Blues Guitar Legend Johnny Winter Just Died: A Look into His Legacy

Blues guitar fans from all over the word were saddened by last week’s news: Johnny Winter had died on July the 16th, 2014, at the age of 70 years and with a cult icon status. The guy was such a huge classic blues legend that he forever deserves a spot in a Blues Brothers series, if you ask us. He was known especially for his amazingly fast blues guitar riffs and his legendary collaborations with Jimmy Hendrix, Muddy Waters and contemporary icons like Eric Clapton, Janis Joplin or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Johnny Winter was one of the finest continuators of the Chicago blues school of guitar and the world of this genre is greatly poorer and saddened by the loss of him.

The awesome guitarist made such a memorable appearance at blues guitar festivals that he’s hard to forget. His long and strikingly white hair could be recognized from a distance (and it was also caused by being an albino, not due to ageing) and his lightning fast riffs left everyone present breathless. His biography was also enviable and contributed to his cult icon status. Johnny Winter has had a childhood crush on Muddy Watters and wanted to grow up to be just like him, which is what prompted him to practice the blues guitar and become as good as he did. The fact that years later he actually got to play together with his childhood idol only contributes to make his story that much inspiring to everyone amazed by their skills from the spectator’s viewpoint.

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By his full name John Dawson Winter III, he was truly a son of the Deep South, at least by birth. Born in Mississippi in 1944, but raised in Texas afterwards, his connections to the blues guitar seem to run in the family. His younger brother, Edgar Winter, who was also an albino like him, made a name for himself within the blues music scene with the Edgar Winter Group which you may have heard of, even if he wasn’t as famous as his older brother.

Johnny Winter rose to his fame peak in the 70s, when his fast-as-lightning signature riffs drew so much fan-power that they made him one of the most popular live acts in the genre. Tickets to his gigs were sold out in no time, but unfortunately, the fame of his fast fingers was equaled by the notoriety of his addiction problems. Many famous musicians from those days were struggling with heroin and alcohol as well, so it’s not like his problems were unique in the field, but they’ve managed to cast a dark shadow on his performances nonetheless, eventually.

Still, his career skyrocketed in spite of his dances with addiction. The moment things really took off was then the Rolling Stone magazine singled him out as the best blues guitarist in Texas, a distinction which eventually led him to be able to secure a contract with Columbia Records in 1969 and an appearance to the legendary Woodstock. Once the more mainstream public got to know his amazing and super-fast guitar riffs, the name of Johnny Winter was then on everyone’s lips.

His career continued to amaze and impress with the same crazy guitar skills up to very recently, since even his year he had some very successful public appearances at blues festivals and other performances. His last months were not marked by any looming health battles, as he wasn’t suffering by any known or visible problems, which made his death an unexpected tragedy. According to initial reports, Johnny Winter died in a hotel room in Zurich and no apparent cause of death was yet established. The world will remember him as one of the most inspiring blues guitarists of all times.

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