Guitarist John Dawson "Johnny" Winter III is best known for his high-energy blues-rock albums and live performances in the '60s and '70s.
His sums up the '90s as a decade that wasn't very good for him. Succinct with his words, he certainly doesn't want to relive those lost years.
Who: Johnny Winter
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, July 21
Where: Rogue Theatre, 143 S.E. H St., Grants Pass
Tickets: $25 for general, $35 or $45 for reserved seating
Things turned around for him while he was working on his 2004 album, "I'm a Bluesman," on Virgin Records. Paul Nelson, a session guitarist who had worked with Steve Vai (songwriter, guitarist and producer), jazz guitarist Mike Stern (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham, Miles Davis) and guitarist Steve Khan (Cobham, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, James Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Weather Report), was brought in to play guitar and write a few songs for the album.
"Winter's manager, Teddy Slatus, was looking for someone to cover Winter's parts," Nelson says during a telephone interview.
Nelson not only filled the parts on the album, he took over as Winter's manager. It was one of the best things to come along in a while for Winter, who at the time was in the throes of addiction to antidepressants and methadone and in poor health.
Nelson knew something was wrong as soon as be began working in the studio with Winter, he says. It also seemed to him that Slatus wasn't working with Winter's best career interests in mind.
Nelson considered Winter one of his musical heroes, so he decided to do something about it.
"I just started taking the bull by the horns and started weaning him off of this stuff," Nelson says. "I whittled pieces off of his pills for three years without anyone knowing. It worked."
Today, Winter is clean and sober — he even stopped smoking about a year ago.
He's also back to playing energized, live shows, and he will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at the Rogue Theatre, 143 S.E. H St., Grants Pass. Tickets cost $25 for general seating, $35 or $45 for reserved seating, and can be purchased online at www.roguetheatre.com or by calling 541-471-1316.
Winter has given fans evidence of his resurgence with "Roots," released in 2011 on the Megaforce label. The album features Winter, along with Vince Gill, Derek Trucks, Warran Haynes and Susan Tedeschi, playing songs that helped shaped his rocking, blues-rooted sound.
Nelson, who produced "Roots" — along with Winter's touring bassist Scott Spray and drummer Vito Luizzi — and played on the album, was the one who came up with the concept for the recording.
"I said let's do a whole album of songs that you weren't allowed to do before," Nelson says. During the '70s, Winter was discouraged from doing roots blues in favor of rock material.
Winter clearly relished the idea.
"It was fun because they were songs I already knew, and had been doing since I was a teenager," Winter says. "I didn't have to learn anything."
"Roots" was such a success that a second recording has been started, to be titled "Roots II."
Winter and Nelson will be away from the studio as they return to touring. While "Roots" has done well, Winter says he does only a couple of songs from the album, preferring to play material from throughout his career.
That means that the native of Beaumont, Texas, might go back as far as his self-titled 1969 debut album and touch on his rock-oriented albums of the early '70s, such as "Still Alive and Well" and "Live Johnny Winter And."