Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter
By Mary Lou Sullivan
Publisher: Backbeat Books
Reviewed: July, 2010
As I indicated at the beginning of my interview with Johnny Winter (here), I first became aware of him while watching Midnight Special as a teenager. I knew then that I was watching one of the best guitarists on the planet – regardless of the genre of music. In Raisin’ Cain, Mary Lou Sullivan does a tremendous job in telling Johnny’s story of his life before and after that tremendous performance.
I immediately noticed the cover photo of the book. It was taken by the legendary rock photographer and Boomerocity friend, Bob Gruen. And, speaking of photo’s, the book is chock full of them. My favorite ones are the two shown of Johnny and Edgar as kids. To me, these represent the most insightful aspect of the book: drilling into their childhood environment.
From what I gathered from this book, Johnny parents were great parents. Mr. and Mrs. Winter appears to have had tremendous wisdom in rearing their boys who both born with albinism and the social and physical challenges that come with it. Mr. and Mrs. Winter helped the boys by introducing them to many things but especially the arts and especially music.
Mr. and Mrs. Winter couldn’t possibly have shielded the cruel ridicule that they’re schoolmates so heartlessly piled on the boys. What they could, and did, do was helped Johnny and Edgar develop within themselves a steel spine that gave them the resolve to not only survive what can often be a cruel world but to conquer music with unparalleled excellence. Having watched them both perform in concert, that resolve still serves them well even today.
Raisin’ Cain’s pages are peppered with a who’s who of rock and blues legends. Janis Joplin, Muddy Waters, Rick Derringer, Albert Collins, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn are just a few of musical royalty discussed in the book.
Johnny says in the forward of the book, “Reading this book was emotional – the good stuff was great and the bad stuff was really horrible. Some of the memories were painful, but I’m glad they’re in the book. To try to whitewash my life would have been horrible, that wouldn’t have been worth reading. I’ve always been honest. You don’t get the right picture if you’re not honest.”
To be sure, there are plenty of details about Winter’s battle with heroin addiction and other substances as well as his proclivity to “having a girl in every port” while his faithful girlfriends was at home. You’ll read of the horrible mishandling of his career by previous managers and how his current manager, Paul Nelson (who also plays guitar on stage with Johnny) has successfully steered Winter’s career back into more sound decisions and business practices.
If you’re Johnny Winter fan or just a music buff, this is a must-read tome. Pick up Raisin’ Cain at your favorite bookstore or order by clicking on the image at the upper right area of this page.