Blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter has died while touring in Switzerland at the age of 70.
No official cause of death has been announced but sources are saying that it was a medical situation. Jenda Derringer, wife of Rick Derringer, has stated that he “was not in good health and was very frail and weak.”
Johnny and his younger brother Edgar, who were both born with albanism, began performing music at an early age, appearing on local children’s shows initially playing guitar. By the age of 15, Johnny was already in the recording studio with his band Johnny and the Jammers and, by early his early 20′s, was sitting in with Texas artists like Roy Head.
In 1968, Winter released his first solo album, The Progressive Blues Experiment on Texas’ Sonobeat Records (later rereleased by Imperial) which saw him mixing music by Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson and other with his own compositions.
Johnny got his big break in December 1968 when he joined Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper on stage at the Fillmore East in New York to perform. A rep from Columbia Records saw the performance and signed Winter to what was reportedly, at the time, the biggest advance ever, $600,000.
During 1969, Winter released both Johnny Winter and Second Winter which produced songs that became staples of his career including Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Highway 61 Revisited. The pre-release publicity and his touring made them both minor hits, reaching 25 and 55 respectively.
For his next album, Johnny Winter and, he put together a new band that included former McCoys guitarist Rick Derringer and Derringer’s brother Randy Z. With more of a rock orientation, the album failed to equal sales of the first two, reaching only 154 but it has gone on to be considered a classic. It was during this time that Winter fell into heroin addiction for which he eventually sought treatment.
In 1973, Winter was back with a mix of blues and rock on Still Alive and Well which became his highest charting album going to 22. He continued to see success the next year with Saints and Sinners (#42) and John Dawson Winter III (#78).
Johnny fulfilled a lifelong dream in the late 70′s when he was able to both play with and produce blues great Muddy Waters. Their time together produced three Waters albums, Hard Again, I’m Ready and King Bee along with the live album Muddy “Mississippi” Waters – Live.
Since the 70′s, Winter released seven more studio albums with an eighth, Step Back, scheduled for release on September 2. He also toured regularly and became popular at festivals including last weekend’s Lovely Days Festival in Wiesen, Austria which would become his final performance.
Winter became a member of the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988. He and his brother, Edgar, are also members of the Southeast Texas “Walk of Fame”.