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Billy Gibbons, Others Remember Johnny Winter

Cactus Music GM Quinn Bishop (left) and Johnny Winter
Cactus Music GM Quinn Bishop (left) and Johnny Winter
Photo courtesy of Cactus Music

Tributes are pouring in for Texas blues icon Johnny Winter, who passed away overnight Wednesday while on tour in Switzerland. The Beaumont native was found in his hotel room in Zurich, a spokesperson said. He was 70.

The albino Winter, two years older than his rock-star brother Edgar (of "Frankenstein" fame), went from Gulf Coast dives to Woodstock and some of the UK's biggest festivals of the late '60s. With a fiery, fearless technique matched by only Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton among his contemporaries, at one point he reportedly signed the biggest advance in music-business history. But he was a bluesman to the core, eventually helping his idol Muddy Waters get his career on track by producing three albums for the Mississippi legend, Hard Again, I'm Ready and King Bee. In 2011, Winter came in at No. 63 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list.

One of his biggest fans was ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, who released this tribute to Winter via the band's publicist Thursday morning.

"When I first saw Johnny perform, I was, maybe 12 or 13, and he was known as 'Johnny Cool Daddy Winter' and we've always thought of him as exactly that: 'One Cool Daddy,'" Gibbons said. "Johnny became a dear and passionate friend as well as the accomplished bluesman we have come to admire.

"It's now a moment for celebration of his brilliance frozen for all time," he added. "We've lost another of the gifted guitar greats and a truly soulful spirit."

Gibbons also discussed Winter when he was featured in Guitar World's "Dear Guitar Hero" fan-letters column in December of last year. A reader named Michael asked if Gibbons had ever "jammed" with Winter's trio, which also included drummer Uncle John Turner and future Double Trouble/Arc Angels bassist Tommy Shannon, when the two guitarists were both "young Texas bucks."

"I was fortunate enough to join the legion of Johnny Winter fans when he first launched the great Johnny Winter trio," Gibbons replied. "We were content to remain in awe and admiration without attempting to crowd the stage." http://www.guitarworld.com/dear-guitar-hero-zz-tops-billy-gibbons-talks-pinch-harmonics-gear-setup-strings-and-more

"We at Cactus were so fortunate to host Johnny for his first fan event in 50 years in celebration of his tremendous Roots album." Cactus music said in its weekly email newsletter. "JW was very gracious and signed autographs for close to a hundred fans."

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Winter himself remembered Houston venues like the Act III and Rockefeller's when talking to the Houston Press this past February. Colleen Fischer, former booking agent for Rockefeller's, shared a number of memories of Winter via Twitter, such as "first guy to stack his speakers so high at Rockefeller's people in the balcony could set their drinks on them."

"Loudest band ever at Rockefeller's that it sounded better across the street at Club Hey Hey," read another.

Billy Gibbons, Others Remember Johnny Winter

Houston's The Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club also remembered Winter in this message on Facebook, posting the message "Goodbye for now, Johnny. Give our regards to Uncle John Turner."

"Very sad to hear that Texas blues legend Johnny Winter died at age 70 in Zurich amid European tour," a message on Eric Clapton's Facebook page said.

Just two weeks ago, Clapton also posted another message touting his appearance on Winter's forthcoming duets album, Step Back, due in September. The two guitarists square off on "Don't Want No Woman," while Winter and Gibbons tussle on "Where Can You Be." Other guests on the album include Ben Harper, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, Mountain's Leslie West, Joe Bonamassa and Brian Setzer.

"Rest in Peace Johnny Dawson Winter III," Bonamassa said on Facebook. "A son of Texas and a son of the Blues. There will never be another one like you. Thanks for teaching me to play the slide and to use the front pickup. A giant loss for Blues guitar and all music in general."

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