In Memoriam | Blues Guitarist Johnny Winter 1944 - 2014

In a recent interview, legendary guitarist, singer and producer Johnny Winter was asked about what he'd like he legacy to be and replied, "I just hope I’m remembered as a good blues musician." Winter passed away yesterday at the age of 70 in Zurich, Switzerland. After more than 50 mostly prolific years in the industry, the iconic guitarist won't be remembered as a "good blues musician," he'll be remembered as a great one.

A statement from Winter's representative reads, "Texas blues icon Johnny Winter has passed away on July 16, 2014 in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland. His wife, family and bandmates are all saddened by the loss of their loved one and one of the world's finest guitarists. An official statement with more details shall be issued at the appropriate time." According to the Chicago Tribune,"There was no indication of third-party involvement (in Winter's death), and early indications pointed to a medically related incident."

Johnny Winter was born in Beaumont, TX on February 23, 1944. He immediately showed a passion towards making music and by the age of 11 had already become an accomplished ukulele and clarinet player. During his childhood he often appeared on children's TV shows with his brother Edgar, who was an incredible musician in his own right and was behind such songs as "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride." Johnny first formed a band and began his recording career at age 15. He went on to record for Columbia and was a performer at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

Over the past six decades Winter has embarked on a career filled with potent live performances all over the world. His last performance took place this past Saturday in Wiesen, Austria. While he's an incredible guitarist, Johnny was also known for his skills as a producer. Winter produced three Grammy-winning albums for Muddy Waters.

In 1988 Johnny Winter was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame. More recently, Winter has been a frequent guest with Gov't Mule and was even supposed to perform at the band's Island Exodus destination event in January. Many musicians have already weighed in on what Johnny meant to them. Here's Steve Kimock's thoughts about the great Johnny Winter:

Woke today in Berlin to the news that Johnny Winter passed away last night in Zurich. There's no way to express in words how important Johnny Winter's music was to me as a young man, how formative and influential in detail and concept.

He defined rock and blues guitar playing for me, crossed those lines, blurred those distinctions, on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, fretted, bottleneck slide; he was King for me.

All that before he opened his mouth to sing, both lyrically and in his vocalizations with his guitar, which was probably what attracted me to his music the most.

I've never heard anything like Johnny singing along with his guitar, before or since, and there will never be another.

His whole thing was so unique, powerful, raw, and exciting.

As pointless and difficult it might be to name a favorite "guitar solo", Johnny's playing on Miss Ann remains one of my favorite guitar performances from that generation of modern electric blues music.

His bottleneck playing on Highway 61 was another jaw dropping experience for me as a youth, untouchable.

If that was all I'd ever heard of Johnny Winter it would still put him right in the middle of the Mt Rushmore of modern electric blues playing for me, and if this were a just world it'd be his face on the five dollar bill.

If I could have played anything half as good as Miss Ann or Highway 61, I would have died happy. For all the excitement and inspiration he brought to my generation of players and listeners, here's hoping Johnny did.

RIP, to a true giant of American musical culture.

- Steve Kimock

Our thoughts are with the wife, family and bandmates Winter left behind.

[Published on: 7/17/14]

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