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Johnny Winter, legendary blues guitarist, dies at 70

Guitarist Johnny Winter and his girlfriend Christine on

Guitarist Johnny Winter and his girlfriend Christine on July 15, 1979 in Nice. Credit: Getty Images / Eric Gaillard

GENEVA -- Texas blues legend Johnny Winter, known for his lightning-fast guitar riffs, his striking long white hair and his collaborations with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and childhood hero Muddy Waters, has died. He was 70.

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

His representative, Carla Parisi, confirmed Thursday that Winter had died in a hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, a day earlier. The statement said his wife, family and bandmates were all saddened by the loss of one of the world's finest guitarists.

There was no immediate word on the cause of death.

Winter had been on an extensive tour this year that recently brought him to Europe. His last performance was Saturday at the Lovely Days Festival in Wiesen, Austria.

Winter was set to headline WBAB's Rock N Brews Fest at NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Aug. 1. No announcement has been made on whether the show will still be held.

He had also completed a new album, "Step Down," featuring collaborations with everyone from Clapton and Joe Walsh to Long Island Music Hall of Famers Brian Setzer and Leslie West, which was set to be released on Sept. 2 on Sony/Megaforce Records.

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

John Dawson Winter III was born on Feb. 23, 1944, in Mississippi, but was raised in Beaumont, Texas. He was the older brother of Edgar Winter, who also suffered from albinism, and who rose to musical fame with the Edgar Winter Group.

Johnny 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 problems with heroin addiction during that decade and later battles with alcohol and prescription medication, including methadone, also drew attention.

Early on, Rolling Stone singled him out as one of Texas' best blues guitarists. This helped him 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.

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

Among the blues classics that Winter played during that era were "Rollin' and Tumblin,' " "Bad Luck and Trouble" and "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl." He teamed up with Edgar for their 1976 live album "Together." He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1988.

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