Johnny Winter biography can be a dry read

Mary Lou Sullivan
“Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter”
Backbeat Books, 978-0-87930-973-2
Softcover, 362 pages, $24.99

By Gillian G. Gaar

“Raisin’ Cain” is an up close and personal biography of Johnny Winter, as Sullivan has Winter’s full cooperation (he also wrote the book’s preface). And it doesn’t shy away from the rockier parts of Winter’s career, such as his well-documented drug use that led to a downswing in his career (and came close to costing him his life), along with the assorted legal troubles that seem to come to everyone involved in the music industry eventually. But Winter is a survivor, making no apologies or shirking any responsibility for his own choices.

Oddly, even with the help of Winter, his family, friends, and fellow musicians, it’s something of a dry read. It’s almost like an oral history; the narrative goes from quote to quote with linking commentary that rarely makes evaluative judgments. The quotes themselves could also use some tightening up. The end result is that although the story is very detailed, it also tends to drag. A tale of this caliber (“You can’t make this stuff up,” Winter points out in his preface) should be a livelier read.

Nonetheless, Winter fans will probably be pleased by the wealth of information (including a discography, with guest appearances and a selected listing of bootlegs). Having Winter’s cooperation also seems to have resulted in a more interesting range of photographs than other biographies.


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