"I think every generation has a voice that’s expressed through the music, culturally as well and we’ve been through a lot. I’m glad to see, at least some recognition of humanity and the feeling that, you know, I would like to see all of this, nationalism, to me it’s one planet."
Edgar Winter: A Philosopher of Music
The man contains multitudes. Sure, it’s something which has been said about others, but for Edgar Winter it’s literally true: His musical multitudes alone are staggering, and they are not all of who he is. As his fans know well, he’s a joyful genius, a musical wizard capable of solving any problem, and for whom limitations don’t exist, only possibilities. A self-taught virtuoso on almost all instruments known to man, winter has long been fearless in his fusion of genres and use of brand-new technology such as the synthesizer. It’s these multitudes which have defined him, and distinguished him all along from his legendary big brother, the late great Johnny Winter. Hailing from historic Beaumont, Texas, Johnny (born February 23, 1944) and Edgar (December 28, 1946) both were born with albinism. Edgar’s career continues to be as dynamic and all encompassing as his musical ability. Spanning over five decades, the details could fill volumes. Now that quiet kid released a musical love-letter to his first champion. "Brother Johnny" (2022 / Quarto Valley Records) is an album which he has been considering since Johnny’s death in 2014, and a tour they had been scheduled to play together. Years in the making, It fuses Johnny’s lifelong passion for the electric blues with the warmth of a brother’s genuine love.
(Edgar Winter / Photos courtesy of Edgar Winter Archive/Beautiful Day Media, All Rights Reserved)
The album is a powerful sonic journey, traveling the course of Johnny’s musical life, impeccably directed, as only his brother Edgar could. Joining Edgar on the inclusive project is an impressive array of renowned musicians who knew, or were inspired by Johnny, including: Joe Bonamassa, Doyle Bramhall II, John McFee, Robben Ford, Billy Gibbons, David Grissom, Taylor Hawkins, Warren Haynes, Steve Lukather, Michael McDonald, Keb Mo, Doug Rappoport, Bobby Rush, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Ringo Starr, Derek Trucks, Waddy Wachtel, Joe Walsh, Phil X and Gregg Bissonette. The guitar-driven album celebrates the expansive styles Johnny was known for - the 17 tracks were carefully curated by Edgar and producer Ross Hogarth to represent Johnny’s evolution as an artist, honoring his great legacy while also incorporating a personal tribute from brother to brother, and for which Edgar penned two new songs.
Interview by Michael Limnios / Transcription: Katerina Lefkidou
Special Thanks: Edgar Winter & Elizabeth Freund (Beautiful Day Media)
What do you miss most nowadays from the music and the feeling of the past?
Edgar: Jamming. This is accurate, I love bands like Cream. They were spontaneous, I think most of the music today is more structured and produced and I miss that spontaneity and that sense of freedom that I think we all tended to feel at the time which we came up was somehow special, but I really do believe there were two golden eras in music. The 40s and 50s were big band jazz and swing and the 60s and 70s for rock. I just feel like they were on parallel time, so I tried to make this album, the way we made albums back in those days.
Why do you think that Edgar Winter music continues to generate such a devoted following?
Edgar: I never would have predicted it, but when I look at it now, I think it’s very clear that that music was very special. I think there are a lot of reasons why, culturally and musically. But I’m just thankful that that music is recognized, and I really feel like, people have a tendency to think of blues, to think of them as something old that's already happened and is sort of over with and I think that if they all realized and appreciate the profound influence that blues has on every form of popular music that is around today. So, I’ve always loved the blues and I tried to make this tribute to Johnny, not just a tribute for him personally, but to the blues and to guitar, I wanted to make a great guitar record. Hope I did all of those things. (Photo: Edgar & Johnny Winter)
"Well, I feel close to Johnny every day, he may have departed this physical world, but his presence and his music will live on in my heart forever and I don’t really feel, I feel like I am talking to him. Having made this album, I feel closer to him in a way that I never would have expected. It was a very cleansing, very healing, very therapeutic, cathartic experience for me. For me, there are no questions that I need answered. I feel like we are two old brothers and always will be. So, there you have it."
You grew up in Texas so, what were the reasons that made Lone Star State to be the center of rock, blues research and experiments?
Edgar: Well, there were a lot of great guitarists, from the area of people like Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, a lot of people, I didn’t fully appreciate how special the particular area in Texas that Johnny and I are through the Gulf Coast. There is music that exists there, that you won’t hear anywhere else in the world, even throughout Texas, it’s really a big state and there’s a lot of different things going on in it. There’s real country, real cowboys, playing you know country music. There are really authentic blues bands, there was a station called K-JET, where Johnny and I used to go and hang out. The DJ would play a few records and then he would pick up his guitar and play, then there’s, it’s close to Mexico, so there’s an infusion of pop, Latin, rhythm players like the drummer of White Trash, Bobby Ramirez, was a great example of that. Then there’s a great jazz school, North Texas. Berklee, North Texas and Juilliard are the three best in music and I think that North Texas has the best music program. So, it’s all of those things and just the fact that music is passed down from father to son, in my case my dad played the guitar and it’s unlike, a big city like New York, where there are a lot of great musicians, this is something about that area of Texas that produces that special music and it’s indigenous to that area. So that’s the way I can explain it.
What is happiness for Edgar?
Edgar: First of all, my beautiful wife Monique, to whom I’ve been married happily and blissfully for 43 years now, we just celebrated our 43d wedding anniversary and we get re-married every year, we exchange our vows not necessarily in the form of going to the church or anything, but it’s just a reminder that love has to be created, it doesn’t just happen. A lot of people think you fall in love and that’s it, but you have to continue to create love every day. And music of course is, my whole life, has revolves around music, music is the light that has helped illuminated that path for me, it’s just, it’s not the entire path, it’s the light. When I played Woodstock, that was what changed my life. It changed the way I thought about music. I used to love music as a kid just in it of itself, just the beauty of chords and harmony and rhythm and Johnny (Winter) on the other hand, Johnny had the dream, he had that determination and drive, he was gonna be a star. He was cool, he went there with the shades, his guitar and the girls and I was always the quiet kid that played all the instruments. My love of music it's nearly like a spiritual thing. When I played Woodstock, it was set against the social backdrop of civil rights, people there was just a vibe of community, a feeling of being part of something greater than yourself and that you could maybe make a real difference and I was on that stage and looking out on humanity it just struck me that music can be so much more than just artistic beauty, that it really has a power to transcend boundaries and bring people together in a way that I had never considered before. That’s what I love about music, it’s that spiritual quality of reaching out when you’re playing music or you hear somebody great play music, so that moment in time, you’re transported to a different place and you’re just in that moment. And I think that’s what makes music beautiful. That’s what I love to try to create in my life.
"I’d want to go back to the past and into the future. I would probably want to see what it’s going to be like, I’ll say, in maybe 5000 years from now. I think it’d probably be pretty unrecognizable, but it would be happening, and it would be good to have a time machine, but I think it would also, it could be misused, if we knew." (Edgar & Monique Winter, c.1978 NYC / Photo © by PL Gould/Getty Images)
Which meetings have been the most important experience for you and what was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Edgar: (laughing) Always get paid before a job and never leave your wallet in the dressing room is pretty good advice. I’ll try to answer that seriously. I think there are a lot of people that I never thought I would have the opportunity to meet, much less to play with them. David Lee Roth and I had a band for a number of years, Michael McDonald's vocals on "Stranger” on the album is really magical, they’re two of the people that mean the most to me and Ringo (Starr), having the opportunity to play with Ringo and his All-Starr band. I’m in total awe of the Beatles and I feel like they were more than a band, what they did transcended music, they really changed the mindset of an entire generation. I think Ringo is not only a great musician, but a great human being and he has outreach for peace and love, I think is really beautiful and something I admire tremendously about him. The thing that stands out in my mind was on his 70th birthday, there was a big surprise that he was totally unaware of and we had walked offstage to do the encore and then we came back and then walking towards us there was sir Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh and my mind was blown that I was actually on stage with Paul McCartney and Ringo and Joe, it was just an incredible moment.
The best advice, the thing that comes to mind is not something that someone necessarily said directly to me, but it’s something I believe and would be my advice to artists to anyone starting out is to play music that you truly love, that you feel in your heart, the best example of that for me in that career is the song "Frankenstein", which was a song that we really played for fun, we had no intention of recording it and we thought “Free Ride” would be the hit, it seemed like it was really commercial and it was the song that I sort of expected, we all felt like that had hit potential, but I think that just that feeling of fun and really will communicate and I think that’s what happened with "Frankenstein", because we were just in the studio messing around having fun and had the long 15-20 minute version, were we were just jamming on the instrumental and then we were able to edit it together, under four minutes to actually turn it into a song, but, that would be it, just play the music that you love, follow your heart.
"As far as my hopes and fears of music in general, I don’t fear anything, I just think that music is something, that is just a wonderful art form, something to be respected and appreciated and that it’s been a great ride for me and all I can say is I’m going to continue to make music that I love and I’ve said pretty much before: it will continue, it will continue to evolve and change with every generation and I don’t have any fears, I think it’s not good or bad, it’s just self-expression." (Edgar Winter & Ringo Starr, 2019 Capitol Records Tower, LA, CA / Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Beautiful Day Media)
Soul, rock ’n roll, jazz and blues. What are the lines that connect the legacy of American roots music?
Edgar: Well, blues evolved into ragtime and then Dixieland and then into jazz, we had the big band era and then into modern jazz and then into rock’n’roll, the old thing you know, blues had a baby and they called it rock ’n roll. And I think also gospel music is probably the least understood and appreciated, the whole kind of rock singing comes from the great black gospel preachers -singers and I think the infusion, it’s sort of a flip side of the blues. But to me, the blues is like the great granddaddy of all that music and I was doing an interview one time with this guy said “In ten words or less give me a definition of the blues” And oh man, I don’t know, you can feel the blues, you can play the blues, but define the blues, the blues defines itself. The best I could come up with was the blues is transforming suffering into joy. There’s a lot of suffering, but suffering is an inseparable part of life. There is going to be suffering and joy. But when you hear a lyric like “Nobody loves me like my mother and she could be jiving too” you can’t help but smile, because no matter how bad things get or what’s going on, if you can put that into a song and sing about it and open you heart and pour it out to somebody, that is what transforms suffering into a joyful experience. And I think that’s the thing about blues, the soulfulness of it, the humanity of it. It’s present not only in blues, but in rock and in country and in all of those musical forms. And I love seeing those kinds of crossovers, somebody like Bruce Hornsby sort of, like a fluid jazz player but his music retains the sincerity and simplicity of country music, or somebody like Sting who has a great jazz sensibility but is a great pop artist, but is a great pop artist, there are people like him. They cover a lot territory of blues, funk, rhythm & blues, that’s what I’m trying to do throughout my career is to, I never understood why music should be separated into different musical genres.
To me, it’s all music and it’s all beautiful, but I think that that was a thing mainly that record companies started, they wanted artists to be easily identifiable, like as a rock guy, or blues guy, kind of like musical segregation, they wanted to be able to target a specific audience, I think that’s where a lot of that came from and I’ve sort of rebelled against that and just tried to play a wide variety of music, just to make people aware of all the music that's out there and trying to break down some of those boundaries and prejudices. A lot of musical variety, that’s what I love to see in music. It’s all continually evolving and it’s beautiful and you can have fun with it now. And I’m trying to be a part of it.
"A lot of people think you fall in love and that’s it, but you have to continue to create love every day. And music of course is, my whole life, has revolves around music, music is the light that has helped illuminated that path for me, it’s just, it’s not the entire path, it’s the light." (Photo: Bobby Reeder, Johnny Winter, B.B. King, Edgar Winter, and Ikey Sweat at The Raven Club - Beaumont, Texas 1962)
What is the impact of your generation’s music on the socio-cultural implications, civil rights, human rights, spiritual, political?
Edgar: What you’re saying, is the answer to what I feel in my heart that that music has done and will always do. I think every generation has a voice that’s expressed through the music, culturally as well and we’ve been through a lot. I’m glad to see, at least some recognition of humanity and the feeling that, you know, I would like to see all of this, nationalism, to me it’s one planet. And we have to unite as a people and realize that and try to do what’s best and so far, we haven’t been, we’re still polluting and we’re damaging the planet and we need to wake up and be responsible. The music that we’ve created I think has brought some awareness of that and has just brought a lot of joy into people’s heart. Like I’ve said before, it’s the spiritual nature of music that I feel like is important and as long as that is alive, the people are playing music that they love, that’s just going to help make this world a better place to live.
What are your hopes and what are your fears for the future of music?
Edgar: One thing I hope as a result of this, making this album, I think Johnny should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I think he deserves to be. As far as my hopes and fears of music in general, I don’t fear anything, I just think that music is something, that is just a wonderful art form, something to be respected and appreciated and that it’s been a great ride for me and all I can say is I’m going to continue to make music that I love and I’ve said pretty much before: it will continue, it will continue to evolve and change with every generation and I don’t have any fears, I think it’s not good or bad, it’s just self-expression. And it will be whatever the parent dictates and the people that are alive in that generation. Then there’s always that sense of, in the beginning of rock and roll it was considered like, it was a rebellion. Now rap, seems rebellious. I find myself thinking of it in those terms and it always continues to be that way, part of what the younger generation wants is to, alienate the older (laughing). You know they’re going to set up some type of music that the older generation is not going to understand, or embrace. I think that that’s maybe sort of a fear. But I think that that’s just going to continue and that’s what so great about it, is the truth. We all continue to represent the truth and the freedom of who we are.
"To me, it’s all music and it’s all beautiful, but I think that that was a thing mainly that record companies started, they wanted artists to be easily identifiable, like as a rock guy, or blues guy, kind of like musical segregation, they wanted to be able to target a specific audience, I think that’s where a lot of that came from and I’ve sort of rebelled against that and just tried to play a wide variety of music, just to make people aware of all the music that's out there and trying to break down some of those boundaries and prejudices." (Edgar & Johnny Winter, 1976 / Photo by Richard Avedon)
What would you like to ask the late great bluesman Johnny Winter? What would you like to ask your brother Johnny?
Edgar: Well, I feel close to Johnny every day, he may have departed this physical world, but his presence and his music will live on in my heart forever and I don’t really feel, I feel like I am talking to him. Having made this album, I feel closer to him in a way that I never would have expected. It was a very cleansing, very healing, very therapeutic, cathartic experience for me. For me, there are no questions that I need answered. I feel like we are two old brothers and always will be. So, there you have it.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine. Where and why would you really want to go with a time machine?
Edgar: I’d want to go back to the past and into the future. I would probably want to see what it’s going to be like, I’ll say, in maybe 5000 years from now. I think it’d probably be pretty unrecognizable, but it would be happening, and it would be good to have a time machine, but I think it would also, it could be misused, if we knew. It really opens the whole question of predestination. How can you go into the future, if there is only one future, then you’re leading in predestination, you’re thinking things are laid out in advance, that are only going to happen one way. I love to write fantasy and I wrote a story about this, where someone had a time machine, but every time they went into the future, it would end up being a different future. I believe that there is free will, so I don’t think it is predetermined. The way you asked the question, caused me to think yeah there is a future, but when I actually think about it, I don’t think that you can go to the future. So, I guess I’ll say that the past, we can pretty much both agree that there is a definite past, so I’d probably like to go back and see Jesus and the Buddha, the great spiritual leaders of the ancient history. See what things were like back there.
(Edgar Winter / Photo by Neil Zlozower)
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