Legendary Texas blues guitarist, singer, and bandleader Johnny Winter was found dead last night in his hotel room in Zurich. Winter was 70 years old. According to the Chicago Tribune, Medical reports have not yet determined the cause of death, but early reports indicate it was likely a medical incident, with no third parties involved. Johnny was on tour in Europe at the time of his death.
“His wife, family and bandmates are all saddened by the loss of one of the world’s finest guitarists,” a representative for Winter said in a statement. “An official statement with more details shall be issued at the appropriate time.”
We will remember Johnny Winter for his incredible talent, his gracious respect for music and the guitar giants with which he stood shoulder to shoulder, and his indelible touch on the blues. In remembrance of the legend, here are 10 great tracks from Winter, playable for free on Spotify.
Born John Dawson Winter III in Beaumont, Texas, Johnny was the older brother of Edgar Winter, another renowned guitar player. Both of the brothers stood out early in the blues/rock music scene for their talented playing at a very young age, as well as their striking platinum hair and light skin due to albinism.
Johnny’s first major album release was the critically revered The Progressive Blues Experiment. He broke out from the Texas music scene in 1968 when a Rolling Stone magazine article brought him to national prominence, saying he played “some of the gutsiest, fluid blues guitar you ever heard.” The article brought a flood of record deals to the fledgling guitarist’s doorstep, leading to a deal with Columbia for a massive (at the time) $600,000.
Winter’s first major release for Columbia, simply titled Johnny Winter, was released in June of 1969. The album featured Edgar on keyboards, and rose to number 24 on the Top 200. That year, he played with idol BB King at the Newport Jazz Festival, and also made an appearance at Woodstock. In the 70’s he continued to tour and record, as well as producing albums for another legend in the blues genre, Muddy Waters.
Winter is best known for his distinct covers of songs like “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer, “Johnny B Goode” by Chuck Berry, and “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan, as well as originals like “Still Alive and Well” and “I’m Yours and I’m Hers.”
He released almost 20 LPs over the length of his career, including the most recent 2011 album, Roots, which offered a host of classic blues tunes, and featured Warren Haynes and Edgar Winters, among others. He was reportedly working on a new album at the time of his death which featured superstars Eric Clapton, and Ben Harper, which is slated for release this September.