The Best of Edgar Winter
7 May 2002
Imagine what it was like back in the old days, when the Winter brothers first dropped into what was becoming an already unbelievable scene. They appeared out of the blue, and arrived full-grown as major talents. Johnny Winter’s blues guitar playing staggered the imagination, brilliant enough to dazzle the lights of any crowd, and prompted normally staid record company executives into fevered bidding frenzies.
Then after hearing him, the exclamatory compliment “Where did he come from” collectively resounded and soon was followed by the admiring remark, “Are there any more at home like you?” The latter question answered with the surprising truth, yes, and how. Even during a time when amazing things were not just possibilities but realities, to discover there was another Winter, every bit as talented as his sibling, stretched all credulity. While the elder Winter brother chose to express himself through the blues, Edgar Winter followed his own star and jumped into electronic rock explorations when he made his entrance.
Not only was he one of the very first musicians to use the synthesizer as a lead instrument in studio recordings and in live performances, but onstage, Edgar Winter slung his keyboard from a strap around his neck and played standing up, his long white hair flying as he rocked and swayed. Then envision him switching over easily to solo on the individual instruments that he had learned to layer the textures of his keyboard work. Seemingly unrelated instruments like saxophone, bass, drums, or guitar that he also coaxed tasteful music from with an equal display of dexterity and skill.
Edgar Winter was as immersed in the blues as his brother, but he followed his own vision and translated his music differently. There was enough rock to keep some portions of the listening audiences satisfied while Edgar Winter also fashioned intelligent introspections about the difficult nature of existence during wartime (“Dying to Live”) and evocative ballads that share the uplifting nature of some secret imaginings (“Fly Away”). He also pursued various forms that were complex experiments with elements of straight sophisticated jazz (“Entrance” and “Fire and Ice”) all while pumping out a humorous spin on his own current state of being (“Keep Playin’ That Rock ‘N Roll”).
He’s kept himself busy throughout the years, obviously deriving much joy from the act of creating while drawing on a deep reservoir of the things he cherishes for his inspiration and nurture, all of which he touched on in one way or another when we spoke for a charming half hour by phone. Before you eavesdrop, his tone throughout was spirited, friendly, and enthusiastic.
Sony has pulled together the best of your work.
I’m thrilled that Sony is releasing the Best Of. It couldn’t come at a better time. I feel that as an artist, in some respects, I’ve come full circle.
It does tie in with my present project in that the CD I am currently working on is more or less an extension of the last one I did, Winter Blues. I have never done a blues CD. Johnny, my brother, being a blues guitarist is pretty much the blues man of the Winter family. The current one is entitled called Jazz in the Blues.
First off, I think it’s so great to see that blues is receiving the recognition that it deserves. Blues and jazz are the great American contributions to music. But people do tend to think of blues as something old, as something that’s already happened. So what I was trying to do with in that CD was demonstrate the infinite variety and diversity that exist in blues rather than doing a collection of traditional blues songs. The blues is very much alive and well and has a continuing influence on every form of contemporary pop music that exists today.
I’m working on Jazz in the Blues and extending that into the realm of jazz which was one of my first loves. The reason I say it ties in with the release of the Best Of, one of the things I like about the Best Of is it has everything you’d expect to hear from Edgar Winter. It goes all the way back to the Entrance album which was my first release and it’s very seldom played on the radio, more of a musician’s album, almost a collectors’ item, so I’m very happy they included some of the material from Entrance.
Part of what my career has been about is trying to broaden musical horizons and awareness and to try to break down what I consider to be musical prejudices that exist between different forms of music. I love all forms of music. I see no reason why people who appreciate classical can’t like rock, or why people who like jazz can’t get along with country. Because there are so many people now that are injecting a good healthy indication of the sophistication of jazz into their music, like Bruce Hornsby who is really a jazz player but whose music retains the simplicity and sincerity of country music. So I’m glad to see the Best Of coming out. I look forward obviously to trying to carry on in that vein, in what I’m doing now, to tie it in with everything that’s gone before.
The jazz people would always say when are you going to do a really jazz? The reason I mentioned that Entrance was seldom played—the first side was a 25-minute continuous piece, like a symphonette with seven movements, so it’s hard to play that on that on the radio.
What the Best Of reminded me of was that excitement that I first felt when I got into music a good reminder for me. I can’t wait to hear it myself. It’s sometimes difficult when you have songs recorded over a period of so many years, the technology changes, the music is different in its approach, the recording techniques vary, so it is a challenge to make a cohesive record in which everything sounds alike. That’s part of the charm, I didn’t even make an attempt to do that on this project. I was asked, and I suggested just letting the songs be as they originally were and let those differences be evident, let them exist.
It’s not as though I have a multitude . . . I mean some people have hit after hit which is fun too. I think it is a well-balanced selection, they picked some songs that I wouldn’t have expected them to. Another interesting aspect of it, Larry Coen at the time I signed with Epic back in . . . what year was Woodstock?
I’m really not sure. 1969, wasn’t it?
Clive Davis was President of the company then and Larry Coen was Vice President. And it was just great to have him back in my proverbial corner again after 30 years; it was very heartwarming to see his liner notes and know he was still there.
This is very important to me. I’m very happy to see this out. Probably Jazz in the Blues will be ready next year. For the Best Of, we’re going to be touring extensively over the summer. In the live show . . . when I thought about the live show, I thought I would probably do some of the songs that people expect to hear—“Frankenstein” and “Free Ride” are still in the public mind. “Frankenstein” is on the Buick commercial with Tiger Woods and “Free Ride” was on another Buick commercial a few years ago, and they get used a lot in movies like Wayne’s World II, What’s Love Got To Do With It, Air America, I can’t even think of them all. But what I decided to do with the live show is to do a medley with a lot of the songs that are going to be on the Best Of. It will be a nice way to give everyone a taste of those songs.
I’m one of those guys who’s continued to be active. I didn’t record for a long period of time, but I’ve always played and I’ve been playing a hundred shows a year. I love music and it’s been a great life. I intend to continue to do it as long as I possibly can. The old Texas “die with your boots on.” I’ll probably die on the stage.
I’ve done so many things, so many different approaches. There are certain albums that appeal more to musicians and others that are a bit more simplistic.
(There is a pause, so I ask what might be the hackneyed question)
I’ve just read that you tour Japan regularly. I’ve never been there. Is the music scene different in Japan than here?
It is for me. The last two times I went to Japan I did the Blue Note in Tokyo, Osaka, and . . . there’s a third club . . . in Fukuoka. I can play jazz in Japan and the audience is very attentive, an appreciative, musical audience. Also, there is more of my music available on CD in Japan. There are several albums that have never been released on CD here that are available on CD in Japan. Three I think of off hand are Jasmine Nightdreams, Recycled (with the White Trash), and Edgar Winter Group with Rick Derringer.
We’ve got real friends over there, so it’s very special going to Japan because we get to see these people. I think there’s a little more of a sensibility and aesthetic appreciation of music. A lot of the places here in the States people just like to rock and roll and party here which I love. But in Japan it is a little more sensitive, serious audience, and I enjoy that change. Not that they don’t scream and make a lot of noise, they do. As I pointed out, I can’t play jazz much over here, but I can go over there and do it.
I went over with Michael Brecker of the Brecker Brothers. Do you like jazz? Do you know them? Then I went over with Steve Lukather (the guitar player for Toto) who just won a Grammy for the jazz CD recorded live at the Blue Note in Japan with Larry Carleton. It’s very rewarding to me to play other styles of music and not be categorized as just one thing.
It’s such a pleasure to speak with someone who so genuinely enjoys what they’re doing especially after so many years. Any other thoughts you’d care to share?
I’ve just celebrated my 23rd wedding anniversary. I think I’m prouder of my marriage than of my career. I know a lot more famous rock stars with successful careers than I know people in any field with successful marriages. We get remarried every year. It’s a nice spiritual link to renew your vows and remind one another that love has to be created. It’s not an automatic thing. People tend to think you fall in love and then it’s over with. OK, you’re in love, but it’s not something that you can just put on automatic and expect it to continue of its own accord without a little help once in awhile.
We never had children. On one hand, I can see how that would be a wonderful rewarding thing, but I think there are enough people in the world. I think we have a great relationship and it’s enough for us. It might have been more problematical if I had children with a career and all of it. I tour all the time. If I were to have children, I would want to be home all the time. Maybe I’m too selfish.
Also, let me say hello to all my fans in Japan. And be sure to thank all my fans everywhere for their loyal support and continuing to listen to the music, buy the CDs, and come to the shows. I can’t imagine anything better than doing what I most love and seeing the people out there enjoying themselves and having a good time . . . and I get paid for it!