Just orbiting this planet...Edgar Winter comes full circle
Distilling a complex musical genre like the blues down into its most basic black-and-white constituents is a mighty tall order for any artist, but for Edgar Winter, who was raised on a steady diet of the stuff, nothing could be simpler. Having benefited early on from the tutelage of his musically inclined parents, Winter began performing with his much idolized brother, legendary slide blues guitarist Johnny Winter, at a tender age. Never content with settling into a specific style of music, Winter soon moved beyond his homegrown country-blues background and began to explore other musical worlds including jazz, classical and rock ’n’ roll.
Eventually mastering the alto saxophone and piano, Winter’s willingness to push the envelope led him to form The Edgar Winter Group in 1972, along with renowned songwriters and players Rick Derringer, Dan Hartman, Ronnie Montrose and Chuck Ruff. By January 1973, Winter’s unique combination of R & B and synthesizer rock won over critics and mainstream audiences alike with the release of the band’s most successful album to date, They Only Come Out at Night, which featured the electric keyboard juggernaut “Frankenstein” and the feel-good epic “Free Ride.”
Some 35 years later, Winter is still actively composing, performing and recording and continues to bring the blues into the future.
“I have a lot of fun doing what I do,“ Winter says of his long-running career. “I still enjoy it as much as I did when I was a little kid playing ukulele with my brother Johnny and listening to the Everly Brothers. My dad showed us our first chord; he played guitar and banjo, and sang in a barbershop quartet and in the church choir. He also played the alto sax and performed with a swing band back in the day. Mom played classical, too, so good music was always a part of growing up. I think that’s part of the reason I try to broaden people’s musical horizons.”
Looking to the horizons — and indeed the heavens — for inspiration, Winter is a noted Scientologist who is well-known in Hollywood, where he currently resides, for his work as a soundtrack composer. His arrangements have been featured in numerous film and television productions including The Simpsons, Wayne’s World 2, Netherworld, Invincible, Tupac Resurrection, Queer as Folk and the movie adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s Mission Earth (Hubbard left explicit guidelines regarding the score to accompany the inevitable adaptation of his magnum opus). The fact that both Edgar and Johnny Winter carry the genetic distinction of albinism only adds to their mystique.
While Johnny shirks from interviews, tending to let his amazing slide guitar-playing take the spotlight (Jimi Hendrix once approached him for lessons), Edgar has come to embrace his public persona. He even hosts a congenial website (www.edgarwinter.com) where he repeatedly thanks his fans and invites them to shed their preconceived musical preferences and experience his sound with open minds and ears.
“It is really senseless to have all these musical prejudices,” Winter explains of his philosophical approach to his craft. “All music is beautiful and all styles have their own validity and are continually evolving and merging together. The one common thread between them is the blues. I’m thought of as a rocker, but I also play jazz, classical, blues, ragtime, Dixie and more. People think the blues has already happened and is over with, but I believe it still continues to have an influence on the pop music of today. The same can be said of jazz. That’s what my album, Jazzin’ the Blues, is all about.”
One of the many perks of having been a major name in the recording industry for so long is the pull that Winter has when it comes to putting together a wish list of artists to appear on the forthcoming Rockin’ the Blues. Everyone from Slash to Clint Black has been assigned a seat in Winter’s blues-rock arena. Winter intends to let the record develop in a natural “organic” manner, one that will ensure that things are done with what he describes as a feeling of “rightness.”
“I’m a musical rebel in the sense that I never want to be categorized,” says Winter. “I think it has hurt music, to an extent, that record companies are so insistent on defining artists by style to make it easier to target their market audience. I really feel that things were better back in the ’70s. There was an open attitude (amongst musicians) of freedom and playing music they believed in. Bands actually went into the studio with two or three songs and created the rest of the album in the studio. There was a magic and immediacy to the process, as opposed to the control presently exerted by record companies that want demos of everything in advance. Today, it’s more about business than art. Rock, jazz, blues; I’m just glad to have trained in so many different theatres. It makes for a really interesting, fun, high-energy show.”