Today, 14 September 2022, would have been Amy Winehouse's 39th birthday. We're republishing this snapshot of the star at 21 in tribute. You can also read about the making of Back to Black here.
Maybe it is because Amy Winehouse had a once in a generation voice that her abilities with the electric guitar are often overlooked. She was a neo-soul unicorn, peerless, so when the tale of her brilliant but tragically short life is told the guitar isn't the focal point of her story.
But just over a decade after her untimely death, aged 27, there are plenty of reminders of what she could do when armed with just a Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster and a song, like in September 2004, when she took the stage at the all-star Miller Strat Pack concert at Wembley Arena, to celebrate 50 years of the Stratocaster in the company of Joe Walsh, Brian May, Gary Moore, Hank Marvin and more.
All she needed was her guitar, some chords, her offbeat jazz phrasing, and her voice, and Take The Box becomes transcendent. In the video above, footage taken from Wembley Arena, her contralto voice and the bridge single-coil of her Strat is all that's needed – no need for any other musicians, or a pick.
While she was most associated with the Fender Stratocaster, Winehouse also played a custom Gibson Melody maker with name emblazoned on the fingerboard with custom inlay.
In an interview recorded at the same time as her the Strat Pack Wembley performance, she spoke about her journey on the guitar, and how she would have to sneak into her brother's room to play his guitar, before getting her first guitar with some money she had earned acting.
“I must have been about 13 or 14,“ she said. “I went to Bond Street, to Chappell on Bond Street [now Yamaha Music London], and it was a Fender, an acoustic Fender. It wasn’t an amazing guitar; it was a good starting point guitar. And I just played every day.“
Winehouse discusses the benefits of playing every day, and how being self-taught can be an advantage when developing your own distinct style.
“There are things people can show you but the truth is, if you learn how to play guitar off someone, you just kind of learn to play it like them,“ she said. “That’s why I can say that, while I am not even a probably adequate guitarist, I am still a distinctive guitarist. I sound different.”
When the conversation turned to influences, Winehouse cited Hendrix – “There is room in everyone’s life for Hendrix“ – and Velvet Underground, but guitar bands were not as important to her as the likes of Minnie Riperton were.
That said, the guitar was critical to her sound. It not only provided a sense of warmth, but power. It made her feel untouchable.
“When you have a guitar, it is not so much, ‘Yeah, I look good.’ It’s more that you feel power,“ she said. “It must be akin to having a dick, because I have never had a dick – obviously – it must be like that. When I go onstage with a guitar, no one can touch me. Not in an I’m-so-good way, just that I feel like it is all my strength. When I have a guitar onstage I feel strong.”
You can check out the whole interview above. Upon the 10th anniversary of Winehouse's death, there has been much speculation about a posthumous album being released. The prospect had looked unlikely following her manager David Joseph's destroying her demos for fear that they would be exploited. But speaking to BBC Music, Winehouse's father Mitch said that there was still material there, and wouldn't rule out some kind of release.
"We've found a few bits and pieces but it's difficult because the CDs are a bit corrupted," he said, "but apparently we've been told we might be able to rescue something."