American blues guitarist, singer, and producer Johnny Winter has passed away at the age of 70 in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland. Winter was one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos, releasing a string of popular and fiery albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, becoming an arena-level concert draw in the process — but it’s the barest facts that remain the most inspiring. Johnny Winter, from little Beaumont, Texas, afflicted with albinism and 20/400 eyesight in one eye and 20/600 in the other, made an iconic life for himself by playing the blues.
Best known for his high-energy blues-rock albums and live performances in the late 1960s and ’70s, Winter also produced three Grammy Award-winning albums for blues singer and guitarist Muddy Waters. Those albums reconnected Waters with his own greatness — Muddy’s prior Seventies albums had been uninspired — and delivered him a late-in-life critical and commercial triumph. After his time with Waters, Winter recorded several Grammy-nominated blues albums. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and in 2003, he was ranked 63rd in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. Winter, along with his musician brother Edgar (born 1946), were nurtured at an early age by their parents in musical pursuits. Johnny and his brother, both of whom were born with albinism, began performing at an early age. When he was ten years old, Winter appeared on a local children’s show, playing ukulele and singing Everly Brothers songs with his brother.
In 1980, Winter was on the cover of the first issue of Guitar World and in 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. There was a character in the video game Heavy Rain named after Winter. When he wasn’t on the road, Winter, spent his time with his wife at home in rural Connecticut, and was able to bask in the respect of fellow musicians. He died in his hotel two days after his last performance, at the Cahors Blues Festival in France on July 14. The cause of Winter’s death was not clear.
John Dawson Winter III (February 23, 1944 – July 16, 2014)