Edgar Winter has always had that special something that separated him from the rest of the pack. It had nothing to do with the trademark shock of white hair shared by both Edgar and his brother, the late, great Johnny Winter. It was his remarkable talent and insatiable curiosity that propelled a kid from Texas into rock superstardom.
Winter performs Saturday at the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival in Fernandina Beach. He takes the stage at 4:30 pm in the historic downtown area. He promises to deliver samples from his full catalog from his early material to songs from his bands White Trash and the Edgar Winter Group with a few Johnny Winter songs played as a tribute to his brother, who passed away last July.
“Everything you’d expect to hear from Edgar Winter we’ll be doing. Tobacco Road, the traditional blues song with the long, never-ending scream and the guitar-vocal call and response section that has sort of become signature Edgar Winter. From the White Trash era, songs like Keep Playing That Rock nRoll, which is autobiographical and to a large extent tells the story of how my brother Johnny and I first came up to New York and got started in the music biz,” he says. “From the Edgar Winter Group album They Only Come Out at Night, Frankenstein and Free Ride. They are always a lot of fun to do. We’ll also be doing several songs from our last release, Rebel Road. We don’t plan out the set. I like to try and get a feel from the audience and more or less wing it.”
Winter has always played the game his way, shrugging off rules and labels. It was that innate aversion to authority that offered Winter a fellowship with many biker groups. He has performed at a number of biker events like Sturgis and Jay Leno’s Love Ride. His songs echo the need for open space to travel freely and be who you want to be regardless of what societal rules dictate.
“We used to do a lot of shows with Steppenwolf. Born to Be Wild was always a big biker anthem with Free Ride running in a close second. I always thought bikers and rockers had something in common, a certain disregard for authority and the powers that be. It’s just saying ‘I’m not going to be told who I am or what I’m supposed to be or how I’m supposed to live’. I’ve always felt something like a musical rebel. I’ve always sort of defied categorization.”
In today’s climate, it is often considered “selling out” when a band lends its music to a commercial project but for Winter, it’s yet another form of creative expression as long as its used in the correct context. He points out the different ways the “wild and crazy” Frankenstein fits into a lot of film scores and the various commercial applications available to a song like Free Ride.
“What I really enjoy though is writing a song for the movie like My Cousin Vinny. I wrote the song Way Down South specifically for that movie’s opening scene. It’s really fun to write for film because there is already a situation and you don’t have wrack your brain. I wrote a song called Wag The Dog for the film with Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman. The song was supposed to be a traditional blues song written in the 30’s and 40’s about this war hero. It was like a cattle call. There were thousands of people writing in. I sent in a keyboard part and a vocal, thinking this is never going to happen. And the next day I get the call saying this is the one. I never thought for years that shows you that you never know what works in mysterious ways.”
Growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Johnny was ‘Mr. Cool Daddy with the shades and the guitar’ while Edgar says he ‘was the weird kid that played all the instruments’. The Winter brothers started early, playing ukeleles and singing to the Everly Brothers. The pair formed a band and Johnny naturally gravitated toward the guitar while his little brother journeyed through a myriad of instruments from drums, alto sax and the famous keyboard strapped to his chest like a guitar.
“My brother Johnny devoted his life to the blues and I love the blues as well. If there was any one common thread that runs throughout all of my music it is the blues but I’ve never been able to understand why people who love classical can’t appreciate rock or people who love country can’t dig jazz. They are all equally valid musical forms and I love them all and love to play them,” Winter says.
“I always loved the behind-the-scenes stuff. I enjoyed working out all the parts, doing the arrangments so there was never really any sibling rivalry. I was happy doing that and I just love music for the beauty of rhythm and harmony. I never was particularly motivated by fame or success. I just love music. Johnny, on the other hand, had that dream. He was more adventurous. When he became famous, this more or less just fell into my lap. If there was ever any advice that I would offer young people that are starting out and that’s to play the music that you love, that really means something to you. It’s easy to get swept away in that whole thing.”
Winter points the finger at the record companies for perpetuating the divide by limiting artists to one specific genre spoonfed to a single target audience. “It’s kind of sad in a way because it inhibits free expression of music. I think that’s why the 60’s and 70’s were so cool was because of that degree of freedom,” he says. “I guess we’re all tempted to feel that the time we came up was somehow special but I really do believe that there were two golden eras in music; the 40’s and 50’s for big band and the 60’s and 70’s for rock,” he says. “To me, they are really unparalleled and I’m glad to have been a part of that and to have come through it all and still be alive and kicking.”
Music is his first love but Winter has a kaleidoscopic list of future projects on the horizon. There is a volume of poetry in the works, which started as a collection of unrecorded song lyrics and a love notes to his wife of 35 years, Monique, to whom the project will be dedicated.
Winter is also kicking around plans for a series of short stories that take place in a mythical realm entitled the Shadowlands and music to accompany those stories called Shadowdance. He is also writing a musical comedy version of Frankenstein called “Frank & Stein,” which takes a satirical look at a posh, Park Avenue Dr. Stein who hopes to create the perfect army of monsters. Winter says the doctor tries to teach Frank things like karate but the gentle monster prefers violin and gardening.
“You never know if any of these things will actually happen but I do like to keep things stirred up. I try to do unusual things. I’m constantly writing songs. I may do a regular album, I may do a blues thing or I could do a Johnny tribute album. I’m not in any rush,” he says. “I’ve never changed and never will. I’m just going to do what I enjoy doing what I love and hope that there will be some people out there that come along and have a good time with it. You’ll never hear of Edgar Winter talking about a Farewell Tour. I’m in it until the end.”