It’s a very sad day for fans of rocking blues. Legendary guitarist Johnny Winter died in a hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, yesterday, at the age of 70.
Winter has never been widely acknowledged as being in the same league as the Big Three–Clapton, Beck, Page–but anyone who’s followed his career knows that he totally deserves to be remembered among the world’s greatest rock guitarists.
The four-disc box set released earlier this year, True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story, was clear proof of his mastery of the instrument.
I remember first getting turned on to Winter via the Live Johnny Winter And album of ’71, which saw him joined by Rick Derringer on blues standards such as “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and rockers like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.
The first big concert I didn’t go to occured around 1975, when Winter was playing the Pacific Coliseum at the height of his rock popularity. A few buddies from Chilliwack Senior High made the trek, but for some reason I jammed out. Hard to believe considering Black Oak Arkansas were also on the bill. “Go Jim Dandy, go Jim Dandy!”
I finally got to see Winter when he started regularly playing the Commodore Ballroom in the mid-’80s, touring behind Alligator Records releases like Serious Business and Third Degree, and at the time I believe he was playing a headless Lazer guitar, having moved on from the Gibson Firebird he was known for.
Either way, man, he was smokin’!
But not all the time. Johnny lost something after 1992′s Hey, Where’s Your Brother?—a reference to his younger brother Edgar of “Frankenstein” fame—and the last time I saw him at the Commodore, 15 years or so ago, he was in rough shape, flubbing notes and singing off key.
But more recently he made a comeback healthwise, and when he played the Yale in 2009 he was in much better form, especially when he pulled out a slide for his rollicking rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”.
Afterwards impressed fans queued up alongside his RV to score autographs, and though he wasn’t meeting anyone in person, I was still thrilled to get his John Henry on my prized vinyl copy of Still Alive and Well.
Rest in peace, Johnny. We’re pretty sure you’re up there trading the bluesiest licks imaginable with Jimi once again.