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Johnny Winter Remembered – Five Years Later

This year, July 16th marks the 5th anniversary of the passing of beloved Texas bluesman and renowned guitar slinger Johnny Winter. Born on February 23, 1944, John Dawson Winter III began crafting his musical identity from the age of five, first with the clarinet, followed by the ukulele, before finally setting his sights on the guitar.

By the time he was 15 years old, he had already started his first band, Johnny and the Jammers, which featured his younger brother Edgar on keyboards. In 1968, at the age of 24, Winter made his official recording debut with The Progressive Blues Experiment, which showcased the unquestionable skills that the young but fiercely talented guitarist possessed. That year, a piece in Rolling Stone on the Texas music scene ignited an intense bidding war over Winter, who would eventually sign to Columbia Records with the biggest advance in music history to date. The following year saw Winter not only unleash his self-titled debut on the new label, but also its equally acclaimed follow-up entitled Second Winter.

Acting as producer on the majority of his own material, Winter fulfilled a lifelong dream of working with the legendary Muddy Waters at the tail end of the 70s, both at the helm and behind a guitar. Starting with 1977’s Hard Again, Winter produced four albums for the Chicago legend, three of which would earn Grammy Awards,. In the process, he rejuvenated the career of one of his most cherished heroes.

Winter made the move to blues behemoth Alligator Records in the 80’s, where his 1984 debut for the label, Guitar Slinger, was hailed as a return to his blues roots and his best album in years. After the release of his questionably experimental album The Winter of 88 was released in 1988 (the same year he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame), Winter set his sights more on the touring aspect of his career rather that the recording side.

The 90s however saw the now elder blues rock maestro release a trio of Grammy nominated albums in addition to his travels. His later years saw him as an honored guest at a number of high profile festivals and events, from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a number of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals, the Chicago Blues Festival, the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, and the Allman Brothers Band’s 40th anniversary Beacon run.

At the time of his passing, Johnny Winter was in the midst of an extensive European tour, that saw the musician stop in Zurich, Switzerland, where he sadly departed at the age of 70. A truly inspirational and unquestionably influential musician who spent over five decades in the blues, and revitalized a legend, Winter will forever have claim on his piece of blues history.


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