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Local ties for blues legend Johnny Winter

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Johnny Winter AP 2009

In this June 19, 2009 file photo, Johnny Winter plays during the Canton Blues Festival 2009 in downtown Canton, Ohio. Texas blues icon Johnny Winter, who rose to fame in the late 1960s and '70s with his energetic performances and recordings that included producing his childhood hero Muddy Waters, died in Zurich, Switzerland on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. He was 70. ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVE

GENEVA - Texas blues legend Johnny Winter, known for his lightning-fast blues 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.

There are local ties, too. Bradenton resident Rick Derringer played guitar in Winter’s most successful band and wrote "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" for Winter before having a larger hit with the song when he went solo. Around the same time in the early 1970s, Winter jammed with Sarasota-based guitar great Dickey Betts and the rest of the Allman Brothers Band during a performance that would eventually result in an acclaimed live album.

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 died in a hotel room in Zurich 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 came Saturday at the Lovely Days Festival in Wiesen, Austria.

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 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, also an albino, who rose to musical fame with the Edgar Winter Group.

Derringer, who had already found fame with The McCoys (“Hang on Sloopy”), joined Winter for his 1970 album “Johnny Winter And.” Derringer wrote four of the record’s 11 songs including the most popular track, "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.” The song includes a reference to the Jokers, one of Betts’ early bands that he formed while living in Southwest Florida.

On July 5, 1970, Winter performed with Betts and the rest of the Allman Brothers Band during a sizzling, 28-minute version of “Mountain Jam” at the Atlanta Pop Festival. Held in Byron, Georgia, the performance took place in front of a crowd estimated at 500,000 -- as large as the Woodstock festival the year before that featured numerous luminaries including Winter. The Allman Brothers’ legendary festival performance, including the famed jam with Winter, can be heard on the band’s lauded 2003 archive release “Live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival: July 3 & 5, 1970.”

Recorded a few months later, Derringer can be heard playing guitar and singing on the equally exciting ”Live Johnny Winter And” concert document released in 1971. Winter was one of the most popular live acts of the early 1970s, when his signature fast blues guitar solos attracted a wide following. Derringer would remain a key member in Winter’s band until leaving to concentrate on his solo career, which took off with the 1973 release of the album “All American Boy.”

Derringer could not be immediately reached for comment today. But his wife, Jenda Derringer, has been posting on Facebook about Winter’s death since late Wednesday.

Before any official confirmation, she wrote, “Oh, Lord, don't let this be true! We just were told by a reliable source that Johnny Winter has passed.”

While hailed for his explosive live shows in the 1970s, Winter’s addiction problems with heroin during that decade and later battles with alcohol and prescription medication, including methadone, also drew attention.

Winter, who paid homage to Waters on "Tribute to Muddy" from his 1969 release "The Progressive Blues Experiment," revived both their careers when he produced and played on Waters’  1977 album “Hard Again,” which won a Grammy Award.

Winter continued to pick up accolades and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1988.

There was no immediate word on funeral services.

Wade Tatangelo contributed to this report by the ASSOCIATED PRESS.

Last modified: July 18, 2014
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