Another One Joins the Great Gig in the Sky
By Randy Harris
Blues guitar legend Johnny Winter, born John Dawson Winter III in Beaumont, Texas, sadly passed away yesterday, July 16, in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland. Winter began his musical career at a very young age, appearing on a local children’s show, playing ukulele and singing Everly Brothers songs with his younger brother, Edgar Winter. His first record was released when Johnny was just 15 years old. His band, Johnny and the Jammers released “School Day Blues” on a record label in Houston. During the early-mid 1960s, Winter was vastly influenced by attending performances by blues greats such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Bobby Bland. His first album, The Progressive Blues Experiment, was released in 1968 on Sonobeat Records in Austin, Texas.
In late 1968, Winter was invited to sing and play a song with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper at the Fillmore East in New York City. He sang B.B. King’s “It’s My Own Fault” to thunderous applause, and fortunately, Columbia Records representatives happened to be in the audience. Winter was signed almost immediately and was signed to what was then the largest advance in the history of the recording industry ($600,000). In 1969, Winter released a second and third album, Johnny Winter and Second Winter, and played at several rock festivals, including the legendary Woodstock Music and Art Festival.
After fighting and recovering from an addiction to heroin in the early 1970s, Winter returned strong in 1973 and ended up thriving throughout the rest of the ‘70s. In 1977, Winter achieved his childhood dream of playing the blues with Muddy Waters, bringing him in the studio after Waters’ long-time label went out of business. Winter ended up producing three studio albums and one live album for Waters and played guitar on a few of the songs.
Winter went on to have an extremely lucrative career, spanning over 45 years since his first album. He was on the cover of the first issue of Guitar World magazine in 1980, and in 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. His final discography includes 18 studio albums, 17 live albums and numerous compilations. Johnny Winter’s contributions to the blues and rock & roll are etched into the fingers of every guitarist out there today, and he will continue to inspire up-and-coming musicians as one of the all-time greats for many years to come. Rest in peace Johnny Winter.