Johnny Winter All Star Band coming to Fairfield

Winter loved living in Easton among the trees

Legendary blues guitarist Johnny Winter lived fast and loud but found respite in his house among the trees in Easton. He and his wife chose a secluded property in town. Susan Warford Winter lives there to this day.

Winter’s last performance was on July 14, 2014, at the Cahors Blues Festival in southwestern France. He died two days later, on July 16, 2014, of complications from emphysema.

Winter had finished recording his album “Step Back” and was playing an extensive tour in Europe to celebrate his 70th birthday with Paul Nelson, his close friend and music partner.

Winter didn’t live to see the day he would win a Grammy award for “Step Back” in the Best Blues Album category. Released a month or so after his death, the album was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for Blues Albums and Independent Albums.

“He had been nominated for a Grammy before, but this was his first ever win,” said Nelson, who produced Step Back and a previous album, Roots, and accompanied Winter on guitar on both albums. Nelson, a longtime member of the Johnny Winter Band, also performed with Winter on the Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel shows.

“We both won a Grammy for Step Back,” Nelson said during a Nov. 7 interview, just back from from a music cruise in Barbados.

Nelson will perform with the Johnny Winter All Star Band Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Quick Center for the Arts in Fairfield. Because of the tremendous outpouring of emotion from Winter’s fans since his death, the official concert event was arranged with the approval of his brother, Edgar Winter, and Winter’s estate. It features original members from Winter’s last band, including Nelson.

The show is a benefit to assist the Lebo-DeSantie Center for Liver and Pancreatic Disease at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.  

“I’m really excited to play it for a fantastic cause,” Nelson said. “Everyone should come.”

Here is a link to more information:  https://give.stvincents.org/nightofmusic2016.

Nelson’s new CD on Sony Records, Badass Generation, has received rave reviews worldwide. Read more at paulnelsonguitar.com.

The two men met more than a decade earlier and developed a close friendship musically, and it extended to the point that Nelson saw problems with Winter’s former management and Winter asked him to step in and help.

“He was like a father to me,” Nelson said. “I was his protégé guitar player. He taught me what to listen to, whom to listen to. His playing will always be a part of me. We were all things to each other.”

Their friendship led Winter to trust Nelson to help him get clean and sober after overindulging in drugs and alcohol earlier in his life. This, in turn, helped Winter make a comeback after a reclusive period during the 1990s, Nelson said.

“It improved his whole life and everyone around him,” Nelson said.

Giving up smoking was the hardest of all. It finally happened three years before Winter died, but the damage was already done, Nelson said.

Nelson hails from Weston and Stamford and spends a lot of time in Easton and Fairfield County.

“I see Susan all the time and work with the estate and Johnny Winter’s legacy,” Nelson said.

Susan Warburg Winter played with her husband on some shows and made a guest appearance on Nelson’s new record.

Winter liked to keep a low profile around town, but that didn’t stop him from feeling strongly attached to the place he called home for 15 years.

“When we came to Easton to look for a home, we just loved it,” he told The Courier in the 2010 interview.

Easton resident Tony Neidenbach, who lives on Sweetbrier Road, close to Tranquility Road, remembers the first time he saw his famous neighbor.

“When we first moved onto Sweetbrier in 2006 and were new in town, I saw a man with long white hair and waved at him from my front yard,” Neidenbach said. “When I later heard that Johnny Winter lived in town, I went on the website and joined the fan club.”

One day while driving through the neighborhood, he saw a giant motor home in front of what he now knows to be Winter’s house and saw “a bunch of roadie guys standing around.”

“I realized this was his personal life and where he comes to be quiet, and I didn’t want to disturb him,” Neidenbach said. Then in 2010 when Neidenbach and his wife were getting ready to move back overseas, he decided to knock on Winter’s door.

“Johnny came to the door and was very gracious,” Neidenbach said. Winter invited him in, and they visited for a while.

“I listened to him growing up, when I was in high school,” Neidenbach said. “I still remember when Edgar and Johnny Winter’s first album came out.”

The man, the legend

Winter was among the most popular live acts of the early 1970s, when his fast blues guitar solos attracted a wide following. The speed and volume of his guitar playing, with its roots in urban blues, incorporating elements of rock ’n’ roll, dazzled fans.

“I just love it,” Winter said in the Courier interview. “I’ll never stop. I plan on playing till the day I die.”

Like so many other musical icons of his era, Winter battled addiction to heroin and alcohol.

When asked if he had mellowed in recent years, he said in the interview, “Not really. I still like keeping things loud. I have gotten a lot of my vices out of my system.”

Winter performed often with blues and rock singer Janis Joplin, and the two became close during the 1960s.

He and his brother Edgar performed together as children, with the support and encouragement of their parents. He got his first big break in the music business in 1968, when well-known blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield asked him to play a song at the Fillmore East, a famous concert hall in Manhattan at the time. Music industry scouts heard him and immediately signed him to a contract at Columbia Records.

Winter played at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, produced two Grammy award-winning albums for Muddy Waters, and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tenn.

The new Johnny Winter documentary, Down & Dirty, was recently released on DVD. It debuted at South by Southwest and is a highly acclaimed, no-holds-barred, inside look at the life of Winter. Nelson is featured extensively in the film and is also the film’s executive producer.

Here’s a link to the Down & Dirty trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7pRujKFfsg

Paul Nelson was part of Johnny Winter’s band for many years, and they toured the world together.

Paul Nelson was part of Johnny Winter’s band for many years, and they toured the world together.

Paul Nelson was part of Johnny Winter’s band for many years, and they toured the world together.

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