Posted June, 2009
Edgar Winter. When the name is mentioned in the presence of Baby Boomers, it conjures up two iconic songs of the Seventies: Frankentstein and Free Ride. For others who enjoy the deeper, lesser known aspects of music, the name, Edgar Winter, brings to mind a Texas-born musical prodigy.
Yes, prodigy. For, not only has Winter's musical career spanned the genre's of rock, pop, blues and pop, he has mastered at the saxophone and a wide range of keyboard and percussion instruments. To watch Edgar in concert provides the spectator with the rare but entertaining treat of viewing his virtuosity on these instruments.
It was after witnessing just such a display of musical genius that I had the privilege of sitting down with Edgar Winter. He had just retired to his hotel room after a crowd-pleasing concert at the Wildflower! Arts and Music Festival in Richardson, Texas. Consequently, Edgar was a tired but very gracious host, not acting the least bit annoyed at having his day prolonged by yet another interview. For this, Boomerocity is eternally grateful.
After being escorted into Mr. Winter's hotel room by his tour manager and long time friend, Dave Lopez, we sat down for our conversation. I complimented him on the tremendous show he just performed and about the diverse group of people that made up the audience.
He's animated with his reply, "Yeah, I love those multi-generational shows. I don't think there is any particular demographic, especially with the outdoor shows. The hard core Johnny (as in "Winter", his equally iconic, blues guitarist brother)/Edgar/Rick (Derringer) fans are . . . one type of people but I think because I've done so many different kinds of music over my career. "Entrance" was more of a blend of jazz, classical and rock so, our = my audience can be quite different.
In chatting about the gig that he just completed, I asked if the show was his first time playing this particular venue. The pride of being a Texan is readily apparent. "As far as I can remember, yes, this is the first. And, of course, ANY TIME I'm playing in Texas, that's my old stomping grounds! I love coming back to Texas and I don't do that many shows here but we played in Houston last night which is even closer - 90 miles from Beaumont. It was a great show. The rain threatened but, uh, GREAT Frankenstein music with some thunder and lightning going on. Whenever there's threatening weather, "Yeah! ‘Frankenstein' is going to be PERFECT!"
As a forty year rock and roll veteran, Winter has played venues all over the world. I asked him which venues were his favorite places to play. Listening to his answers was akin to what it would be like to hear Patton name his favorite fields of battle.
Oh, I'll tell you, uh, I guess, just looking back over my career, there are certain ones that stand out. We're all based in L.A. so I really like the Greek Theater there, in L.A. It's beautiful. It's sort of indoor/outdoor and the sunsets (are) really magical.
And, as far as most memorable, I guess, Woodstock (laughs). That was '69. I played that with my brother, Johnny. The Apollo Theater was one of my favorites. And, I love Royal Albert Hall. We did a U.K. tour about three or four years ago with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. The last show of the tour was Royal Albert Hall and we shot a video of it. We've been trying to get it released and it looks like it's FINALLY going to come out. I haven't even seen it so I have no idea what it looks like.
Edgar goes on to explain the delay in it's release: "I think the guy that shot it had - he had a deal, I think with Sony, that probably was a part - you know, this particular thing was part of a group of things and I think that faltered. Then I think he tried to replace it and it just kind of gone on and on. He's kind of got it - he does, he has a big bulk of stuff. Ours was just one of many things that just, lost in the shuffle! But it is going to come out so that's good."
Getting back to the venue discussion, Winter adds, "Oh, and Carnegie Hall! Those are the ones that I - oh, I loved the Fillmore East. That was amazing. But, as far as places I like to play now, you know, the Greek is really one of my favorites."
With so many accomplishments on his resume, I asked Edgar what he hasn't done that he would like to, musically. "What haven't I done? Well, I've got a Broadway musical comedy version of "Frankenstein" that I'm working on. That's something that I haven't done yet. I did a jazz CD which I've always wanted to do. I have classical music that I will probably get around to recording at some point. And . . . I love standards. I'll probably do a standards album at some point. Everybody's done them but, nevertheless, it's something that is a part of jazz - part of my jazz upbringing - unique arrangements of standards that have beautiful chords and are fun to play. It's just something I've always wanted to do.
I bring the conversation around to Winter's latest CD, Rebel Road, by telling him what a great disc it is. "Oh, thank you! Yeah, I was really happy with the way that came out.
I add, "I have to tell you, though, I love the rockers, of course, but I was really touched by what you wrote about ‘The Closer I Get'. But for you guys to be married this long and (with) you in this business, that's got to be one of the ‘Hall of Famer's', right?"
Smiling as one who wishes that he was home with his wife, Edgar responds, "Well, yeah. I'm equally, if not more proud of that than any of my accomplishments in music. And it means so much to me. I mean, music is great but if you don't have one to share your life with, what's the point? And, really, music is spiritual. It's a spiritual thing to me. Well, life in general is a spiritual undertaking. So many people - it's not very popular to be religious these days. People always say, ‘Well, I'm not really religious but I am very spiritual.' You never know - what does that mean, ‘that I believe in some thing'?
Continuing on, he reflects, "I was brought up that way but I feel that religion is a personal thing. And organized religions are sometimes problematical. And that's a different a thing. But music for me, that was the thing that helped illumine that spiritual path - to me.
"When I played Woodstock, it really changed my life because, up to that point, I had been a serious musician as a kid. It was my own private escape world. I just loved music. I loved the beauty of harmony and rhythm and just loved it in and of itself rather than a means to an end."
In bringing back the discussion to "Rebel Road, I comment, "There are two great country cuts on your latest CD. How come there's not a crossover there. Do you not want to go ‘country'?"
The Texan rises up in him again. "I'm from Texas and I grew up playing country music. Being around it and . . . it's just sort of odd that it's one of the influences that's never really come out in my music.
"I had written some lyrics to a song that I thought was a blues song, "Horns of a Dilemma". And the guys that I was writing with, Curt and James, took a look at these lyrics and, "Oh, that's a great Country song!" "What? I thought it was a Blues song!" "No, man! It's a great Country rocker!" They came up with a treatment of it. I thought about it and said, "You know? You could be right. It could be that." So, uh, I've really thought about doing a Country album until, until we did those two songs. Now that's another thing I might do.
"It's like "Power of Positive Drinkin'". It's clever like some kind of play on words from a familiar phrase. A lot of them, they're kinda geared in that way. I've always enjoyed those. Those are good examples of it. "Horns of a Dilemma". Familiar phrase.
I mention the fact that his friend and country star, Clint Black, is on the two country tunes.
"Yeah . . . Clint, you know, it was just so great to have him on both of those songs. All the guests! Slash did a great job on "Rebel Road" and Johnny was great on "Rockin' the Blues". When I listen to THAT song and close my eyes, it takes me back to when we were kids.
"You know, you always, in the process of making an album, there's those magical moments that happen. "The Closer I Get" is that way for me. And the one I wrote for Ringo, "Peace and Love", is another one. That's all of what you always hope for in the process of making music is that you're gonna really, like, it's - I think that's why they use to call them "albums" because it's like - sort of like a musical snapshot that captures a moment in time when something really happened."
I mention to him that "one thing that really stood out to me about your album is how positive it is. The over-arching theme of Rebel Road is by-the-numbers great rock and roll and some blues. But your message in there is a positive, refreshing feel."
"Yeah, most of my songs are optimistic. I have a dark one occasionally. But, uh, yeah, rock is about having a good time. And . . . I think the thing about blues - even though . . . a lot of the content is sad, it's still like transforming suffering into joy. It's still happy music. It's a hard thing to explain. But you listen to it and you say, ‘Oh, I thought things were bad for me! Man! I'm pretty well off, actually.'
"But, yeah, thanks! Writing, it's one of those stream-of-consciousness things - and I suppose it just reflects the fact that I am really happy now. I love the music I'm making. I love my band. I love my wife, Monique. (We've been) married for 30 years. And . . . it means the world to me to be able to do what I most love and see people out there having a great time. What could be better than that?
"I would be playing regardless if whether paid for it because I love to play. I don't even think of it as a career. To me, it's like a hobby. Just something that I love to do. Well, not a hobby. It's a consuming interest. It's really my life. A lot of people think of it as a business. I really never have.
"What's most important to me is just that I'm making honest music. Whenever anybody asks me about advice, I always say that the thing is just to follow your heart and do what you really believe in and what really matters to you. Don't try to think about what's going to sell or try to second guess what audiences - what people are going to want to hear. You do the music that's in your heart - that you really love and care about and I think that will communicate more than anything else to an audience and to the people that hear it."
I turn the conversation to his participation in the "Heroes of Woodstock" tour of shows.
Smiling, he says, "You know, a lot of people are not aware that I played Woodstock because our footage was not in the movie or any of the CD's or any of that stuff. We played the whole set. He, at that point, Johnny did the part of his show with his blues trio. No one even knew that I existed back then. ‘Now, I'm going to bring on my little brother, Edgar!' And I came on, (mimicking the audience) ‘Oh, wow! There's two of them!'
And then, he would do, "Rollin' and Tumblin'", "Mean Town Blues", I forget all exactly - probably "Hustle Down in Texas". Just a lot of his standard blues songs. I did "Tobacco Road" with the band. We did a version of what became "Frankenstein", the instrumental, which we use to call "The Double Drum Song" - we did that. The Ray Charles song called, "Tell The Truth". I don't remember if we played it at Woodstock but that was one of the songs that we did.
"I know that there are 10 or 12 of those ‘Heroes of Woodstock' things. We're not sure how many of those we're going to be doing. I think that there's only one of them that's for sure."
Our conversation involved other work, the record industry and life in general. Certainly to much to include in this story. However, I left the interview sensing Edgar Winter's profound love for his wife, his brother, those near to him, and people in general. He exudes a sincerity that is commonly found in the rarified air of celebrity. As they say in the south about people like him, "he's good people."