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FEATURES --  So Many Roads, Poetry by George Kalamaras

George Kalamaras

Winter in July

                     for Johnny Winter

 February 1944 – July 2014

Johnny Winter B&W

So, bikers from Muncie drove up last November, with leather cuts, beards to their chests.


So, women in tight jeans slurred hips that said denim blue is the only blues.


So, every one of us that night had visibly aged, had glacial drifts qualming down our hair.


And you played for us two sets, Johnny, and Fort Wayne was never the same.


Fort Wayne transformed into Fort Worth? Into Fort Saint-and-Sinner? Fort Hoochie Coochie Man?


And I was with you, my brother, revisiting, resurfacing Highway 61.


And you were the Mean Mistreater, beating back my heart with the blood of your axe.


And when you rasped “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” I swallowed your tattoos. Your arms, a-swirl in ocean depths of ink wells before it was cool.


And when you changed guitars, the guitar found you, brought to you—by a band-mate—on your stool.


I remembered 1971, first hearing Live Johnny Winter And. The year struck in my throat. The word and joining all the bad of my teenage sad.

Johnny Winter guitar duel 1975
Johnny Winter jams with Floyd Radford at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on March 19, 1976
photo: Roman Sobus

You were a guitar-slinger, Johnny. Your six-string gun still stinging my gums.


The way your blues roamed through me loose as if my mouth might finally stray it right.


“It’s My Own Fault,” I sang with you over and again, sorry it had taken me so long to finally catch you live.


You could barely walk off stage after your blistering set.You weren’t sick or old but a scrap of blue metal plated to the stage.


How I grieved you, Johnny. Grieved for you, swallowed in those tattoos.

Johnny Winter by Jenn
photo: Jennifer Noble

How the squid took your arm.


How the needle made its bite.


How you finally found a way to jump the junk and keep it clean.


How it’s always our own fault when the cards fake dice. When the road churns dirt. When winter comes in July.


And a white, white cloud—shaggy across the plains—is the cut of your hair, aching the stage.


And Highway 61 is never Highway 16. Or the bus from Beaumont, Texas, to Muddy’s south side might. Or 287 in Fort Collins to Laramie north.


How do I live now, knowing you’re not there—always twelve years ahead of me since I was fifteen, bending the bent of the road with your axe?

Johnny Winter at Buddy Guy's 2014
Johnny Winter at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago, June 2014
photo: Jennifer Noble

Check out George's favorite video of Johnny playing "Mean Mistreater" CLICK
So Many Roads, is a blues poetry column by George Kalamaras, Indiana's poet laureate. The award-winning poet was born on the South Side of Chicago and grew up listening to the blues--beginning with Ray Charles...(read bio)

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