Johnny Winter

Having tasted stardom in the late'60s and early '70s, singer/guitarist Johnny Winter has resisted bending with musical trends and has stuck with his Muddy Waters–influenced electric blues.

John Dawson Winter III was born Feb. 23, 1944, in Leland, Miss. In addition to his future as a rock star, John (and brother Edgar Winter) had the distinction of being born with albinism.

Winter was raised in Texas and played in blues-rock groups as a teen, with Edgar on keyboards and sax. In 1959, as part of Johnny and the Jammers, Johnny recorded his first single, "School Day Blues," on Texas' Dart Records.

The Winter brothers were based in Houston in the latter part of the '60s. Johnny then formed his own blues ensemble — with Edgar on keyboards, Tommy Shannon on bass and John Turner on drums.

Winter's group became the house band at New York's Scene, and its owner, Steve Paul, became his manager. In 1969, Winter signed with Columbia Records, which released his eponymous blues-rock debut LP (featuring "Dallas" and "Mean Mistreater") at the same time that earlier Winter recordings surfaced on Imperial Records as The Progressive Blues Experiment.

Both LPs sold well while their long white-haired creator was out touring the U.S., thrilling rock and blues fans, and critics, with his screaming blues-guitar work.

In 1970, Winter released Second Winter, which produced a minor hit cover of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." The double LP received notoriety because its fourth side was blank — Winter had reasoned that he didn't want to issue a single album and leave any music off the LP. That same year, Edgar started his own career on the Columbia label, with Entrance. Meanwhile, Johnny Winter And, on which he was backed by Rick Derringer's group the McCoys, was a bigger hit in the UK than in the U.S.

Winter went on hiatus for a few years, due to exhaustion from touring and heroin addiction. In 1973 he returned with his most successful LP, Still Alive and Well, containing "Silver Train," which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote for him and which the Rolling Stones had recorded the same year, on their Goats Head Soup.

Two years after enjoying the favorable reviews of 1974's Saints and Sinners, Johnny reteamed with his brother for Together, which made the upper half of the Billboard 200 albums chart. Edgar's star, meanwhile, had risen even higher than his brother's, thanks to the former's 1973 #1 instrumental rock monster "Frankenstein."

In 1977, Johnny recorded Nothin' but the Blues with Waters, his music hero. Winter then toured with the blues legend and played music festivals as a member of the Waters' band. Winter also produced several of Waters' albums, including the Grammy Award–winning Hard Again.

After another break from the business, Winter returned with the traditional blues of Guitar Slinger (1984), which earned him a Grammy nomination. But on The Winter of '88, the musician reverted to a more rock-oriented sound.

Following two more Grammy-nominated studio LPs in the early '90s (Let Me In and Hey, Where's Your Brother?), Winter issued Live in NYC '97 (1998), which was recorded at the Bottom Line. It featured tracks such as "The Sun Is Shining."

That same year came the retrospective Masters.

Other birthdays on Wednesday: Mike Maxfield (Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas), 56; Rusty Young (Poco), 54; Tex Comer (Ace), 51; Steve Priest (Sweet), 50; Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), 48; Howard Jones, 45; David Sylvian (Japan), 42; Michael Wilton (Queensrÿche), 38; Jeff Beres (Sister Hazel), 29; Lasse Johansson (Cardigans), 27.