Johnny Winter, who was a star blues guitarist and a Grammy-winning producer for Muddy Waters, has died aged 70
Blues musician and producer Johnny Winter has died at the age of 70.
Winter, who played with Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters, was a friend of John Lennon, who wrote Rock and Roll People in his honour. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a song for him in 1973 called Silver Train.
Born John Dawson Winter III on February 23, 1944 in Mississippi, and raised in Beaumont, Texas, Winter began playing the clarinet aged five, and switched to the ukelele and then the guitar a few years later. He was the subject in May 2014 of a documentary film called Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty, which was made by Greg Olliver and had its premiere at the SXSW Festival.
His big break came while opening a show for Mike Bloomfield in 1968. Winter’s display caught the eye of Columbia Records, who signed him to a contract with a £400,000 advance.
Winter, like his brother and musician Edgar (of Edgar Winter Group fame) was an albino and known for his long, blond hair and a cowboy hat. During the late Sixties, he performed frequently with Janis Joplin and the pair became lovers.
As well as being a fine musician, he also helped revive the careers of friends and blues musicians John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters through Grammy-winning collaborations. Winter produced three Waters albums – Hard Again (1977), I’m Ready (1978) and King Bee (1981) as well as 1979′s Muddy “Mississippi” Waters – Live. Asked once what Waters was like as a bandleader? he replied: "Muddy was very strict. If he didn't like something, he would tell the guys."
Winter suffered from terrible addiction problems with heroin in the early Seventies and although he had spells of recovery, much of the Nineties was blighted by a reliance on antidepressants, vodka and methadone.
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 nominations. He was named as the 63rd best guitarist ever by Rolling Stone magazine.
Even at 70, Winter was still performing around 200 concerts a year and admitted once that “guitar is the only thing I was ever really great at”. Winter, who died in Zurich, Switzerland, was due to release a new album entitled Step Back on September 2.