A little over a year before his death, blues icon Johnny Winter made what would become his final recording: a cover of Son House’s 1965 blues classic “Death Letter.” Video footage of the session, which took place on February 4th, 2013, shows the singer and guitarist donning a metal slide for a particularly bendy and grisly acoustic version of the track. The song appears on Winter’s final album, Step Back, which came out posthumously in September. When somebody told him it sounded great at the end of the video, Winter laughed and said, “I’m ready to go home.”
“Johnny was one of my earliest influences,” Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule singer-guitarist Warren Haynes tells Rolling Stone. “He was so unique and so authentic at the same time. Watching him do this performance of the Son House classic ‘Death Letter,’ you can hear how natural and comfortable it was for him. He’d been listening to and covering Son House his whole life, which comes across here but somehow sounds equally like Johnny Winter.”
Step Back featured recording collaborations Winter had done with the likes of Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa, Brian Setzer and more. His recording of Elmore James’ “Can’t Hold Out (Talk to Me, Baby),” which featured Ben Harper and appeared on the album, previously appeared online.
Days after Winter’s death, his brother Edgar paid his respects, announcing that he was reprogramming his summer tour as a tribute to his sibling. “Johnny has always been, is now and will forever remain my greatest musical hero of all time,” Edgar wrote in a statement. “But more than all that, he’s my brother – in family, in music, in life and beyond. I will do my best to carry on in honor of his memory and the Winter name.”