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Edgar Winter Interview: “Johnny Will Forever Remain My Greatest Musical Hero Of All Time”
August 7, 2014
By Ray Shasho
-This interview with Edgar Winter was conducted on July 15th 2014, the day before his Brother Johnny Winter passed away in Zurich, Switzerland. (RIP Johnny 1944-2014)
The Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest/Hippiefest tour perseveres as a ‘Tribute to Johnny Winter.’ The tour kicked off in Clarkston, Michigan on July 31st and arrives at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on August 16th. This incredible show features classic rock music legends … Edgar Winter, Vanilla Fudge, Peter Rivera (The voice of ‘Rare Earth’), and Kim Simmonds (‘Savoy Brown’). -Purchase tickets now at www.rutheckerdhall.com or call 727-791-7400 for further information.
The tour was originally scheduled to headline Johnny Winter. Edgar was extremely excited about performing with his Big Brother Johnny again.
Edgar had this to say about his Brother Johnny’s passing…
"My wife, Monique, and I are shocked at the suddenness of Johnny's passing,
especially since I was so looking forward with such joy and anticipation to seeing
him again and playing together. I know his body is departing this physical realm,
but his presence, his music, and his spirit are undiminished, and alive as ever in my heart.
Johnny has always been, is now, and will forever remain my greatest musical hero
of all time. But more than all that, he's my brother - in family, in music, in life and beyond.
I will do my best to carry on in honor of his memory and the Winter name."
Blessings, Peace & Love,
Edgar and Monique
EDGAR WINTER is the legendary multi-instrumentalist from Beaumont, Texas whose classic monster hit “Frankenstein” rocked the world in 1973, while landing in the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 and selling over one million copies. Winter’s eclectic musical styles crossover into multiple genres including …blues, jazz, pop, and country, but he’s especially revered as a rock hero.
Edgar’s Brother Johnny Winter had already built a reputation as a proficient blues/rock guitarist & vocalist with the release of… ‘The Progressive Blues Experiment’ (1968), Johnny Winter (album) (1969), Second Winter (1969), and Johnny Winter And (1970). Johnny would periodically ask his little brother Edgar to join his trio onstage during the second half of his set … including amid Johnny Winter’s renowned Woodstock appearance in 1969.
In 1970, Edgar Winter released his first studio album entitledEntrance. The favored “Tobacco Road” track featured Brother Johnny on guitar, harmonica, and vocals. The song also successfully lifted Winter into the limelight.
In 1971, with the release of his second studio release Edgar Winter’s White Trash,and formed a band with the same name. Winter began what would become an enduring and amicable musical collaboration with ex McCoy’s guitarist and vocalist Rick Derringer (“Hang on Sloopy”). The Edgar Winter’s White Trash album featured Winter’s most beautifully composed and performed arrangement entitled … “Dying to Live.”
Winter followed-up with the critically-acclaimed live double album set entitled …Roadwork (1972). Roadwork featured a 17-minute version of “Tobacco Road.” Rick Derringer contributed vocals to “Still Alive and Well” and “Back in the U.S.A.” while Johnny Winter performed “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.” The album became certified Gold.
In 1972, the classic lineup of The Edgar Winter Group was born … Edgar Winter (vocals, keyboards, synthesizers, saxophone, and drums), Dan Hartman (bass, vocals), Ronnie Montrose (guitar, vocals), and Chuck Ruff (drums, vocals). The Edgar Winter Group scored huge commercially with the release of … They Only Come Out at Night. The album landed at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 200 and remained on the charts for an amazing 80 weeks. By 1986 the album became double platinum. 'They Only Come Out at Night' spawned the classic rock mainstays … “Frankenstein,” (#1 Billboard hit -written by Edgar Winter) and “Free Ride” (#14 Billboard hit -written by Dan Hartman).
Rick Derringer replaced Ronnie Montrose on guitar who went on to form his own band ‘Montrose’ with Sammy Hagar. Derringer played with the group on their next album entitled… Shock Treatment. The album spawned the singles … “River’s Risin’” and “Easy Street.” Derringer also produced both albums for the group in addition to … Edgar Winter’s White Trash, and Roadwork.
Subsequent Edgar Winter releases … Jasmine Nightdreams (1975), The Edgar Winter Group with Rick Derringer (1975), Together (1976- featuring Johnny Winter), Recycled (1977), The Edgar Winter Album (1979), Standing on Rock (1981), Mission Earth (1986), Not a Kid Anymore (1994), The Real Deal (1996), Live in Japan (1998), Winter Blues (1999), Edgar Winter -The Best Of (2002), Jazzin’ the Blues (2004), Rebel Road (2008).
I had the rare privilege of chatting with Edgar Winter recently about… Brother Johnny…Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest…Inception of his mega-hit “Frankenstein”… Saving Rock and Roll… My infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ question… and much-much more!
Here is my interview with legendary multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and inventor of the ‘monster rock’ mega hit “Frankenstein” …EDGAR WINTER.
- Interviewed on July 15th 2014 … Edgar is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever interviewed!
Ray Shasho: Hi Edgar, first of all, congratulations on an amazing music career.
Edgar Winter: “Oh, well thank you; it’s been an interesting and adventurous trip, I’ll tell you.”
Ray Shasho: Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest, also referred as ‘Hippiefest,’ will be arriving in Clearwater, Florida on Saturday August 16th.
Edgar Winter: “Well first of all, I want to make sure that everybody is ready to Rock and Roll!!! (All laughing) That’s what we’re all geared up for. It’s a really cool lineup this year and it’s always a great thrill and pleasure to get to play with Johnny. He’s my all-time musical hero. We grew up playing together as kids and every time we take the stage together it brings back so many great memories of the old days. We have almost a telepathic communication when it comes to music. Vanilla Fudge is also on the bill, and my old friend Carmine Appice. He’s a great drummer and also played in one of my groups for a couple of years back in the 80’s. So it’ll be great to see Carmine again, and Peter Rivera of Rare Earth … “I Just Want to Celebrate!” and Kim Simmonds from Savoy Brown. Kim was also on the tour last year. The same people that started out as ‘Hippiefest,’ sort of branched out into ‘Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest,’ and I believe still do both of those. What I love about it is that it’s very reminiscent of the old festivals back in the late 60’s and early 70’s that I did so many of … Woodstock with my Brother Johnny, which is kind of what I mark as the beginning of my career. So this tour is mostly classic rock guys with an opportunity to jam, and we’ll be doing some of that on this show. So we’re just going to have fun, rock out, and have a good time!!!”
Ray Shasho: I’ve actually interviewed everyone on this tour at one time or another but you’re the only one that I never had the opportunity to chat with.
Edgar Winter: “Last but not least …that’s really cool!”
Ray Shasho: Not only do music enthusiasts get the best bang for their buck with these magnificent mini festivals… I think the shows help to keep rock alive. Rock and roll, the blues, and jazz are America’s contribution to the arts, and it seems to me that the mainstream does very little to preserve our own musical legacy and culture?
Edgar Winter: “Well, you’ve pretty much encapsulated my feelings there. Certainly blues and jazz …I believe that you’re absolutely correct. If there’s any common threat that runs through all my music it’s blues. Blues is really the granddaddy of everything when it comes to music. It really developed into Dixieland, Swing, Ragtime, and then into Modern Jazz. People have a tendency to think of blues as something that’s old, already happened and over with while forgetting that it continues to be a profound underlined influence on all the music, and certainly all the pop music that there is today. And it’s interesting to me that in Europe and all over the world, blues and jazz musicians are really highly respected. Here in the U.S. you just can’t get arrested. I think it is kind of sad, but I believe that it will continue, and I don’t believe any of those forms will ever die. Certainly Rock and Roll has proved its longevity. It has gone through a lot of changes, but I think that things are cyclic and have a way of resurfacing, so I’m sort of waiting for that to occur.”
Ray Shasho: Edgar, I’m working on my latest book project entitled… ‘SAVING ROCK AND ROLL’ …addressing those legendary rock heroes that we were so accustomed to hearing every time we turned on our radios and how they mysteriously vanished from the mainstream. I’ll be featuring over 100 interviews with those legendary performers who are still as active as ever … including Edgar Winter.
Edgar Winter: “It’s my hope that in a small way I’m helping to keep that alive. I’ve certainly enjoyed it every bit as much as I did when I first started out. For me the key to the whole thing is the variety of music. I’ve never been able to understand why people who love classical can’t appreciate rock, or why people who love country can’t dig jazz. To me it’s all beautiful music and I think more than anything, the categories are really created for commercial purposes by the record companies that want to target a specific audience. They really want someone to be either a rock guy, a blues guy, or a country guy, so that they’ll have a pretty established target market. I’ve always flown in the face of that and I think one of the reasons I still enjoy doing what I do is the fact that I’ve never succumbed to that temptation to be categorized in that way. It’s sort of like being a typecast actor. I love rock but there’s such a huge diverse field when you think of all the types of rock music that there are and every generation has its voice.”
Ray Shasho: I’m waiting for the day when a song like “Frankenstein” can once again become a #1 hit on commercial radio.
Edgar Winter: “I’d love to see that happen as well Ray.”
Ray Shasho: “Frankenstein” is such an incredible song and it brings back so many wonderful memories. What was the origin behind that high-powered monster track?
Edgar Winter: “It still has such a cool vibe and I love it every time I play it. I wrote the song years before it was recorded, or at least I came up with the original riff. When I was playing with my Brother Johnny in the late 60’s and no one knew who I was or if Johnny even had a brother and I had not yet recorded an album. He’d do the first part of his set with a blues trio and then say … “And now I’m going to bring on my little Brother Edgar!” So I’d walk out and the crowd would go … Oh, look there’s two of them! So I had devised that riff as sort of a walk on, an instrumental vehicle to sort of showcase my instrumental talents … (Edgar singing the “Frankenstein” riff) it was kind of cool and bluesy and had a vibe to it, and I played Hammond B-3 and alto sax, then we had two sets of drums onstage and I did a dual drum solo with Johnny’s drummer “Red” Turner and we called it “The Double Drum Song” because of that. Then we played it all over the world. We played a version of that at Woodstock and Royal Albert Hall in England and then probably forgot all about it.”
“Then year’s later synthesizers were invented and I happened to be the first guy to come up with the idea of putting a strap on the keyboard. It was such a simple and obvious idea, you’d think someone would have come up with it right off the bat, but I was the first guy to do it. I’ll never forget the first time I walked out onstage with the keyboard on the strap …it was one of those real rock and roll moments. I think the combination of “Frankenstein” being such a power-driven heavy rock song and the dramatic image of a keyboard with a strap just established in people’s minds that I’m a rock guy and primarily thought of as a rock guy … but I really love jazz, classical, and growing up in Texas I played a lot of country. But I was looking for a song to feature the synthesizer as a lead instrument, which up to that point and as far as I know it hadn’t been done before. People were using synthesizers mainly as a sweetener to emulate the sounds of already existing instruments. I loved all those old Sci-Fi movies that had primitive synthesizer and Theremin like ‘Forbidden Planet.’ I thought of the synthesizer as …like wow, here’s a new instrument that you can actually create futuristic and never before heard sounds. That was my whole approach to it. So I thought… I bet that old “Double Drum Song” would really sound cool with that heavy subsonic reinforced synth-bottom. So we worked up a live version of it and it was just killer! It was a showstopper; it got to be where we had to close the show with that song, but we never had any intention of recording it, and it never occurred to me to record it.”
“I had just formed The Edgar Winter Group and I thought the real strength in that group lay in the core writing between Dan Hartman and myself. We had “Free Ride” which we thought had great hit potential and we thought that was the most radio friendly cut.”
“We had just called that thing (“Frankenstein”) the instrumental and thought it really didn’t have anything to do with what The Edgar Winter Group was. When we went in to record our first album… ‘They Only Come Out at Night’ we recorded all our top songs that we thought were cool and it was at the end of the project… and back in those days groups would actually be going into the studio with three or four songs and create an album in the studio. The band would come up with different sections and you’d put them together, write the lyrics, and then come in and put it down the next day as a track. The cardinal rule was the tape is always rolling so you wouldn’t forget some of this stuff. So we had all these live style 15-20 minute versions of jammin’ out on the instrumental and Rick Derringer said maybe we could edit that into something useable for the album. I said, aw that’s a crazy idea … but I love crazy ideas!”
“At the very last day of the session, it was a good excuse to get even more blasted than usual and it turned into a big editing party, and back in those days the only way to edit something was to physically cut the master tape which was harrowing and like cutting a diamond, if you screwed it up its gone. Of course you had a safety of it but then you lost a generation and not as good as the original. So it was lying all over the control room, over the backs of chairs, overflowing the consoles, on the couch, and we were each trying to figure out how we were going to put it back together. Then Chuck Ruff, the drummer, mumbled the immortal words … “Wow man, it’s like Frankenstein!” Drawing the analogy of an arm here and a leg there and pasting the thing back together … and the monster was born!”
“I’m often asked what advice would you give to people starting out and I really believe that if you play the music that you really love, just whatever it is that you have fun with, the music that’s in your heart, rather than trying to second guess what the audience is going to like or what’s going to be commercial. I think “Frankenstein” is a great example of something that we just played purely for fun. It was the one song that I can point to that established my musical career. We had released “Free Ride” which we really believed in and it didn’t do anything. Later, “Frankenstein was like the ‘B’ side, the third or fourth single into the album and we had pretty much given up on the album and began thinking about the next one. Then all of a sudden “Frankenstein” started to get Underground FM and College Radio airplay and was just a phenomenon and took on a life of its own and grew into what it is …The Indestructible Monster! We just couldn’t believe it. Then we released “Free Ride” and it became a big hit.”
Ray Shasho: Sadly, everyone else from the original Edgar Winter Group has left us.
Edgar Winter: “That’s right, I’m the last surviving member with the exception of Rick Derringer who was not the original guitar player and Ronnie Montrose of course is no longer with us.”
Ray Shasho: I was extremely fortunate to hangout with Ronnie and his wife Leighsa at a concert at the Largo Cultural Center at the beginning of his final tour. Before the show I interviewed Ronnie and asked him what it was like working with Edgar Winter, and he said … “Just incredible, I mean Edgar Winter is one of my heroes, one of my favorite musicians, and I consider him to be a big brother and a mentor because he’s always helped me throughout the years and it was always such a privilege to play with him. And really, I’m just a kid playing with this really talented musician and given tutelage.”
Edgar Winter: “That was so sweet for him to say that … and I love Ronnie and he’s one of my guitar heroes. I always think of Ronnie as “THE GUY.” Rick and I have a history going all the way back to ‘White Trash’ and also played with The Edgar Winter Group with Rick Derringer, but Ronnie, he was the original guy. I have tremendous respect. What I loved about Ronnie, he was just a live wire and really unpredictable. He had this rebellious rock vibe that I loved. It was a good balance. Dan Hartman just loved pop music and his music had almost a carefree innocence to it, then Ronnie’s stuff had this edge, and so it was a good chemistry. I think great bands are always about the chemistry, the contrast, and how it all fits together. It was certainly an honor for me to play with all those guys and be onstage with them.”
Ray Shasho: Edgar, a song that showcases your incredible voice is…“Dying to Live.”Why don’t you record more songs like this one, you have such a magnificent set of pipes?
Edgar Winter: “Well …that’s a great question. It’s one of my favorite songs as well and one of my most personal songs. Actually some of my favorite songs are lesser known and ones that you would think are obscure. I’m singing all the time …but I guess I never found, like that song, which embodied a vocal vehicle. I never really thought of myself as a vocalist. I started out as an instrumentalist but I do love to sing now. I actually learned to sing teaching musicians singing parts. I would do Ray Charles and jazz arrangements, like singing horn parts for example …scatting. And that requires a lot of accuracy that goes into it.”
Ray Shasho: Edgar, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Edgar Winter: “I think Ray Charles. Ray meant so much to me and other than my Brother Johnny is my most profound musical influence. He just had the most soulful voice and indescribable to me. I think he influenced a generation of singers. Without Ray, I don’t think there would have been a Stevie Wonder. I really feel that black preacher singers were the inspiration for rock and roll. I think gospel is probably the most overlooked element in music. People like Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, and Little Richard that started all of that. Ray to me because he played jazz, he played country… “What I’d Say” has that Afro Cuban Rhythm thing going on… he had The Raelettes that was three part gospel harmony and groups like The Supremes were patterned after. He was a real innovator, a great musician, and a great man …so I have to give hats off to Ray.”
Ray Shasho: Edgar, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and continue to bring.
Edgar Winter: “You’re most welcome Ray. I want to thank all my fans out there and everybody who has followed my career as well as my Brother Johnny’s. It means the world to be able to continue to get out there and do what we most love and see you all rockin’ and having a great time. So … KEEP ON ROCKIN!!!”
Very special thanks to Jeff Albright of ‘The Albright Entertainment Group’
The Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest/Hippiefest tour perseveres as a ‘Tribute to Johnny Winter.’ The tour kicked off in Clarkston, Michigan on July 31st and arrives at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on August 16th. This incredible show features classic rock legends … Edgar Winter, Vanilla Fudge, Peter Rivera (The voice of ‘Rare Earth’), and Kim Simmonds (‘Savoy Brown’). -Purchase tickets now at www.rutheckerdhall.com or call 727-791-7400 for further information.
Coming up NEXT … Don Wilson guitarist, pioneer, and co-founder of ‘The Ventures’… Keyboard extraordinaire Patrick Moraz (YES/The Moody Blues)… Al Kooper (The Blues Project, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Bob Dylan, and responsible for the success of Lynyrd Skynyrd… Country Music’s shining new star -19 year old Mary Sarah … Folk/Rock singer & songwriter Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”)… and legendary keyboardist Keith Emerson (The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at email@example.com
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COMING SOON… Ray’s new book project entitled ‘SAVING ROCK AND ROLL’