Three or four nights a week you can find Centennial Hills-area resident John Windsor entertaining audiences at an Irish pub with genial patter and rollicking music. He’s happy and comfortable with that schedule.
“I turned 60 last year, and I’m getting to the point where three or four nights is plenty,” Windsor said. “I’m exactly where I want to be. People know me at the places I play, and I have a lot of fun.”
Windsor plays traditional Irish songs and old rock songs you can sing along to.
He was born in Sheffield, England, to a father with Irish roots and a mother with Scottish roots.
He’s been performing since 1969 but wasn’t in a serious band until 1974. At the time he was playing contemporary rock music. He was offered the position of front man and singer for Alibi. Under a different name, the band backed Dave Berry on the hit, “The Crying Game,” which is still one of the songs Windsor covers.
Windsor toured England with Alibi for a few years. In 1978 the band Galaxy was looking for a front man and brought Windsor on to work in South Africa.
“It was the ’70s,” he said. “I had the look. I was skinny. I had long hair. We were doing more disco and funk at that time.”
This was at the height of apartheid.
“We were six white guys playing mostly music by black performers,” Windsor said. “It didn’t sink in at the time that it was political. I just knew we had a great contract at a five-star hotel. We were making great money, having a great time.”
The group had played only a few times in England, but one of those performances proved to be pivotal. It opened for a local band in Sheffield that was just starting out with two cheap-sounding keyboards and a couple of female singers.
“We had a brass section, a keyboard. We had the outfits, and we had dance routines worked out,” Windsor said. “We blew the roof off the place.”
About six months later, Windsor and his bandmates were sitting on a beach when they heard a song they recognized on the radio. It was the Human League, now much more polished and produced and playing its No. 1 hit “Don’t You Want Me Baby.”
“They were 10 times better than when we played with them,” Windsor said. “But some of the guys in the band thought that if they could make it big and be all over TV and everything, so could we.”
There was an option for a six-month extension on their contract. Half the band wanted to take it. The other half wanted to go home and try to hit the big time. The latter faction won out, but it took the band members three or four weeks to get their equipment cleared through customs.
“By that time, everyone was hard up for money and needed to get to work,” Windsor said. “First the bass player got a job with Joan Armatrading. Then the sax player got a job playing for someone else. I took a job, and we never played again. So much for making it big.”
Windsor played with a local band for a few months but then drove through a brick wall and woke up in a hospital. When he got out, he couldn’t stand the weight of the guitar on his shoulder.
“I ended up going to Majorca, Spain, which is a small island in the Mediterranean to recuperate,” Windsor said. “I ended up getting a bar down there that I ran for six years.”
He might have stayed at the Crazy Horse Saloon forever, but when the European Common Market and the Euro came, he found it too difficult to run a small business under the new rules. One issue was that although the bar was open only eight months a year, he would be responsible for paying his staff’s Social Security for the full year.
“There was not enough money coming in and too much going out,” Windsor said. “My expenses would have more than doubled.”
While he was living in Majorca, he married an American dancer. They were already wintering at her home in Southern California, so selling the bar and moving to the United States was an easy decision.
There was only one city that called to him.
“Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world,” Windsor said. “I’ve been in the business all my life, so this was the place to be.”
The city didn’t welcome him with open arms.
“Majorca is really a very small island,” Windsor said. “Over there I was a big fish in a small pond. Over here I was a minuscule fish in a big pond.”
After months making calls and talking to agents, he resorted to simply walking into bars with his guitar and asking the owners to listen to a few songs.
“My first real gig out here was playing in the bar of the Blue Angel at Fremont and Charleston,” Windsor said. “I got paid 50 bucks a night. It was a bit of a rough place.”
His next break was an open mic talent show at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur. As part of his prize he won a night at the Mount Charleston Lodge. He brought his guitar along and got a one-night gig that he parlayed into a six-year run.
A friend brought the owner of a new pub up to see Windsor play.
“At the time there really weren’t any Irish pubs in town. J.C. Wooloughan opened one in the Rampart Casino,” Windsor said. “He told me if I would learn a few more Irish songs, he’d have me play at his place.”
He did, and as more Irish pubs opened, Windsor found himself playing at Brendan’s Irish Pub in The Orleans and Jack’s Irish Pub at Palace Station. His second wife, Patricia, frequently backs him up.
Brian McMullan brought Windsor to Nine Fine Irishmen and then his namesake McMullan’s Irish Pub, where Windsor performs two or three nights a week.
“John can play to any age group.” McMullan said. “He can play to any type of person. He has an amazing ability to hit the right level for the clientele. He’s the closest thing you can get to being all things to all people.”
Windsor credits his success to his ability to entertain and modestly downplays his musical ability.
“In Vegas, you have to be an entertainer as opposed to a musician,” Windsor said. “There are probably 100 guitar players in this town that are better than me but are out of work. They don’t get what it’s all about.”
The people who come to see him play might disagree with his statement about his musical talent, but few would refute his ability to entertain.
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.