Johnny Winter Biography

Guitarist, Singer (1944–2014)
Johnny Winter is best known for such blues-rock and traditional blues albums as Second Winter (1969), Still Alive and Well (1973) and Roots (2011).


Born on February 23, 1944 in Beaumont, Texas, Johnny Winter was a natural-born musician. He took up the guitar as a child and started his first band in his mid-teens. In 1969, Winter released several albums, including The Progressive Blues Experiment and Johnny Winter. These recordings along with his impressive stage act made him one of the era's most popular performers. He also worked with Muddy Waters in the late 1970s on a variety of recordings. Winter remained active in the blues music world until his death on July 16, 2014.

Early Life and Career

Born John Dawson Winter III on February 23, 1944, Johnny Winter was a leading American blues performer. He started out as a clarinet player as a child, but he later switched over to the guitar. He and his younger brother Edgar performed together growing up. The pair even made appearances on local TV shows when they were young.

Johnny Winter formed his first band, Johnny and the Jammers, when he was only 15 years old. Edgar played keyboards for the group. Johnny was highly influenced by the local blues sound and later by B.B. King after attending one of King's shows.

Legendary Bluesman

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter, circa 1970 (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns via Getty Images)

Winter broke onto the national music scene in 1968. He was a striking figure on stage, tall with white blond hair and light eyes. His pale features came from a condition called albinism, which his brother Edgar also had. The following year, Winter played at the famed Woodstock music festival and released his debut album for Columbia Records, which earned him critical acclaim. He also sometimes performed with Janis Joplin, and the pair were an item for a time.

During the 1970s, Winter made numerous well-regarded blues-rock recordings, including Still Alive and Well (1973) and Saints and Sinners (1974). His live performances also drew crowds who came to see his remarkable guitar work. In 1976, Winters and his brother Edgar recorded Together, a live album.

Winter struggled with a drug problem for a time, but he managed to keep performing and recording. He also worked behind the scenes as a producer on several Muddy Waters albums in the late 1970s. In 1988, Winter was honored for his contributions to music and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.

By the early 1990s, Winter had returned to his Texas blues roots on such albums as Let Me In (1991). More albums followed, including the Grammy Award-nominated I'm a Bluesman (2004) and Roots (2011).

Final Years

Winter never retired from the music scene, choosing to tour and make records until the end of his life. His remarkable career was the subject of the 2014 documentary Johnny Winters: Down & Dirty. He also released a box set of his music to celebrate his 70th birthday.

"I think about legacy a lot. Hopefully at the end of the day they say I was a good bluesman. That's all I want." -- Johnny Winter

That summer, Winter was on a concert tour in Europe when he passed away. He died in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 16, 2014 at the age of 70. Winter's last album, Step Back, is expected to be released in September 2014. 

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