Texas Bluesman Johnny Winter, one of the best-loved guitarists of his generation, has passed away, aged 70.
Afflicted with albinism and poor eyesight his entire life, Johnny Winter was able to turn tragedy into triumph throughout his career.
“Growin’ up in school, I really got the bad end of the deal. People teased me and I got in a lot of fights. I was a pretty bluesy kid.” Winter once told ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine.
Because of this, young Johnny Winter identified with black Blues musicians from an early age “We both had a problem with our skin being the wrong color” he famously recalled.
Johnny Winter was very successful as a rock n roll performer in the 1960’s and 70’s, (the album ‘Second Winter’ – released in 1969 – is this writer’s personal favorite), but he focused exclusively on the Blues in his later career, eventually becoming a well-respected elder statesmen for the music he loved.
As a record producer, Winter’s greatest triumph was his sterling work on the 1977 Muddy Waters album ‘Hard Again’ (another one that this writer can heartily recommend). Waters was an idol of Winter’s and he achieved a lifelong dream by working with the Blues great. He would later refer to this time as “the high point of my career”.
For many years, Winter struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, as well as backstabbing management and the many demands of touring. However, by the time of his death, he had triumphed over his personal demons.
“Heroin was the hardest thing that I ever had to go through,” Winter said in a 2012 interview with website Ultimate Classic Rock. “It was worth it to go through it and get clean. I am not taking any drugs and I am not drinking. I am not smoking cigarettes anymore and I am not doing anything bad. I never thought this would be possible. I never thought I would see the day that I didn’t have any vices at all.”
Winter’s manager from 2006 onwards, Paul Nelson, was instrumental in helping the star clean up his life and undergo a late career renaissance.
Johnny Winter died just two days after giving his final performance, at the Cahors Blues Festival in France. For those that admired the man and his music, the fact that he died on tour comes as little surprise.
As Winter himself told Ultimate Classic Rock, “I don’t want to retire from something I love to do. If I got unhealthy and couldn’t play anymore, then I would stop, but that is the only thing that could ever make me stop.”
On one record, Winter suggested that, when he died, he’d simply like to be remembered “as a good Blues player”. Mission accomplished, Johnny (and then some).