Don’t ever expect to hear about an Edgar Winter farewell tour. “I’m going to keep playing until the end.”
Me: What was it like growing up as a kid in Texas?
Edgar: It was very interesting and I didn’t fully appreciate it until I got old enough to move away what a great music scene there is in Texas. When I went to New York I was really excited, “Wow the best musicians in the world” and there are lots of great musicians, but there’s nothing you can really identify as a New York sound. Where I grew up in Texas there were real…ah…old guys authentic blues guys singing blues, real cowboys singing country music. It was close to the Mexican border so there was hot Latin rhythm players, and right across the line in Louisiana there were a lot of clubs and I love the French Cajun/New Orleans style of music, we used to just call it “swamp music” and then North Texas is one of the world’s foremost music schools, so there was an infusion of great jazz players so it was a great mix of music and music passed down from generation to generation. Ya know my father played guitar, banjo and alto sax in a swing band in his youth and my mother played beautiful classical piano. My father showed me my first chords when I was 4 years old.
When I started putting together my first band, White Trash, I did a massive talent search and wound up going back to Texas and enlisting the guys I grew up with, basically a reunion of my old high school band. It just seemed to have a certain flavor that I couldn’t find in any other part of the world.
Me: Yeah, it’ funny that you go to the largest metropolis in the world and wind up finding what you were looking for in your own backyard.
Edgar: Yeah (laughs) it was a real eye opener to me, and that’s not to say that there are not great musicians, but I looked everywhere, but when I got up to New York it was like the difference between chicken soup and gumbo, chicken soup is good but there’s nothing like that old southern gumbo. In that sense, White Trash had its own unique personality and sound all its own.
Me: Right. So do you think you can attribute that to musicians in New York being session players and not having the feel for what you were doing?
Edgar: Well I think it’s deeper than that, I think when you grow up in a particular area you’ve spent years playing with people you develop almost, like in the case of my brother Johnny and myself, a telepathic kind of communication. It’s not just the standard of caliber of musicians it’s that sharing of common roots and just knowing the personalities of the people you’re playing with and having that sense of what they’re going to do.
Me: Yeah, that intuitive sense.
Me: You’ve been doing this for a long time. What’s changed over the years, as far as, venues and audiences?
Edgar: Well I think that we’re all tempted to feel that the time we came up in was somehow special. Objectively, I believe there were two golden eras in music, the 40’s and 50’s for big band and swing, and the 60s and 70s for rock and there was such a degree of musical freedom back then. It wasn’t as commercialized as it is today and it wasn’t taken seriously. There were so many great groups at that time and there wasn’t really any intervention from the record companies. Ya know, people would go into the studio with three or four songs and actually create an album in the studio. Ya might stay in there two to six weeks.
That stopped happening around the mid-70s when the music companies started to become more active. Songs had to be approved and there was more or less someone looking over your shoulder watching the clock. It became a whole different world.
When I started out it was all about music, capturing a moment and the spirit of that immediacy was what made the music what it was. I’m glad I came up in that time and had that opportunity.
Me: Who were you influenced by musically while you were growing up? Who were some of your favorite players?
Edgar: Well, many. I love all styles of music. I’m primarily thought of as a rocker and southern blues rock and because of the song Frankenstein and because it was such a heavy song, kind of the precursor to heavy metal. I also love jazz and classical music. I’d say if I had to pick one guy I would say my most profound influence was Ray Charles. I just loved Ray. He was a great piano player and all the New Orleans and gospel stuff he did and he was the most soulful singer. He influenced a whole generation of singers, even the ones that were not necessarily trying to sound like him. There was just that sincerity and everybody wanted to duplicate that.
Me: We’ve already touched on the music industry a bit, but I wanted to get into more about how the industry has changed from allowing so much creative freedom to now becoming more involved in targeting a certain audience and becoming more intent on creating a hit record.
Edgar: Yeah and it really sucked the life out of the music. I was fortunate in that I met Clive Davis, who was the president of CBS at the time. Clive actually said on the first two or three albums that I made he said, “Just follow your own instincts and do whatever it is you feel you want to do, I want to give you the complete freedom to develop as an artist.”
Back then you would sign a deal and be with a company for five to 10 years, where now it’s more the flavor of the month. You know, you’re young, good looking, you fit the right niche and they’ll bring in writers and producers and you know. They make good music; it’s just an entirely different approach to it.
Me: Music is more than just somebody playing and somebody listening. It’s more of an emotional experience. It’s an exchange of energy between the players and the listener. How do you manage, after all these years, to still produce that kind of dynamic in your music?
Edgar: Well, it’s what I naturally do. I’m blessed to have a band I really love that is inspiring to play with. We just love to play and we’re a little different from some bands that there is a certain amount of spontaneity and to me that’s the key to keeping that feeling alive. I hear a lot of bands complaining, ya know “I come out and play the same riffs I’ve been playing for however many years ago and they play ‘em just like the record.”
Ya know it’s like Frankenstein. It keeps evolving every time we play it but it has that one signature riff, that every time I hear it, it makes me smile. It’s something I think people can sense and I’m just thankful that I can be up there doing what I most love and people are out there having a great time. You never know what might be your last show. I play every one with that in mind.
Me: When I found out I was going to do this interview, I went on YouTube and listened to several versions of Frankenstein to refresh my memory, and you mentioned earlier that call and response thing you had going on and I noticed the percussive call and response part of the drum solo you did with Chuck Ruff. It was interesting where you would play a riff on the timbales and Chuck would answer on the drums. It struck me that, after recently watching a documentary on Ginger Baker, I wondered if you would have liked to have had the chance to do that song with Baker?
Edgar: I know Ginger. We have jammed together and he’s a great drummer. He is a very creative soloist and it would have been a lot of fun.
At this point Edgar took off on a rant about the synthesizer that went like this.
Edgar: It was a new way of expression and I wanted to explore the new, never before heard sounds that we could create and it was very controversial at the time because a lot of people were saying its de-humanizing music. There were a lot of people writing and programming dumb loops and things they couldn’t physically play. They were more programmers than musicians. And there were other people who were programming string sections and stuff and putting session musicians out of work.
I think that synthesizer is one of the most human instruments ever invented. There are just so many infinite possibilities in what the human mind can conceive.
Me: Today with the capability to record on home computers with various plug ins and sound altering software. Do you feel that is an extension of the synthesizer?
Edgar: No, it’s different. I like the sense of freedom. Everybody can record now and that is really cool. But, digital sound to me is not nearly as good or as interesting. As soon as CDs came out I thought well this is going to be the death of the music industry. Where cassettes were good quality, CDs were master quality and easily reproducible. How were you going to protect copyrights and intellectual property? And that is exactly what happened.
Me: What advice would you have for young musicians? Would you say they should seek out a label or go independent?
Edgar: Well the best advice I can give is to play the music that is in your heart.
Me: I know how hard it is for musicians to maintain a domestic relationship. You’ve been married for 35 years. How have you managed to keep a strong relationship all this time?
Edgar: Well, I think it’s a spiritual connection first of all. Fidelity, really caring.
Monique has always been my inspiration throughout the years. I might not have been around at all had it not been for her. I could have easily self-destructed.
Every year on our anniversary which is also her birthday, we remarry every year, we renew our vows.
People tend to think that love is just something that happens to you. Love is something that you have to keep alive. It’s something that you have to generate. I think a lot of people get married for crazy reasons, but for me the most important thing in my life is my relationship with Monique.
As far as projects Edgar has in the can, he’s working on a book of poems he wrote for Monique, a series of short stories (Stories from the Shadowland) and a semi-classical musical that goes along with it. He’s also working on a Broadway-style musical comedy version of Frankenstein that’s called “Frank & Stein.”
Edgar: I have a lot of things going on that are not necessarily rock & roll though I’m definitely going to continue to play. YOU’LL NEVER HEAR EDGAR WINTER TALKING ABOUT A FAREWELL TOUR. I love rock & roll and I’m going to keep playing until the end.