This article is dedicated to Johnny Winter who passed away on July 16, 2014 at age 70.
"I never took lessons like to learn how to read music or where to put my fingers. I would just ask these guys to show me whatever they thought I ought to know."
"I would just learn how to play a record note-for-note. I just took what I heard and assimilated it, and I guess it would come out part mine and part everybody else's. There's nobody that really plays original. You can't. You can find some of everybody's licks in almost everybody's playing, but I tried to make it my own after I got the basic things down."
"I'd listen to those blues records like Bobby Bland and Otis Rush, and I wondered, how could they push those strings, how could they do this? I used a second for the third, a first for the second and an A tenor banjo string for the first. That was really cool!"
"(My parents) thought that all musicians were either drunks, dope addicts, or sexual perverts of some kind. And I said, "It don't have to be that way, though." Of course, they were right."
"Everybody thought I was crazy. Nobody wanted to hear that stuff. I was almost embarrassed to play it. I used to shut my door, and people would come by and say, "What is that music, man? You don't really like that stuff!" I didn't find one other friend that liked blues until I was about 23 or 24."
On playing with BB King for the first time: "One night, when I was about 18, I went down there. We were the only white people in a club of about 1500 people. BB was playing and I wanted to show off, man, so bad. And so finally I went up on a break and asked him if I could. BB thought I was crazy. He said, "Can I see a union card?"
On his guitars: "Firebirds. I love Firebirds. I like real high action. I had it pretty high before I played slide, because I played hard. Just for pushing strings it's important for it to be high. When I have low action I can't get my finger under the string to push it as well. (String gauges are) .009, .011, .016, .024, .032, .042. The brand doesn't matter."
On his amps and amp settings: "Everything on all the way, and all treble and no bass. We're using a stack of 100-watt Marshalls. One head and two bottoms, and one head and two bottoms of the Ampeg SVTs."
On his younger brother's different musical tastes: "Edgar was never into blues. He couldn't stand it. He plays his John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck records for me and says, "Now isn't that great?" And then I'll say, "But what is that stuff you're playing for me, man? I don't feel it -- I mean, there's feeling in it, but it just sounds like a bunch of notes. As to Edgar's jazz, it's fun to listen to but I wouldn't want to live there."
"Every second that I wasn't doing something else that I had to do, I was playing guitar. It was just an obsession. I guess I played at least six or eight hours a day from the time I started until I was fifteen. Then when I started playing in groups, I didn't practice unless we were having band practice. (These days) I'll go a couple of weeks and never even touch my guitar. Of course, when I start back, it definitely takes a week or so to get back in shape. It's hard making myself practice 'cause there's not much that I'm interested in learning. But pretty much it's just practicing for a reason. We play so much on tour, that usually when I get off the road I don't want to see my guitar for a while anyway."
On his use of a thumbpick: "Since I started out playing Chet Atkins' style, I used a thumbpick. Really, a flat pick would have been a lot better, but I've just been doing it so long, it'd just be too hard to switch. I bought a hundred of them a couple of years ago because I had so much trouble finding them, and a few months after that, Gibson quit making them. I still got about fifty left, but I'm going to have to quit playing the guitar when I run out, unless I can talk Gibson into making me some more."
On his right hand technique: "I don't really think about it. When I started out with the Chet Atkins' stuff I was using those metal fingerpicks, and they just got in the way, so I quit using them. But on my blues stuff, I'm still using my finger some, mostly the first and second finger with the thumb."
"I've had my slide for years. I was using test tubes and playing with the back of my wristwatch and everything imaginable. (I went) to a plumbing supply place, got a 12-foot long piece of conduit pipe, cut it into pieces and rounded out one side. When I got it, it was dull, gray and real rough. Then I just played and wore that off, and it became kind of shiny black. And then I played it for a little while longer and wore that off, and now it's kind of silver. Crust just sort of built up inside. Rust and dirt and sweat and everything. I love it! I don't even have any backup slides."
On his different slide tunings: "Open A and open E. Sometimes I play slide in regular tuning, but not too often."
On Jimi Hendrix and the tremelo bar: "Jimi Hendrix could use it so good! And people would put him down for using it, but man, it was a whole different dimension when he used it. Even when his guitar was horribly out of tune, he could play so cool, you'd hardly ever know it. He had a way of bending the strings just enough to where it could sound in tune, even though it was horribly out of tune.If I'd pick it up and play a chord on his guitar, it would sound ungodly."
"We learn more things on the bandstand than we would practicing. After I learned how to play guitar I never have liked to practice that much."
On recording versus playing live: "I get off on turning people on. It's hard for me to put everything into it when I know there's nobody there."
"So many people just buy a guitar because the decided, "I want to be a rock and roll star. I'm going to learn how to play this son of a bitch." And after they get a few runs down they think, "Okay, it's time for me to be a star." You know, I was really ready to play for fifty bucks a week, if that's what it took. The basic drive and main thing was that I really liked what I was doing. You've got to have that first, or you can't make it."
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