Only the other week we ran a post on the trials of reaching 70 years old in rock and roll and still touring. (post : a dangerous age for rock and roll) . Then if it wasn't sad enough to be given the news the Tommy Ramone had passed away last weekend, be it at the slightly earlier age of 66, we now have this mornings statement from Kid Logic Media that the legendary blues man Johnny Winter passed away last night in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, age 70.
The Texas 'White Lightnin' as he was nicknamed, Johnny Winter was one of the most enigmatic and exciting live performers that blues and rock music has ever seen. Despite the many years of hard times in his life with him being stuck at the pointed end of serious drug addiction, mainly encouraged by his filth of a long time and exploitative manager, in the later years Johnny was rescued from an even earlier demise by his new found manager and guitarist, Paul Nelson who got him back to a drug free life and helping him relaunch his career. Maybe it was this second life with his music that Johnny found he could never abandon again as he toured consistently there after and for the last decade.
His early years in Mississippi Delta following in the footsteps of his blues heroes were spent dueling it out in the Southern blues clubs or what was then clumsily called 'the Chitlin' Circuit' and as equally daunting being the only white blues player. He sat in with legendary names Muddy Waters and BB King in sessions and held his own. BB King tells a story of him being brought on to play, (paraphrased) "some white kid?" "within minutes you knew he knew some stuff".
By the time Winter sprang his band on the 1969 Woodstock audience his performance was electrifying. This was a truly sensational guitarist and only equaled by Hendrix in the mastery of redefining what the blues was to a new generation already absorbing Clapton, Page, Beck etc.
His classic second LP release and double album 'Second Winter' was as much progressive blues as it was powerful rock, although he always saw himself as a blues man only, the sound of Winter's electric slide guitar and Texas drawl was as familer a sound as Hendrix's wah pedal by 1970.
There were performances that went down in rock history, The Fillmore East, The Albert Hall, even on television in early 70's 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' with the band playing "Jumping Jack Flash" live. From his early days to his last Johnny Winter has inspired generations of young guitarists to listen and explore blues playing for themselves.
Want to play some Johnny Winter blues on your guitar?
And that is the greatest gift Johnny Winter leaves us.
So long Johnny.
Here's Dylan's masterpiece 'Highway 61 Revisited' in the hands of a master.