Johnny Winter, 1944 - 2014

Posted on July 17, 2014 | by Jason Walsh

Johnny Winter, whose blistering blues licks earned him a place among the pantheon of great rock guitarists, died yesterday in a hotel near Zurich, Switzerland. He was 70.

Winter was in the midst of a tour of Europe and had performed as recently as July 12 in Austria. A statement from his representatives expressed his family’s grief and said that more details would “be issued at the appropriate time.”

With his snowy mane, rail-thin build, alabaster complexion, and frosty name, Winter made for one of rock and roll’s more enduring figures. The Beaumont, Texas, native picked up the guitar at an early age and, along with brother and future arena rocker Edgar, was busy playing in boyhood bands throughout his teens. A devout student of the blues, Winter set out to master the styles of his music heroes like Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Though he became known for his electric guitar workouts, he was equally adept at acoustic slide and fingerstyle.

Winter got his big break in 1968 when, after being invited to play at the Fillmore East with Mike Bloomfield, he so impressed Columbia Records executives in the audience, they quickly signed him to his first major-label deal.

Winter’s Columbia debut, Johnny Winter, was released in 1969, and featured what would become one of his signature songs, a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little School Girl,” and set the pattern for the majority of Winter’s albums throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and beyond—a smattering of Winter-penned tunes mixed with the guitarist’s energized interpretations of other well-known songs. Later albums would feature everything from Winter originals to blues standards that inspired him as a boy to popular songs of the day from the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and the Rolling Stones.

Winter’s most recent studio album, Roots, was released in 2011. Earlier this year, he was the subject of a four-disc retrospective, True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story, which featured a career-spanning song selection and highlighted his influence on such latter-day guitarists as Eddie Van Halen, Ace Frehley and Joe Satriani.

Despite the sad news of his death—there’s still more Johnny Winter to come. The guitarist had recently completed an album of early blues and rock standards, featuring guests such as Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Ben Harper, Billy Gibbons, and Joe Perry. Step Back is slated to be released September 2.

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