PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

Raisin' Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter

Mary Lou Sullivan
Johnny at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago in 1975. Photo (partial) by © Jim Summaria

“There was always a line outside the Scene and lots of celebrities,” says Johnny. “Jimi Hendrix and all of the English bands who came to New York—once they left their gigs, they came to jam…"

Excerpted from Chapter 5, “The Legend Begins” of Raisin' Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter by Mary Lou Sullivan Copyright © 2010 by Mary Lou Sullivan. Excerpted by permission of Hal Leonard. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

While Johnny was meeting with the Vernon Brothers in England, Rolling Stone was going to press with an article that would change his life. On December 7, 1968, the counterculture music magazine ran a cover story written by Larry Sepulvado and John Burks, who traveled to the Lone Star State to report on the music scene. The main illustration, a photograph of Johnny in a formal seated pose with the caption JOHNNY WINTER, ALBINO BLUESMAN, was spread over two pages and ran beneath the “Texas” headline. Although the article mistakenly called Edgar his “identical twin brother,” it gave him instant credibility with Mike Bloomfield’s acknowledgement that Johnny was the “best white blues guitarist he had ever heard” and Chet Helms’s description of him as “incredible.” A former Texas resident, Helms had talked Janis Joplin into leaving Austin and later convinced Big Brother and the Holding Company to hire her as their singer. With credentials like these, along with his famed “Family Dog” concert and light-show productions at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms, Helms’s opinion carried weight.

“When I got back to Texas, Rolling Stone had this big article that said how great I was,” says Johnny. “It was everywhere—everybody read Rolling Stone. It called me the hottest thing in Texas outside of Janis Joplin. The reporter saw me in the Love Street Light Circus but I never knew he was there. That article was excellent; I didn’t know how much it would do, but I knew it was gonna be a big help to us. It helped us get more money at the club, and I was going to New York to talk to Steve Paul, who wanted to be my manager.”

Steve Paul, a twenty-seven-year-old New York entrepreneur from the Bronx (“one of the best boroughs in town”) owned the Scene, a trendy nightclub in Manhattan. A former restaurant publicist with numerous contacts in the music industry, Paul was fascinated by the nightclub scene and remembered “loving and sneaking into all sorts of New York nightlife at an early age... My concept [for the Scene] was organic, eclectic, and open minded,” he said. As owner of the hippest club in New York City at a time when the rock music scene was exploding, Paul enjoyed the music and company of a wide circle of rock stars and famous musicians.

“Everybody had an amazing time, including me,” he said, as he tosses off names of notable artists who frequented and jammed at his club. “Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Eric Clapton, the McCoys, the Who, the Velvet Underground, among others,” he said. “How can you not like all these people, especially when they come to your club? They’re all great musicians and interesting characters.” The Rolling Stones, Beatles, and Led Zeppelin also frequented the Scene, and Paul considered Johnny “equal to the best of them.”

Before Johnny met with Paul, he and his band flew to San Francisco to talk to record executives at Mercury Records. Texas native Doug Sahm, founder of the Sir Douglas Quintet, whose single “She’s About a Mover” on Mercury Records reached thirteen on the charts, set up the meeting.

“Doug Sahm got Mercury Records to pay our way to San Francisco,” said [Uncle John] Turner. “The Rolling Stone article came out at the same time. Record labels were calling our hotel room from the East Coast saying don’t sign anything yet—give us a chance. I don’t know how they knew we were in San Francisco. I guess the word got out.”

Also in relentless pursuit, Paul who had talked to Johnny for hours on the payphone at the Vulcan Gas Company, left phone messages at Johnny’s parents’ house, and tracked him across the country. “I was really into blues and great players and Johnny seemed like an exciting and colorful musician, which indeed he is,” said Paul.

“When I went to California, he called me at every place I was there,” Johnny says. “I don’t know how he got my number. He’d call me at restaurants, everywhere. I thought he was kind of an idiot. I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not. Believed he really was who he said he was.”

Johnny and company stayed on the West Coast for several weeks. Mercury Records arranged for them to play a Tuesday night audition at the Fillmore and a gig at the Matrix, a small, hip club near North Beach.

“The Matrix was owned by Grace Slick’s husband,” said Turner. “Jerry Garcia was there; he was part owner. It was a club like the Scene, although it was nowhere as big or as cool. But it was a cool place to play; there were a lot of record people there.”

Although Mercury Records offered Johnny a lucrative deal, the label wanted artistic control, something Johnny was determined not to give up. He returned to Texas to see what Paul had to offer.

“Steve Paul looked up my number in the phone book and called me when he flew in to Houston,” says Johnny. “He came to my house. I thought he was kinda crazy; he saw us but he never said he liked us or not. We couldn’t figure out why he was so excited about signing us if he didn’t have any feelings for us. It was very strange that he never said he liked us.”

Paul may not have told Johnny he liked the band, but considered that meeting “exciting and enjoyable” and on a personal level, found Johnny to be “really smart, funny, and enjoyable to be with.” Nevertheless, Johnny doesn’t think that goodwill ever extended to the rest of the band.

Next Page

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.