RIP Johnny Winter
The late, and most definitely great, Texan guitarist John Dawson ‘Johnny’ Winter.
The legendary bluesman Johnny Winter died on 16 July in his hotel room in Zurich, aged 70, at the end of a European tour. His death came just four days after playing what would prove to be his final performance, at the Lovely Days Festival in Austria.
Winter was born John Dawson Winter II in 1944, and grew up in Beaumont, Texas. He was born with albinism, a condition that left Winter with a lack of pigmentation in his hair, skin and eyes.
Winter said in a biography by Mary Lou Sullivan that his condition helped him identify with African-American musicians, as: “We both had a problem with our skin being the wrong colour.”
He began playing at an early age, and fell in love with the blues after hearing it on the radio, quickly developing a fiery slide style using both open E and open A tunings. He became one of the key players associated with the Gibson Firebird, a guitar he once described as “the best of all worlds”.
After seeing his 1968 performance with Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper at Manhattan’s Fillmore East, Columbia Records executives signed him for $600,000 – which was then the biggest advance in record industry history. Winter released his debut and played Woodstock in 1969, and though he never reached the levels of super stardom of contemporary blues-rock pioneers such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, he remained true to his roots throughout a varied and rewarding career. He produced a trio of Grammy-winning albums for Muddy Waters, was nominated for Grammys in his own right and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame in 2003.
Winter’s final studio album, Step Back, is due on 1 September via Megaforce, featuring a cast of celebrity cameos from the likes of Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Brian Setzer, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa, Leslie West, Dr John and more. Winter is survived by his wife, Susan, and brother Edgar.