Rant’n’Roll – One-On-One With Edgar Winter

    He came out of Beaumont Texas fully formed. His older brother Johnny Winter was the guitarist of the family so he just figured he’d play “everything else.” And he did. In their first band together, Johnny & The Jammers, he played drums. This was after learning bass. When he got hooked on Ray Charles, he mastered keyboards. Then came saxophone.

    When Johnny signed one of the biggest record contracts up to that point in rock history with Columbia Records, Edgar went along for the free ride to just to come and jam on gigs wherein Johnny would bash the blues with his trio before bringing out his little brother who looked like just him and would drive the crowds crazy.

    Then he formed his own band, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, with producer/guitarist/composer Rick Derringer. It featured one of 1971’s greatest songs, “Dying To Live”, a song so melodically beautiful and lyrically profound that it still resonates today. But it was the 1972 release of The Edgar Winter Group’s They Only Come Out At Night that made him a star with hits like the late Dan Hartman’s “Free Ride” and his own headbanging instrumental “Frankenstein” which topped the charts in May of ‘73. It went double-platinum, climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and gave him his platform upon which to stage his career. Eighteen albums later, at 71, with his brother dead and gone, he’s still rocking.

What can we expect at the Iridium in New York City on October 5 and 6?

    We’ll be doing everything you’d expect to hear from Edgar Winter. “Free Ride”, “Frankenstein”, “Rock ’n’ Roll Hoochie Coo”, “Tobacco Road” — with its long never-ending scream — and, of course, and all those traditional blues songs that I popularized with my brother Johnny and a section of songs associated with Johnny like “Jumping Jack Flash” [Stones], “Johnny B. Goode” [Chuck Berry] and “Highway 61 Revisited” [Dylan], songs we used to play together.

    When we first started playing “Tobacco Road”, Johnny and I had an almost telepathic communication because we grew up playing together and knew each other’s riffs. It became very easy and natural for us to constantly trade riffs back and forth, even vocally. We developed that call-and-response section right from the church and put it at the end of our “Tobacco Road” arrangement. John D. Loudermilk wrote it as a blues in 1960 and when I do the scream, it’s for Ray Charles who had the best scream of them all. I’ve since it with every guitar player I’ve ever worked with. It’s always a lot of fun, and I always dedicate it to Johnny it.

    I’ll also be doing some songs from Edgar Winter’s White Trash: “Keep Playing That Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Turn On Your Love Light” [The Bobby Blue Bland Blues Band]. Also from my last CD, Rebel Road [2008], a song called “Eye On You”, which I wrote about airport surveillance. Also “The Power Of Positive Drinking”. That album had a lot of cool guests on it including Slash and Clint Black. Clint’s a fellow Texan, great country singer and an even better blues-harp man. I had some country-based material on that album. The only thing close to country I’d ever done before had been “Round And Round” which sounds like it could’ve been an Eagles song. [Laughs]

No “Dying To Live”?

Why just maybe?

    It depends on the audience. A lot of times if you play a song like that, people will shout “ROCK AND ROLL” right on top of it. Sometimes all they want to hear is high-energy rock.

It’s the most beautiful song you ever wrote. I contend it was best damn song of 1971 and it still gives me goosebumps. I demand you rethink your stance and definitely do it. I could just see you there under a sole spotlight with you at the piano crooning that tune. No band. Just you.

    Thank you so much for that. Yeah, I might do it. I played it very recently at a guitar festival workshop. It is my favorite out of all the songs I ever wrote. It’s the closest to my heart. The one I feel personally connected to. So okay, sure, I’ll think more on that. The one thing about that song, though, is that it really needs a Grand Piano, if not a real upright acoustic piano. There’s something funny about doing it on an electronic keyboard. Hey, if there’s a real piano in the room, I’ll do it, how’s that?

    It’s really a cool set because of the caliber of musicianship. Guitarist Doug Rappoport has been with me 15 years, longer than any guitarist I’ve ever played with, and he was very young when he joined. I’m noted for having played with many great guitarists, obviously my brother Johnny and Ronnie Montrose to name just two so all you guitar aficionados, look out! Doug has developed into a phenomenal player. He was a metalhead when I first met him but he’s really broadened, developed and matured during our association over the years. He’s a great singer, writes his own songs, and is truly amazing on guitar, a great soloist, a joy to play with. On bass is Koko Powell, I first saw him with The Spencer Davis Group. He now has his own big-band that plays clubs and corporate events around town. Also a great singer. I love Koko because he does all the funk bass-popping but he loves rock ’n’ roll. His timing is perfect. He’s got some feel! Very rhythmic. Terrific soloist. On drums is Jason Carpenter with that killer groove. He’s a great gospel drummer. A Berklee graduate, a really inventive soloist, he also plays keyboards and sings like a bird with that beautiful high falsetto voice.

    We like to stretch out and really play. I love to play. It’s inspiring to be onstage with such solid musicians. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. We don’t just play all the songs like the records. I try not to be too overly self-indulgent but we like to jam! And we’re gonna rock out. It’s an eclectic, well-balanced show with a little something for everybody so don’t miss it.