Johnny's family members who shared their memories for this biography include his mother Edwina, brother Edgar, and wife Susan. Friends include artist Jim Franklin, bassist Tommy Shannon, drummer Uncle John Turner, and his wife Morgan Turner. Tommy and Uncle John comprised Johnny's original rhythm section but the tight bond and closeness they share with Johnny makes them friends, as well as musicians.
Johnny's mother Edwina is a delightful woman who is understandably proud of both Johnny and Edgar. She shared her memories of Johnny's childhood, his close relationship with his great grandfather Ole Pa, and a family life that included reading the Bible after school, attending church services on Sunday, helping the boys with their homework, and reading The Hobbit at bedtime. Edwina, who plays the piano, shared the role that music played in family life, Johnny's early musical lessons, and how albinism affected both boy's eyesight and visual perception.
A multi-talented performer in his own right, Johnny's brother Edgar plays saxophone, keyboards, piano, drums, synthesizer, and sings lead vocals as well as harmony. With over 20 albums to his credit, Edgar is well known for two hit albums with his group White Trash - Edgar Winter's White Trash and Roadwork, his 1972 follow-up live album that went gold. He later formed The Edgar Winter Group, which released They Only Come Out at Night in 1973. That record, which went gold and double platinum, featured "Frankenstein," a number one single, as well as "Free Ride." Other recordings include Shock Treatment, Jasmine Nightdreams, The Edgar Winter Group with Rick Derringer, Together Live (With Johnny), and Winter Blues.
Edgar shared memories of growing up with Johnny, the challenges they faced for being albino, and how their similarities and love for music bonded them from birth. Edgar spoke about Johnny's first recording session in 1959 and shared his then 12-year-old's wonder of playing in a studio. He talked about playing gigs with a teenage Johnny in a backwoods club when he was still a preteen, bringing Johnny to the Tahiti, a Beaumont jazz club, to jam with jazz artists, and touring the Deep South with Johnny in the mid 60s. Edgars shares a lifetime of memories including that historical moment (recorded for Roadwork) when he brought Johnny on stage with the introduction, "People keep asking me 'Hey, where' s your brother?'"
Johnny's significant other since 1972 and his wife since 1992, Susan Winter is a sweet and gracious lady who candidly shared memories of her life with Johnny. She talked about their initial meeting, her stint in Johnny's band, a bizarre phone conversation with John Belushi, and the night she enlisted the help of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at SIR in NYC. She shared the ups and downs of being in a relationship with a celebrity, as well as the betrayal and hurt she felt when she discovered that Johnny's long-time manager had been using his friendship to financially exploit her and Johnny.
Susan graciously opened her home to me for my Saturday night interviews with Johnny, gave me unlimited access to the magazines, newspapers, and memorabilia in Johnny's archives, and loaned me a number of personal video tapes containing his appearances on The Mike Douglas Show, Late Night with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, Nightline (with B.B. King), the MTV video for "Don’t Take Advantage of Me," the Chicago Blues Festival, MTV's May 1983 Tribute to Muddy, a JBL Audio commercial featuring Johnnys "Illustrated Man," and a timeless 1970 video of "Johnny B. Goode." Susan also provided many intimate photos for Johnny's biography.
I interviewed artist Jim Franklin at a Mexican restaurant in Austin, not far from the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, where Jim's portrait of Johnny and his 1970 painting of Johnny, Uncle John Turner, and Tommy Shannon are proudly displayed. Jim befriended Johnny in Austin in 1967 and has maintained that friendship through the years. When Johnny got out of rehab in 1972, he did an interview with a Rolling Stone reporter in Jim's studio above the Armadillo World Headquarters, the club that took over after the Vulcan Gas Company closed.
Jim shared his memories of the early years in Austin, the recording of Progressive Blues Experiment at the Vulcan Gas Company, the weekend Johnny played with Muddy Waters, the night Johnny dropped mescaline and was too high to jam with Freddie King, a bizarre suggestion to Johnny by artist Salvador Dali, and a hurtful interview by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Bassist Tommy Shannon joined up with Johnny in 1968 and played with him and Uncle John Turner until mid 1970. Tommy went on to play with Stevie Ray Vaughan from 1981 to his tragic death in 1990. I met Tommy in the dressing room at Antone's in Austin on a Blue Tuesday, when he was playing with Malford Milligan, Derek O'Brien, Riley Osbourne, and Chris Layton, the other half of Double Trouble. What an amazing show! The next day, Tommy picked me up at the Austin Motel, a hip and funky motel that his wife Kumi had recommended, and brought me to Curra's, a Mexican restaurant. We chatted amiably until we were joined by Uncle John Turner and began the interview in earnest. When Unc had to leave for a previous engagement, Tommy continued sharing his story. He was extremely candid about his musical and personal experiences playing in Johnny's band, and his ongoing friendship with Johnny.
Our second interview took place in the Starbuck's on South Congress Street during SXSW 2007. Sadly, we met again four months later when I flew to Austin for Uncle John's memorial. Tommy shared his feelings about joining Johnny on stage at the Uncathon benefit at Antone's just days before, when Johnny's appearance served as a healing force and raised an incredible amount of money to offset medical and other expenses for the drummer who had been both Tommy's and Johnnys best friend.
Drummer Uncle John Turner convinced Johnny to start playing blues in 1968 and played with him and Tommy Shannon until mid 1970. I interviewed Unc a number of times. We first talked at a joint interview with Tommy Shannon at Curra's in Austin. They regaled me with stories of their friendship and musical journey with Johnny, their experiences on LSD, at Woodstock, and at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, where they both ended up in jail.
The following day, the ever hospitable Unc picked me up at my hotel and gave me a tour of Austin's hill country and entertainment district before bringing me to his home to continue the interview. Unc invited me to his gig at the Marble Falls Blues Festival that weekend, when he played with an incredible line-up that included Jerry LaCroix (from Edgar Winter's White Trash) on vocals, Alan Haynes on guitar, Appa Perry on bass, Riley Osbourne on keyboards, and the Kaz Kazanoff horns.
In March 2007, when I was in Austin for SXSW, I hooked up with Tommy and Unc again to talk to them about the reunion with Johnny at La Zona Rosa. Unc also filled me in on his experiences visiting Johnny at the River Oaks Hospital in 1972, and the frightening afternoon when Johnny ODed in Unc's apartment. Ever the welcoming host, Unc invited me to his gig at Ego's on South Congress Street that evening. Thankfully, despite an early flight the next morning, I stopped by and watched this illustrious drummer play his heart out. Unc died four months later and I'm eternally grateful that I gave up a little sleep for one more time to see a living legend.
I spoke with Uncle John Turner's widow Morgan at her home in Austin, where she shared Unc's scrapbook and photo collection. Morgan supplied some wonderful photos of the early career of Johnny, Uncle John, and Tommy Shannon, including one of Johnny in the studio with (Hendrix producer) Eddie Kramer during the sessions for Johnny Winter. She also provided several Burton Wilson photographs from the early days at the Vulcan Gas Company (from Unc's personal collection), and a photo she shot at the band's reunion at La Zona Rosa in November 2006.
Morgan shared her poignant moments with Johnny in August 2007 when he traveled to Austin to play a benefit for Uncle John, who regrettably died only days before Johnny came to town. She explains how Johnny's decision to play that benefit affected Unc's state-of-mind when he heard Johnny was coming, and ultimately helped raise funds for medical and other expenses.