Born an albino, he was very unusual to look at. His deathly pallour, long, silky white hair and skeletal arms and legs gave him the appearance of an Adam’s family relative, an impression heightened further by his adoption of a black top-hat in the early 1970s. But there was nothing creepy about him. In interviews I have seen his cross-eyed, china-blue stare was hard to read, but always affectingly gentle. Winter was dogged by poor vision and his left eye remained half-closed much of the time, especially in his final years. He had a large nose which was shapely enough in some photos, but snout-like in others. His finely drawn, almost feminine mouth, was the only part of his face to have much colour to it, and hence drew the eye, but it seemed out of place beneath the afore-mentioned honker and the very firm and bulbous chin below it.
But, you may well ask, do his looks matter? As a matter of fact, yes, I think they might. Winter’s status as a rock star (not that he was ever as « legendary » as his hagiographers would have us believe) probably improved his chances with the opposite sex, but it must have been difficult for him to attract girls before he made it in music.
Music, I suspect, was his release, a dimension in which he could sublimate his sexual yearnings and achieve the kind of adulation that would substitute, in some degree at least, for the love of women. As a singer he seemed to roar with thwarted desire but the epic solos that invariably followed are pure release, in which the tormenting demands of the flesh are consumed and transcended.
Though deeply rooted in the earthiness of the blues, his music is always reaching for the sky. And the other two elements – the white heat of fire and the fluid brilliancy of water – are never lacking in his best recordings. Cosmic blues if ever I heard it.
When asked once how he wanted his guitar to sound, Winter replied « I want it to sing like a horny angel». He has now joined, if you’ll allow a rather facile conceit, that heavenly choir, but he left some terrific recordings and we can still join him there in spirit if not in body.