The professionals who helped to create his sound and shared their thoughts in Johnny Winter's biography include engineer Dennis Ferrante, producer Terry Manning, long-time friend and producer Dick Shurman, and luthier Mark Erlewine.
Engineer Dennis Ferrante worked with producer Shelly Yakus on John Dawson Winter III. Dennis had engineered several John Lennon albums at the Record Plant, including Imagine, Sometime in New York City, Mind Games, and Walls and Bridges, when he was hired to work with Johnny in 1974.
Dennis talked about the recording session with Johnny, and how Edgar's and Johnny's styles differ in the studio. He shared his memories of Johnny's penchant for Vandermint Dutch Chocolate Liqueur and how that led to some wild moments in the studio. Dennis also revealed the reasoning behind Johnny’s exuberant “Yeah!”s on that (and perhaps other) recording(s).
I had to wait out a hurricane to interview producer Terry Manning from Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas. Terry has an incredible background; he began his career as an engineer at Stax Records and later became producer/engineer of Ardent Studio in Memphis. He produced all of George Thorogood’s LPs, including Bad to the Bone, which spent a year on the charts. He produced Powerful Stuff by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and engineered seven ZZ Top albums, including Eliminator, which hit the charts with “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” Manning also was engineer on Led Zeppelin III.
In 1988, when Johnny signed with MCA Records, he needed a producer with a proven track record for blues rock hits, and hired Terry to produce Winter of 88. Terry explains how the disparity between what MCA, Johnny's manager, and Johnny wanted – in terms of the sound and the end result – led to some rather contentious studio sessions. During the recording of Winter of 88 at Ardent Studio in Memphis, Terry found himself between a rock and a hard place – between providing the pop-flavored hit that the label and Slatus wanted and the more straight ahead blues sound that Johnny loved.
Dick Shurman's career as a Blues writer, historian, and producer spans three decades. He has produced Roy Buchanan, Albert Collins, Magic Slim, Charlie Musselwhite, Little Smokey Smothers, Lee Shot Williams, and Jody Williams. He received a Grammy for Showdown!, the 1985 Alligator release featuring Albert Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland, and has earned several Grammy nominations. In 2005, the Blues Foundation in Memphis awarded him a Keeping the Blues Alive (KBA) Award for his work as a producer.
Dick, who met Johnny in 1978, shared memories of more than three decades as Johnny's friend and producer. I interviewed him numerous times; our first interview was in the home of Teddy Slatus, when Dick was in town to produce I'm a Bluesman. We did a follow up interview the following day, hooked up in Carriage House Studio, and did another interview on the phone. Dick co-produced Johnny's first two albums on Alligator Records–Guitar Slinger and Serious Business–with Bruce Iglauer and Johnny, and co-produced the following one–Third Degree–with Johnny. A tight friendship and mutual respect ensued, with Dick producing Let Me In, "Hey Where's Your Brother?" and Johnny Winter Live in NYC '97 on Pointblank and I'm a Bluesman on the Virgin label. A noted blues historian with a great memory and an eye for details, Dick proved to be a wonderful source of information throughout the project.
Luthier Mark Erlewine built the Erlewine Automatic Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler used for his trademark opening riff on “Money For Nothing,” and also built Automatics for Don Felder of the Eagles and Johnny’s friend Billy Gibbons in ZZ Top. He built the Chiquita Michael J. Fox played in Back to the Future, and met Johnny when he brought a Chiquita backstage at Johnny’s gig at the Austin Opry House.
I interviewed Mark surrounded by guitars and guitar parts at Erlewine Guitars in Austin. Mark introduced Johnny to the Lazer guitar in the early 1980s – Johnny picked it up and played it in 1984 and has been playing it ever since. Johnny has four Lazer guitars; red, black, white, and gold. The red and black were built in Korea with Erlewine’s design. Erlewine hand-built the white one with two pickups, and also built him a customized gold model.
Serendipitously, Erlewine was at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in August 1970, where he witnessed the inspired jam spectators described as a “killer competition” between Johnny and Luther Allison. Mark shared his memories of that show as well as his experiences with Johnny and thoughts about providing him with his trademark guitar.