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Blues guitarist Johnny Winter dies at 70

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 12:28 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Click through to see<a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/world/obituaries-2014'> people who passed away</a> in 2014. Click through to see people who passed away in 2014.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new Johnny Winter album with Eric Clapton, Joe Perry is due in September
  • Rolling Stone ranks Johnny Winter at 63 on its list of 100 greatest guitarists
  • Winter was 15 in 1959 when he began playing guitar in Texas clubs
  • Another big year for Winter was 1969 when he played at Woodstock

(CNN) -- American blues guitarist and singer Johnny Winter died Wednesday in a hotel room in Switzerland, his representative said Thursday. He was 70.

"His wife, family and bandmates are all saddened by the loss of their loved one and one of the world's finest guitarists," his spokeswoman, Lori Haynes, said.

Winter was in Zurich, Switzerland, as part of a tour of Europe, although he was scheduled to return to the United States for shows later in July, according to his official Facebook page.

Winter first gained national attention when Rolling Stone magazine featured the the Texas music scene in a December 1968 cover story. It captioned his photo: "Johnny Winter, Albino Bluesman." The article said guitarist Mike Bloomfield considered the young Winter the "best white blues guitarist he had ever heard."

Rolling Stone now ranks Winter 63rd on its list of 100 greatest guitarists.

Winter's family moved from Mississippi to Beaumont, Texas, when he was an infant. Johnny and brother Edgar, who was nearly three years younger, both were born with albinism, a melanin production deficiency that left them with little color in their hair, skin and eyes.

Winter was just 15 in 1959 when he began playing guitar in Texas clubs. It was also the year he started drinking and smoking.

"It seemed a big year for me," Winter told an interviewer for the documentary "Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty." The film was released this year.

Another big year for Winter was 1969, when he played at the Woodstock festival.

"One week we're playing clubs for about 20 people and in a matter of a few months we're playing Woodstock," bassist Tommy Shannon said in the documentary.

Columbia Records won a bidding war for Winter that resulted in a self-titled debut album, followed by a second titled "Second Winter" in late 1969.

Though none of his several dozen albums earned a Grammy, he shared three for producing blues legend Muddy Waters in the late 1970s.

Winter announced this year that he had another album ready for release in September. "Step Back" will include contributions from guests including Eric Clapton, Joe Perry and Dr. John, according to his official website.

His summer tour schedule was filled with shows, including 15 concerts planned across the United States in August.

Winter was asked in the documentary if he every dreamed that playing a guitar would take him around the world.

"I was almost always sure it would," Winter said. "I was sure I was going to be successful.

"It's the only thing that I've really been good at."

Winter opened up about his heroin, prescription pill and alcohol addictions that derailed his career in the 1980s and 1990s in an authorized biography "Raisin' Cain - The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter," published in 2010.

His resurgence began after he fired a longtime manager in 2005 and hired fellow musician Paul Nelson to guide his career.

"I think that Johnny now is really coming back to being himself," brother Edgar Winter said in the just-released documentary.

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CNN's Joan Yeam contributed to this report.

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