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Johnny Winter, legendary Texas blues guitarist, dies at 70

Peter Blackstock
pblackstock@statesman.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published July 17, 2014

Legendary blues guitarist Johnny Winter, a native of Beaumont who performed often at 1960s and ’70s-era Austin venues such as the Vulcan Gas Company and Armadillo World Headquarters, died Wednesday at a hotel room in Zurich, his publicist confirmed to The Associated Press Thursday morning. He was 70.

Winter put out his 1968 debut album, “The Progressive Blues Experiment,” on Austin label Sonobeat before moving on to Columbia Records, for whom he made a string of definitive blues guitar albums in the late ’60s and ’70s. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Winter produced a series of Grammy-winning albums for blues master Muddy Waters for Columbia affiliate Blue Sky.

Winter continued recording and touring throughout his life and was in the midst of a very active stretch in 2014. “True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story,” a four-CD box set, came out earlier this year on Sony Legacy, and the documentary film “Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty” premiered at South by Southwest in March. A new album titled “Step Back,” featuring collaborations with Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, Dr. John and others, is due out Sept. 2 on the Megaforce label.

Austin bassist Tommy Shannon, who later became a member Double Trouble backing Stevie Ray Vaughan, played with Winter in 1968 and 1969, including a show at the Vulcan Gas Company opening for Waters. Shannon recalled Thursday that Winter’s band jammed with Waters after-hours, planting the seeds for Winter’s production work with Waters later. Shannon also played with Winter at Woodstock in the summer of 1969. Shannon said he last saw Winter at an Antone’s memorial show for Uncle John Turner, who played with Winter and Shannon in the late 1960s, after Turner’s death in July 2007.

Look for a full obituary in Friday’s American-Statesman.