It was near impossible not to recognize the albino guitar slinger Johnny Winter. Like stereotypical Texans, the Beaumont native was long and tall, but weighed only 130 pounds, with long stringy white hair, pinkish crossed eyes and pale chalk-colored skin. He was a memorable figure wearing a black cowboy hat and carrying his axe.
Winter was found dead on July 16th at the age of 70 in his Zürich, Switzerland hotel room while on tour in Europe.
While his look added to his notoriety, it was his virtuosic guitar playing that made him such a star performer. Born in 1944, Winter took to music early, and by age 15 had cut his first record. In 1969 he released his first album, entitled simply “Johnny Winter.” He was a high-energy rock performer, with a blues heart. Winter was one of the original white blues players, who recorded a string of successful records, played Woodstock, and translated his abilities into filling arenas for his live performances.
In the late 1970s, Winter collaborated with Muddy Waters, producing three Grammy Award-winning records for the iconic blues player. His guitar was often sought after and Winter employed his services with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Sonny Terry, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes.
Winter was an interesting contrast when you recall that at his peak of popularity in the 1970s, he was competing with the explosion of punk rock, glam rockers like David Bowie and the onslaught of disco. Winter held his own and continued to be a valued collaborator and performance musician until his untimely death. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, and in 2003 Rolling Stone magazine ranked him the 63rd greatest guitarist of all time.
Winter is survived by his younger brother Edgar, an occasional band mate, who shares the same albino appearance and is a talented keyboardist and saxophonist.
Keep on rockin’ up there Johnny, and R.I.P.