GENEVA – Texas blues legend Johnny Winter emblazoned himself into the world’s consciousness with his tattooed arms churning out lightning-fast guitar riffs and his striking long white hair flowing from under his cowboy hat.
His contrasting appearance and devotion to the blues pioneers of the 20th century turbo-charged a career in which he emulated and, ultimately, championed, his childhood hero Muddy Waters and other icons.
Winter carved out a wide niche – and became an icon himself – starting in the late 1960s and 1970s with a sound that blues and country singer Tracy Nelson, prominent during the same era with her band Mother Earth, described as Texas second generation.
He did not overplay, like a lot of white blues guitarists, she said of Winter, who collaborated with the likes of Waters, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix. His tone was a little more modern, more electric, but I could see the influences.
Winter’s representative, Carla Parisi, confirmed Thursday that he died in a hotel room just outside Zurich a day earlier at age 70. Zurich police spokeswoman Cornelia Schuoler said investigators are mainly looking at medical causes.
Winter was a leading light among the white blues guitar players, including Eric Clapton and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Rolling Stone magazine named Winter one of the top 100 guitarists of all time.
Winter, who performed in Fort Wayne in November, had been on an extensive tour this year to celebrate his 70th birthday.