March 24, 2015 Interview – Edgar Winter
Some are born with music running through veins before they even realize it. For multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter, his love for music, along with desire to create, came rather naturally growing up along side his brother Johnny, whom seemed to be destine for greatness. Fusing Jazz, Rock, Pop, and Blues, Edgar’s brand of music is one of a kind and received much due praise in the ‘1970s with now iconic Rock tunes “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride.” Sustaining a career that has spanned across five decades, Edgar has seen a great deal in his time and continues to have plenty of creative inspiration as he writes and tours regularly. Recently we sat down with the Rock legend for a closer look at his career in music, his inspiration to continue to push the boundaries of Rock-n-Roll, performing live, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music since a very young age. Tell us what first turned you on to creating music?
Edgar Winter – I started when I was four years old. My dad played alto saxophone in a Swing band in his youth, he played guitar and banjo in a Barbershop quartet, and they would come over to the house and sing, he also sang in a choir. My mother played beautiful classical piano as well, so music was a family activity. I thought that everybody played until I tried to put together bands with my friends around the neighborhood. I thought everybody did it. Johnny and I as kids started to play ukulele and singing Everly Brothers songs. Then when I got to be around eleven, our first band was Johnny and The Jammers and we won talent contests and made local records. Then in my teens, after having played guitar for a little while, it became apparent that Johnny was going to be the guitar player so I said I would play everything else. From there I went to bass and electric pianos, then organs, drums, and then I got interested in sax in my teens. I got heavily into Jazz and listened to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Cannonball Adderley. That is when I started to get serious about music actually. If i had to name one person that really inspired me, it would have to be Ray Charles. I also loved Little Richard and Chuck Berry, all the Rock legends.
CrypticRock.com – You clearly grew up with a lot of music around you with your brother Johnny, whom is considered a legend as well. Was there ever a sort of friendly competition between yourself and your brother in those early years?
Edgar Winter – No, not at all. Johnny was ambitious and he had the dream. He watched Bandstand, read all the magazines, and had a huge record collection. He was Johnny Cool Daddy Winter with the shades, and I was just the weird kid that played all the instruments. It was a perfect balance because I enjoyed figuring out the records and showing everybody the parts, so there was no sibling rivalry musically. Maybe after Johnny became famous and after I released They Only Come Out At Night (1972), and that was such a huge success, he might have considered that competitive, but I do not know. It was never my intention to put out that kind of level. We were competitive in other areas. He could beat me in bowling. I was a better bowler, I had about a 180 average, but every time I would bowl with Johnny he would psych me out somehow. I would always beat him at chess though. We had rivalries in other areas, but not so much musically. We really grew up playing together, and we were inseparable as kids and kind of learned everything together.
CrypticRock.com – That is really cool. One thing about your sound is that you have always mixed styles, from Rock, to Jazz, to Blues. How important for you as a musician is that type of diversity to be able to experiment with sounds like that?
Edgar Winter – It is crucial. I think it is one of the reasons I enjoy doing what I do every bit as much as I did when I first started out. I know that some people really love one specific kind of music, but I have never been able to understand why people appreciate Classical and cannot love Rock, or people that love Country and cannot dig Jazz. Country people will say that Jazz is just a bunch of noise. Then you have a Bruce Hornsby who is a fluid Jazz soloist and great piano player, but his music retains the simplicity and sincerity of Country. I like people like Sting that are Pop, but they have a an artistic and Rock sensibility. I enjoy all of these styles. It is the same thing with instruments, if you ever feel like you are getting in a rut, just pick up an instrument and all of a sudden your back to square one and it makes you feel like you are starting over.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and you do not want to limit yourself even as a listener. Why should you limit yourself in what you listen to when there is so much great music out there.
Edgar Winter – Yes, I think that a lot of the categorization came from record companies. They want to target a very specific audience and demographic. They want you to be a Rock guy, or a Blues guy, or a Country guy. They sort of like to force artist into one particular area. They also like albums that has a song that sounds like a hit, and three more that sounds like that, with the rest of the album to be almost throw away. I would just never make that kind of album. I like cool diverse interesting mixes of things, so that just happens to be. I am not on any kind of crusade, that is just what I personally enjoy.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, and you have to do what you love. You started to see your first commercial success around 1970 with your debut record. Was that a different experience for you, and were you ready for that commercial success?
Edgar Winter – My first album Entrance (1970), an album that a lot of people are not aware of, was sort of a fusion between Jazz, Classical, Rock, and Blues. It had a continuous side which was twenty-five minutes, which was a sort of symphonette. Most people are familiar with White Trash (1971) and Roadwork (1972), so think of those as the first albums. I, in fact, signed with Clive Davis. I told him I have this experimental concept, so I want to do this album. I knew it was not going to be successful with commercial potential. He surprisingly said go ahead and make it, I was so grateful and happy that he allowed me that freedom. I was young and Idealistic, and that is what I really wanted to do at that time. If it had not been, I would never have evolved the same way that I did.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great way to start and have that artistic freedom like that, absolutely. What is great about music is that ability of it being timeless and even if a record is ten or twenty years old, there is still something to discover for someone.
Edgar Winter – Yes, I get to see kids in their teens listening to Chuck Berry, and to them it is so cool because they have never heard of it before. I remember when “Frankenstein” was in Wayne’s World (1992), I had people coming up and saying “Ohh Wow that’s killer,” and they were really young kids. It is fun to see that.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. How do you feel when you see younger people in the audience and discovering it for the first time?
Edgar Winter – It is great. It is interesting because each generation has its music and its voice. We are all tempted to feel that the time we came up was somehow special, but I really do believe that there were two golden era’s: the ’40s and ’50s for Big Band jazz and Swing, and ’60s and ’70s for Rock. To me they are unparalleled and I am glad that I happened to be there at that time and got to be a part of that and go through it. It was really an exciting time and interesting things going on in the world such the Civil Right’s and the Peace Movement. There were people writing and singing songs that they really believed in. Music really meant something back then. There is still great music all the time. There is still great music coming out. I continue to hear things that I like, but I am not really that tuned in to the modern music. I like the stuff that I grew up with and love it when I see, when we do a lot of outdoor festivals, there is multi generations of people in their ’50s and ’60s and then people in their 30’s as well as teens and little kids, and they are all having a great time.
CrypticRock.com – That is great. It is natural to like the music that you grew up with and the music that you were a part of. You certainly have remained active through the years touring and creating new music. Your last studio album, Rebel Road, was released almost seven years ago now. Are their plans for some new material in the foreseeable future?
Edgar Winter – I have songs for days. I have been more interested in a book of poetry that I wrote. It started out as lyrics that I had not used called Songs That Never Were. I write a lot of poetry to my wife Monique when I am on the road, it is one of my favorite things to do. I write a poem, and going through our emails, I have got about a hundred of these. I will probably release that. I also have some short stories that are fantasies that occur in this sort of magical realm called The Shadowlands. It will be called Stories From The Shadowlands and I am probably going to release that. I have a Broadway sort of styled musical comedy version of Frankenstein that is called Frank and Stein. In the story, Dr. Stein is a Park Avenue plastic surgeon that does work on like Michael Jackson and all the stars. The monster creation is Franky and he has got government funding and they figure if they could animate these monsters, they would make a perfect army to sort of remove a lot of the moral rejection to war. The Dr. wants to teach him Karate and everything, but he likes gardening and violin. It is sort of a social satire idea, so I am working on that. I also have some Rock songs. I have some songs that are based on those stories from The Shadowlands called Shadowdance. I have about a half hour of that. I have no idea what I am going to release next, but there will be more music.
CrypticRock.com – Sounds like you have a lot of great stuff coming up, and that is great to hear. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music as well as Horror movies. We would like to know, if you are a fan of Horror films, do you have any favorites.
Edgar Winter – I was when I was a kid. I thought The Exorcist (1973) was really scary. I liked all the Vampire movies. I like the book Frankenstein, but not the movie so much. In the book the monster was reasonably intelligent and articulate and had feeling, but in the in the movie he is just kind of hulking around. The name of my song actually came from the editing process. I had written the song years before we recorded it. We used to call it the “double drum song” when I played with my brother Johnny. I wrote that riff and I thought that was a cool kind of walk and instrumental showcase where I played a Hammond B3, Alto Sax, and I played dual drum solo. Nevertheless, we kind of forgot about it, and then, when the synthesizer was invented, I happened to be one of the first to get the idea of putting a strap on the keyboard. I was looking for a song to feature the synthesizer and I said “how about that old Double Drum song, that would sound cool with that subsonic synth bottom.” We had worked it up as a live song and never had any intention of recording it, but we just accidentally had like fifteen or twenty minute versions of it. Rick Derringer said maybe we can edit that into something useable. I thought that was kind of a crazy idea, but I love crazy ideas, we were playing it live, so we might as well record it. Finally, it was an excuse to get even more blasted than usual and have a big end of the project editing party. In those days, the only way to edit was to physically cut the master tape. It was like cutting a diamond, if you screw it up you, you would have to cut it up and put it back together with splicing tape. It was lying all over the control room and draped over the backs of chairs. We were trying to figure out how to put it back together. Then the drummer, Chuck Ruff,mumbled the immortal words, “Whoa it is like Frankenstein.” That was it, it was perfect! Just visually, it has got that sound like Frankenstein, so that had to be the name.
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty cool story about the history of the song “Frankenstein.”
Edgar Winter – Yes, I thought of myself as the mad doctor and the song itself as the monster creation. That was my visual imagery of that song. With that said, I am thankful for the fan supporting myself and my brother Johnny through the years. We could not do it without you. It means the world to us be able to do what we most love and see everyone out there rocking and having a good time!