Blues star Johnny Winter dies at 70

Blues guitarist Johnny Winter, who rose to fame in the late 60s and 70s with his energetic performances and recordings that included producing his childhood hero Muddy Waters, has died at the age of 70.

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Winter died in a hotel room in Zurich yesterday, according to a statement from his representative Carla Parisi. The statement said his wife, family and bandmates were saddened by the loss of one of the world's finest guitarists.

He had been on an extensive tour this year that took him to Europe for his last performance on Saturday at the Lovely Days Festival in Wiesen, Austria.

There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

Winter, known for his lightning-fast riffs and striking long white hair, was a leading light among the white blues guitar players, including Eric Clapton and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, who followed in the footsteps of the earlier Chicago blues masters.

He idolised Waters and got a chance to produce some of the blues hero's more popular albums. Rolling Stone magazine named Winter one of the top 100 guitarists of all time.

Winter's celebration of turning 70 this year included the tour, a documentary that premiered at the SXSW Festival exploring his music, youth and substance abuse battles, and a newly released four-CD set of recordings.

John Dawson Winter III was born on February 23, 1944, in Mississippi, but he was raised in Beaumont, Texas. He was the older brother of Edgar Winter, also an albino, who rose to musical fame with the Edgar Winter Group.

Winter was one of the most popular live acts of the early 1970s, when his signature fast blues guitar solos attracted a wide following, but his addiction problems with heroin during that decade and later battles with alcohol and prescription medication, including methadone, also drew attention.

His career received a big boost early on when Rolling Stone singled him out as one of the best blues guitarists on the Texas scene. This helped secure a substantial recording contract from Columbia Records in 1969 that led to an appearance at the Woodstock Festival and gave him a wide following among college students and young blues fans.

Crowds were dazzled by the speed - and volume - of his guitar playing, which had its roots in urban blues but incorporated elements of rock 'n' roll.

Winters paid homage to Waters on Tribute To Muddy, a song from his 1969 release The Progressive Blues Experiment. He continued to pick up accolades, producing three Grammy Award-winning albums for Waters and recording with John Lee Hooker, which helped revive their careers.

Winter performed often with blues and rock singer Janis Joplin and the two became close during the 1960s.

Among the blues classics Winter played during that era were Rollin' and Tumblin', 'Bad Luck And Trouble and Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl. He also teamed up with his brother Edgar for their 1976 live album Together.

He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1988.

There was no immediate word on funeral services.

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