hang on Sloopy). He
carved out a whole new sound, thumb picking on the guitar to free up his fingers.

In 1970 Johnny put out Johnny Winter And, which featured the Rick Derringer-penned "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo," a two-guitar barnburner and the consummate '70s rock song. This version is spotless, tight and avoids cliche.  Johnny's voice is weathered at a young age—he was already deep into the spoon—and his vocals and guitar work are almost pleas for deliverance. He had a relationship with Janis Joplin around this time. Things were moving very fast; his heart was in blues music but his label had a full-on marketing campaign to make him a pop star of sorts, and for awhile he bought in. The records from that time are very good. He would shepherd covers, like Dylan's "Highway 61" and The Stones' "Silver Train," turning them into electrical showstoppers. He was something to see playing rock star but it'd be a matter of time till he went back to pure blues. He produced his idol Muddy Waters and erned Grammys for his trouble.
Edgar would have huge success with the instrumental "Frankenstein" (someone had to) and the FM-radio mighty "Free Ride." The brothers would do live projects together, most of which are really quite good. Lastly, Johnny and Edgar are portrayed in DC Comics' Jonah Hex (a fave of mine), a half-dead Civil War soldier/bounty hunter who crosses paths with a Johnny and Edgar Autumn, a pair of albino bros who are Texas bounty hunters.

Johnny passed away on tour, summer 2014. A real Texas bluesman.

"Lawdy Mama, light my fuse ..."