Texas blues icon Johnny Winter, who rose to fame in the late 1960s and ’70s with his energetic performances and recordings that included producing his childhood hero Muddy Waters, died in a hotel room in Zurich on Wednesday, his representative, Carla Parisi, told the Associated Press. He was 70.
“His wife, family and bandmates were all saddened by the loss of one of the world’s finest guitarists,” Parisi said in a statement.
Winter had been traveling on an extensive tour this year that brought him to Europe for his final performance Saturday at the Lovely Days Festival in Wiesen, Austria.
The brother of rock musician Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter, known for his flowing white locks, was born in Beaumont, Texas, in 1944 and was raised for a time in Mississippi, where the sounds of the delta influenced his music.
He was a guitarist and record producer who got his first show business break when he opened in 1968 for Mike Bloomfield, earning him a Columbia Records contract along with an impressive $600,000 advance. Winter went on to perform at Woodstock, recorded with John Lee Hooker and produced three records for Waters, earning three Grammy Awards.
He paid homage to Waters on “Tribute to Muddy,” a song from his 1969 release The Progressive Blues Experiment. He also played on such blues classics of the era as “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” ”Bad Luck and Trouble” and “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl.” He later teamed with brother Edgar for their 1976 live album Together.
Over the course of four decades, Winter released 20 albums, toured relentlessly and earned a spot in Rolling Stone as the 63rd best guitarist of all time.
He also showed commercial appeal in the 1970s with his hit “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” and later struggled with but recovered from heroin addiction.
Even as rock music enthusiasts embraced him, it was his blues work that earned Winter critical acclaim, American Blues Scene magazine reported. In 2003, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame.
“I’m not a rock ‘n’ roller,” Winter told the magazine. “I’m a bluesman.”