NATIONAL NEWS

Battle for late Johnny Winter’s music to play out in court

Apr 29, 2023, 9:28 PM

FILE - Johnny Winter performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Cour...

FILE - Johnny Winter performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, May 3, 2014. Nearly nine years after Johnny Winter's death, a battle for control of the legendary blues guitarist's music is being fought in a Connecticut court with nasty allegations of theft and greed flying. (Photo by John Davisson/Invision/AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Photo by John Davisson/Invision/AP, File)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Nearly nine years after Johnny Winter’s death, a battle for control of the legendary blues guitarist’s music is being fought in court with allegations of theft and greed flying back and forth.

The legal fight pits Winter’s former personal manager and bandmate, Paul Nelson, against the family of the bluesman’s late wife, Susan, who died in 2019.

Winter’s in-laws say Nelson and his wife improperly took more than $1.5 million from Winter’s music business, including auctioning off some of the late musician’s guitars.

Nelson and his wife have countersued, saying Susan Winter’s siblings swooped in when she was medicated and dying of cancer and tricked her into giving them control of Winter’s music, stripping away Nelson’s rights as the beneficiary of Susan’s Winter’s estate.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in a Connecticut court in April, but was rescheduled for September.

At stake is ownership of Winter’s music catalogue, proceeds from record and merchandise sales and authority to approve any commercial use of his songs, the value of which is uncertain.

“The case is about preserving Johnny Winter’s legacy and vindicating and making sure the Nelsons haven’t improperly taken the moneys rightfully owed to the plaintiffs,” said Timothy Diemand, a lawyer for the Susan Winter’s siblings, Bonnie and Christopher Warford.

Nelson wants to be reinstalled as the beneficiary of Susan Winter’s estate.

“The Plaintiffs orchestrated the wrongful termination of Paul Nelson during a difficult time in Susan Winter’s last year of life,” the Nelsons said in a statement released by their lawyer, Matthew Mason. They said it was clear that both Johnny and Susan Winter wanted Nelson to be responsible for Johnny Winter’s music and legacy.

John Dawson Winter III was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas. He burst onto the world blues scene in the 1960s, dazzling crowds with his fast licks while his trademark long, white hair flew about from under his cowboy hat. He and his brother Edgar — both born with albinism — were both reknowned musicians.

Winter played at Woodstock in 1969 and went on to produce albums for Blues icon Muddy Waters in addition to his own music. In 1988 he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.

Rolling Stone magazine listed him as the No. 63 best guitar player of all time in 2015. He released more than two dozen albums and was nominated for several Grammy awards, winning his first one posthumously in 2015 for Best Blues Album for “Step Back.” Nelson produced the album and also took home a Grammy for it.

Winter, who spent two decades living in Easton, Connecticut, before his death, battled heroin addiction for years and credited Nelson, whom he met in 1999, with helping him get off methadone, according to the 2014 documentary “Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty.”

Before he got clean, bandmates and friends said they were concerned because of his frail appearance and trouble talking. Nelson also credits himself with reviving Winter’s music career.

The Winters and Nelsons became good friends. Paul Nelson played guitar in Johnny Winter’s band and started running his music company beginning in 2005. Nelson’s wife, Marion Nelson, did bookkeeping for the Winters and the music business, according to legal filings in the lawsuit.

Winter died at the age of 70 on July 16, 2014, in a hotel room just outside Zurich, Switzerland, while on tour. Susan Winter and Paul Nelson have said the cause of death was likely emphysema.

Susan Winter was the sole beneficiary of her husband’s estate, which she put in a trust in late 2016. She named herself as the trust’s sole trustee and Nelson as the successor trustee, meaning he would inherit the rights to Johnny Winter’s music after she died.

But in June 2019, four months before her death from lung cancer, Susan Winter removed Nelson as the successor and replaced him with her sister and brother.

The Nelsons allege in their lawsuit that Bonnie and Christopher Warford got control by lying to their sister, wrongly telling her the Nelsons were mismanaging the music business and her affairs.

The Warfords’ lawsuit accuses the Nelsons of improperly taking more than $1.5 million out of Winter’s business “under the guise of royalty income, commissions, reimbursements, fees, social media expenses and other mechanisms, while obfuscating and misrepresenting these dealings to Susan Winter.”

They have also accused the Nelsons of taking three of Winter’s guitars, worth about $300,000 total, and selling them at auction without permission. The Nelsons deny the allegation.

“In short, this is the classic case of a manager taking advantage of an artist-client, and worse here, an artist’s surviving family,” Diemand wrote in a legal filing.

It’s not clear why Edgar Winter, a noted musician in his own right, was not involved in his brother’s estate after his death. Edgar Winter and his representatives did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

The Warfords’ lawsuit is similar to one the Winters filed against Johnny Winter’s former manager Teddy Slatus for alleged financial wrongdoing around 2005. Slatus died in late 2005. It’s not clear what happened with the lawsuit.

“Johnny and Susan have been battling lawsuits all their lives, and still can’t rest in peace,” said Mary Lou Sullivan, who wrote a biography titled “Raisin’ Cane: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter” published in 2010.

Both the Warfords, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nelsons, of Weston, Connecticut, declined interview requests by The Associated Press.

National News

Supporters wave to former President Donald Trump as he arrives to the Milwaukee Mitchell Internatio...

Associated Press

America’s toxic political climate faces calls to ‘tone it down’ after assassination attempt on Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — “Tone it down!” That was the plea from one Republican congressman as he came to grips with the assassination attempt against Donald Trump at a political rally in the Butler Farm area where he grew up. “I am in a state of bewilderment of how and what has happened to the United […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Winston, beloved gorilla at San Diego Zoo Safari Park, dies at 52 after suffering health problems

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (AP) — Winston, a western lowland gorilla who was a favorite attraction at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, has died at the age of 52 after suffering multiple health problems, officials said. The park said Winston was euthanized Saturday after veterinarians determined his condition was declining. “After careful consideration stemming from furthering […]

2 hours ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

2 hours ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

3 hours ago

Gov. Greg Abbott receives a briefing for Hurricane Beryl from local elected officials Sunday, July ...

Associated Press

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott demands answers as customers remain without power after Beryl

DALLAS (AP) — With around 350,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Houston area almost a week after Hurricane Beryl hit Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he’s demanding an investigation into the response of the utility that serves the area as well as answers about its preparations for upcoming storms. “Power […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Acclaimed video artist Bill Viola dies at 73, created landmark `Tristan und Isolde’ production

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Bill Viola, a video artist who combined with director Peter Sellars on a groundbreaking production of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” originally seen in Los Angeles, Paris and New York, has died at age 73. Viola died Friday at his home in Long Beach of Alzheimer’s disease, his website announced. What […]

7 hours ago

Battle for late Johnny Winter’s music to play out in court