Legendary Bluesman Johnny Winter Dies in Switzerland at Age 70

Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter

This summer has not been kind to musical legends. In June, we lost heavenly vocalist Jimmy Scott and New Age pioneer Paul Horn. In the first weeks of July we've seen the deaths of jazz bassist extraordinaire Charlie Haden and drummer/producer Thomas Erdelyi, a man known best by his stage name Tommy Ramone. To hear now that Texas bluesman Johnny Winter died on July 16 in Zurich, Switzerland, is yet another devastating loss. We are saddened by the passing of all of these of musical greats.

Johnny Winter was a savior of the blues, a man who kept the genre's dirt-water, down-home traditions while making it crisp, modern and soulful. It’s odd thinking of $600,000 as a big deal now, but back in 1968, Johnny Winter was signed to Columbia with what was then the largest advance in the recording industry. His first album, an eponymous release, featured his brother Edgar on keyboards and saxophone and blues icon Willie Dixon on upright bass. Johnny Winter always kept close to his predecessors, producing three blistering and dynamic albums for blues legend Muddy Waters, including Hard Again with Waters' veteran James Cotton on harmonica.

I’m lucky to have interviewed Winter for The Philadelphia Inquirer in December 2011. In my conversation with Winter, he was as open about his struggles with heroin addiction and suicidal depression as he was his deep feeling for the blues. "I'm now totally free of all the bad stuff of the past and feeling great," he said, talking about his health and making his (then) new album, Roots. “I really believe there's a new blues resurgence going on and felt now was time to do this." Luckily for us, Winter kept doing it: he was touring, meeting with fans, and releasing material such as the 4-CD, career-spanning box set, True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story in March 2014, and a new album, Step Back, due in September 2014.

We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Winter's family and friends.

Photo: Kid Logic PR

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014