Johnny Winter passed away this week. In a hotel in Europe. I photographed Johnny (by accident) in June of 1979. The concert at the Chicago Stadium was Eric Clapton, with Muddy Waters as the opener. Halfway through Muddy’s set (all the other photographers had left- guess they didn’t want to photograph the old black guy), Eric Clapton walked onstage from the left and Johnny Winter walked on from the right. Johnny was in town producing one of Muddy’s Blue Sky albums. They played one song together. As far as I know, I was the only photographer that stayed. This photograph has been in about 8 album packages since then.
In February of 1984, my friend Bruce Iglauer from Alligator Records brought Johnny to my house for an album cover shoot. I pulled out a purple background and had Johnny sit on a stool with a glass of Jack Daniels and an ashtray nearby, and had him play for about 2 hours. At one point, he paused and looked up at me, and BAM, I had my shot.
Several years later, on another Alligator cover shoot, we tried to set up a shot with a drink and a deck of cards in a bar, but settled for another studio shot, with Johnny playing a steel guitar.
I photographed him many times in concert, the last time being in 2008 at the Chicago Blues Fest. His manager asked me if I wanted to go out to the bus and say hi, and we headed backstage. We walked on the bus, and Johnny was sitting, head down at a small table at the front of the bus. I sat down across from him and said hi. He didn’t look up. But mumbled hi back. His manager told me he would be back in a few minutes. I tried to make some kind of conversation, but only received one word answers. When the manager came back, I left to go to the stage to photograph the show. I was bummed out, and worried that the show would not be as good as I hoped. But…….Johnny came out, sat on a chair, and as frail as he was, ripped off a great hour long set, to tremendous applause. That is the way I want to remember him.