The great blues rock guitarist Johnny Winter has died at the age of 70.
Johnny Winter, the great Texan guitarist who played Woodstock in 1969, jammed with Jimi Hendrix and tirelessly championed the blues music he loved, has passed away. He was 70 years old and his most recent concerts in San Diego were this spring at the Ramona Mainstage and last July at the Belly Up in Solana Beach. He played here often during a career that started in the late 1960s.
Winter died Wednesday in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, where he was on a European concert tour. No cause of death has yet been determined, according to his press secretary, Carla Parisi.
“His wife, family and band mates are all saddened by the loss of one of the best guitarists in the world,” Parisi said in a statement released Thursday morning.
Dave Davies, The Kinks lead guitarist, tweeted: “RIP to a great blues guitarist – Johnny Winter.”
In 1988, Winter became the first white musician to be inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in Memphis. His musical legacy was hailed Thursday by 16-year-old San Diego Blues Festival producer Michael Kinsman.
âThere were a lot of people playing blues rock when Johnny Winter first rose to fame, but what really sets him apart is his great respect for tradition,â Kinsman said.
âIt was clear he loved Lightnin ‘Hopkins, Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker, but he also reveled in the energy of Chuck Berry. And that made his music different. He played modernized rock rock, but definitely in it. the tradition of blues It was extremely important, because what people heard before that as blues-rock was rock musicians, trying to play blues, and it was a blues musician who merged the rock in his blues. “
Winter and his brother, multi-instrumentalist magician Edgar Winter, grew up in Texas, where they began playing professionally in blues, rock, and R&B groups almost before graduating from high school. The fact that they were both albinos was much less noticeable than the quality of their playing and the deep feeling they had for the music created by African-American artists.
Winter was not yet 18 when he met one of his idols, the blues guitarist and vocal icon Muddy Waters, at a Texas club. Winter repeatedly asked Waters if he could sit down that night, until the Chicago-based blues giant finally gave in.
“He gave me his guitar and let me play,” Winter recalls years later in an interview. “I got a standing ovation and he picked up his guitar again.”
In the mid-1970s, after Winter became an international blues-rock star, he produced and performed on three of Waters’ albums, including the Grammy Award-winning “Hard Again”. The two also toured together, and their differences – Waters’ economics of guitar work, Winter’s furious onslaught of six-string attack – couldn’t have been more pronounced.
âThat guy up there on stage – I got to see him up close,â Waters noted of Winter. “He’s playing eight notes against mine!”
Winter was born February 23, 1944 in Leland, Mississippi. He was still a baby when his family moved to Beaumont, Texas, where his brother, Edgar, was born in late 1946. Johnny was 15 when he and Edgar recorded and released their first record, “School Day Blues” , under the name Johnny and the Jammers. In 1967 and 1968, he was part of a group led by singer BJ Thomas.
Guitarist Winter made his debut album, “The Progressive Blues Experiment”, released independently in 1968. He was invited to New York after being honored in a late 1969 article on Texas Rolling Stone musicians, then the nation’s premier music publication for young rock fans.
The article hailed Winter as “the hottest article outside of Janis Joplin … If you can imagine a 130-pound cross-eyed albino with long, fluffy hair playing the most daring flowing blues guitar there is. you’ve never heard of it, so come in Johnny Winter. “
Joplin, coincidentally, was one of his closest friends in music. By early 1969, Winter had moved to New York City, where he signed a lucrative $ 600,000 album deal with Columbia Records. That same year, at least four Winter albums were released, one by Columbia, the others by smaller labels in the hope of making a profit by repackaging Winter’s previous recording sessions in Texas. His virtuosity on guitar and slide guitar, and his high octane performance struck a chord with many fans.
In August 1969, Winter performed at Woodstock, although he did not appear in the subsequent Oscar-winning documentary film about the legendary music festival. He performed the same summer at the Newport Jazz Festival, where he jammed with BB King. He then formed a more rock group, Johnny Winter And, with former members of the McCoys. Together they recorded the “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” written by Rick Derringer. It quickly became a favorite on many radio stations and an almost obligatory song for bar bands to pick up.
Winter’s star quickly rose higher, but her drug use unfortunately seemed to increase with it.
At the start of a 1970 concert in Frankfurt, Germany, he was so disoriented that he left center stage, landing on a male fan in the front row. Winter was so emaciated from his drug use that the fan was able to lift him with one hand and bring him and his guitar back to the stage.
Winter’s heroin addiction quickly led to an extended stay in rehab. His 1973 comeback album, “Still Alive and Well”, featured the song “Silver Train”, written for him by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Shortly after, former Beatle John Lennon wrote a song for Winter, “Rock & Roll People”.
Winter has recorded dozens of solo albums. He has also been featured on recordings by artists as diverse as Sly Stone, BB King, the Allman Brothers Band, John Lee Hooker and many more. A career retrospective box set, “True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story”, was released earlier this year.
He recently completed a new album, slated for release on September 2, which features admirers and fellow guest guitarists including Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Brian Setzer, Leslie West and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. . He was also the subject of a documentary film released this year, “Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty”.
In an interview earlier this year with The New York Times, Winter reflected on her accomplishments.
âI think about the legacy a lot,â he said.
“I hope at the end of the day they say I was a good bluesman. That’s all I want.”