Texas blues legend Johnny Winter, 70 years old, who was the genius behind the linking of British blues-rock and American Southern rock, died on Wednesday, July 16, in a hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, according to and confirmed by his representative, Carla Parisi. Winter had been on an extensive tour this year that recently brought him to Europe. His last performance came Saturday at the Lovely Days Festival in Wiesen, Austria. There was no immediate word on the cause of death. The statement said his wife; family and band mates were all saddened by the loss of one of the world's finest guitarists.
Based on the report released by the Chicago Tribune, there was no indication of a 3rd party involvement. Moreover, earlier signs have also pointed out that Johnny Winter died because of a medical related incident. Jenda Derringer, the wife of a former band mate of Johnny Winter, Rick Derringer, and the American Blues Scene, first reported the death of Johnny Winter. Jenda posted on her Facebook account, "Johnny was not in good health and was very frail and weak.", though, the cause of death remains unclear, which compelled a prosecutor to order an autopsy.
Johnny’s worldwide tour, a documentary that premiered at the SXSW Festival exploring his music, youth and substance abuse battles, and a newly released 4-disc boxed set “True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story” in February. This was all part of Winter's celebration of turning 70 this year. One of the most popular live acts of the early 1970s, Johnny Winter’s lightening fast blues guitar solos quickly attracted a following worldwide.
Rolling Stone published a story about the young blues upstart, describing Winter as “a cross-eyed albino with long, fleecy hair, who plays some of the gutsiest, fluid blues guitar you’ve ever heard.” Thus, Winter’s rapid-fire ascent to super-stardom began. CBS Records gave him a six-figure signing bonus and in early 1969 released his first CBS record, Johnny Winter. At the same time, Imperial Records released The Progressive Blues Experiment, an album of demos he’d recorded earlier in Austin, Texas. Suddenly, Winter had two albums in circulation at the same time. Overnight, a new guitar hero was born. Heroin addiction sidelined his momentum in the early '70s, but he rebounded in 1973 with Still Alive and Well.
He released a documentary "Down and Dirty" about his career, life on the road had its premier at the South by Southwest (SXSW Festival)conference in March, and its Chicago debut at Reggie’s the week of the Chicago Blues Festival. However, his addiction problems with heroin during that decade and later battles with alcohol and prescription medication, including methadone, were almost devastating to his career.
Johnny was in the middle of an exciting 2014 year. The headlines reported, “Johnny Winter nearly killed his career—and himself. Now the blues legend is back in action with a revealing account of his harrowing experience and a new dedication to his craft. “
Johnny came to Chicago for a gig at Buddy Guy’s Legends on February 13, 2014. His failing health was obvious. He was helped to the stage, performed his first song standing up, the rest of the show sitting down. While his health was frail, his performance was fierce, a never slowing down set of slide guitar blues-rock that covered much of his career and many blues standards. The sold-out house cheered at each song and Johnny's pace never let up.
Later that evening, the night before this year’s Blues Fest, Johnny performed in a XRT show as part of the Reggie’s Made In America Series at Reggie’s Rock Club on South State Street in Chicago. Another crazy, rocking show by a thin man sitting in a chair.
A new Johnny Winter album is expected on September 2, 2014. "Step Back" via Megaforce Records to feature a more aggressive vintage style blues with an all-star cast of special guests that will include, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Leslie West, Ben Harper and Joe Walsh, Brian Setzer, Dr. John, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry, Joe Bonnamassa, and David Grissman.
Raised in Beaumont, Texas and the older brother of Edgar Winter, John Dawson Winter III was born on Feb. 23, 1944, in Mississippi and was the leading master for white blues guitar players. The late Stevie Ray Vaughan followed in the footsteps of the earlier Chicago blues guitarist which Rolling Stone magazine named one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Despite his struggles with addiction, Rolling Stone Magazine’s crowning of Johnny Winter as one of the best blues guitarists on the Texas scene sent his career skyrocketing again. Blues and rock singer Janis Joplin and Johnny Winter became close friends (the rumors claimed "lovers") during the 1960s.
When in 1969, Columbia Records signed him to substantial recording contracts which lead to an appearance at the Woodstock Festival. Young blues fans around the world embraced him for his lightning-fast and loud blues guitar riffs, striking long white hair (Johnny and his brother, Edgar were both albinos) and musical roots incorporating Texas threads of Southern rock `in roll and urban blues.
Winters was so thrilled to pay honor to his childhood hero, Muddy Waters on "Tribute to Muddy," a song from his 1969 release "The Progressive Blues Experiment." His collaboration with his childhood hero, Muddy Waters, gave Johnny Winters a chance to produce some of the blues legend's most popular albums. A revival of his musical career came from the highest honors from the music industry, recording with John Lee Hooker, and producing three Grammy Award-winning albums for Muddy Waters.
In 2011, he made an album called "Roots" – covering classics such as Chuck Berry's Maybelline and Robert Johnson's Dust My Broom and featuring guest musicians such as Warren Haynes and country star Vince Gill – which was a critical success. In all he made more than 20 albums and received seven Grammy Award nominations.
Among the blues classics that Winter played during that era were "Rollin' and Tumblin'," "Bad Luck and Trouble" and "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl." Teaming up with his brother Edgar in 1976, they performed and produced their 1976 live album "Together." He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1988.
Funeral services for the great Johnny Winter have at this time, not been announced. It would seem only fitting that the funeral would be held in Beaumont, Texas. Rest in Peace our friend. You have left a legacy of incredible music as a musical timestamp in the pages of Texas blues and overcoming the odds.
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