Edgar Winter, who you will remember from such hits as Frankenstein and Free Ride, has recently released a new tribute album to his brother, Johnny Winter, appropriately titled, wait for it….Brother Johnny. It is a blues tour-de-force, featuring a cast of stellar blues and rock musicians, including Joe Bonamassa, Steve Lukather, Joe Walsh, Keb Mo, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, the late, great Taylor Hawkins and Ringo Starr, to name few.
Edgar was kind enough to join Let’s Rock to chat about the record, his brother, Johnny, touring with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, Jimi Hendrix playing bass with Johnny and so much more.
This interview is a perfect example of why I love this site. An absolute pleasure, nay, honour, to speak with this man. These are some of the coolest rock and roll stories I’ve heard.
It’s a long one. I have separated the chat into three parts for your listening convenience.
Some highlights from Edgar Winter’s chat with Let’s Rock
On how the Brother Johnny record came about:
I had a blast doing it and you know, I thought it might be highly emotional and difficult, but playing all of those songs brought back so many memories and it turned out to be a great source of strength and comfort. It was very cathartic, therapeutic and I feel in a way that I had never really expected after having made it. So it really was something I needed to do you know…The funny thing about it is, Johnny may have departed this physical realm, but I talk to him everyday and his music will live on in my heart, and that’s all I wanted to do with this, was to just say thank you … Shortly after Johnny death, I was sort of gallery with requests and deal offers, and that’s exactly what they felt like to me, deal offers in that it was record labels, business people sensing an opportunity and it felt to me like exploitation of Johnny’s name, using it for commercial purposes and it wasn’t something that I wanted to do. Plus, I was just devastated and I was not emotionally ready or prepared to make an album like this. It took me some years of reflection. I spent years not making this record and when I talked to my wife Monique, about it, when we finally got an offer that seemed real, and I’ll go into how that happened, but she was just so definite and I trust Monique’s intuition sometimes more than my analytical thinking. But you know, she just said well you always speak about how John is your all-time musical hero and that you wouldn’t be where you are were at not for him, so here’s your opportunity to acknowledge that. I think you owe it to yourself, to Johnny, and to the world to make this record and she was so right in every respect and I’m just so glad that that I did make it.
First question in my mind was should I just make a straight ahead blues record in tribute to Johnny’s legacy or should it be more of a personal dedication from me to my brother, based on a lot of my own particular personal favourites. And I decided it should be a balance of both and that’s what I tried to do, But I don’t think Johnny would have liked it if I just made a straight ahead blues record. He would have thought, “Well how come all of a sudden you’re just trying to sound exactly like me?” You know, I love jazz and classical and country, as well as blues and rock, and Johnny always encouraged me to follow my heart and play the musicthat meant something to me, so I I know it’s not the record Johnny would have made, but I think it is the record he would have wanted me to make for him. So, that’s pretty much it.
On some of the players on Brother Johnny:
I’ll just say a few words about a few of the people. I think Joe Bonamassa really channelled Johnny the most. I think he got deeper into Johnny’s playing than anyone other than myself and you know Johnny and I grew up playing together and learned to play together. We had almost a kind of a telepathic musical communication. I knew what Johnny would play almost before he played it and we used to do all the trade-off stuff . We both knew one another’s licks and stuff.
The first thing I did was decide what songs I wanted to do and then, when it came to the artists, when somebody said yes, I’d read them a song list. And with Joe, when I got to Self-destructive Blues, he’s “wow! you’re really gonna do Self-destructive. I love that. That’s my first Johnny song I ever learned and played with my band and you know I just can’t believe you’re gonna do that.” He came in with a (Gibson) Firebird and an old Bassman amp, the exact same gear Johnny would have used and blew me away. It’s so incredible. I closed my eyes and I swear, you know, Johnny’s presence is here in the room.
I used to think of Johnny as the Coltrane of Blues rock, because he had an ability to extend himself as a soloist, like an unending stream of consciousness, of pure invention, that he could continue to build and play course after course, and you don’t really see that much. There’s not that much jamming around these days and you know I tried to make this album the way the albums back into 70s when there were groups like Cream that were, I mean, they were playing. And there were times when I thought maybe I’m making too much of a musician’s album. There are a lot of extended solos, but that’s what Johnny did and it wouldn’t be honest, it wouldn’t be a true album, without that. And Joe had that same ability. He had obviously listened to Johnny and then after doing Self-Destructive he came in and did Mean Town Blues and just did an incredible job with the slide. Because I didn’t know who I was going to get to to do that and I wanted that song. I didn’t want to make a sound-alike album. I didn’t want just the usual suspects. I wanted an interesting array of characters. You mentioned that guy Ringo, you probably wouldn’t expect or Taylor (Hawkins) for that matter. But when Warren (Haynes) came in, and the same thing with Warren, when I got to Memory Pain you know, “you can stop right there. That’s the song I want to do. That’s my favourite Johnny song, hands down.” And what he did that just so impressed me, he walked up to the mic, he plugged in his guitar and he did the song start to finish, singing and playing at the same time and you have no idea how rare that is. Most of the time, people come into a session and they say, “okay, well, let me lay down a rhythm part and then we’ll focus on the solo and then I’ll go up and sing the vocal.” Warren just played the song. He played it exactly the way Johnny would have played it with the blues trio and it just, that authenticity, you know. Just the fact that he did that, just blew me away. And, you know, you can feel like, when you hear that track, you can tell that he’s singing and playing at the same time because he’s kind of playing off what he’s singing and singing off of what he’s playing. He did a an incredible job. I don’t usually listen to my own albums, but this has so many cool guest performances on it, it’s almost not like my album. I can listen to this one and and I get so much out of it every time I do. It’s really kind of kind of fun.
On The Beatles, Ringo and what to expect at a Ringo Starr show:
The Beatles, to me, I mean, come on, the Beatles are bigger than music. They change the mindset of an entire generation. They transcended music. To me, they brought about a revolution, without having to fire a single shot, because it was a revolution of the mind, of the spirit, of the heart. And to me, the Beatles came to represent freedom. Just the idea that you can say what you want, be what you want. Ringo himself is the most natural. He’s very spontaneous, very in the moment at time, but always in the spirit of fun and such a heartfelt advocate for peace and love, which is something that I admire tremendously about him. And it’s like he gets all of these great musicians together and he wants you to play the hits. He wants everybody to have a great time and to enjoy. He wants to create that. He wants to take you on that trip, you know. So, of course, I’ll play Frankenstein and Free Ride, my two biggest hits. I’ll probably play, I think I’ll play Johnny B Goode from the Brother Johnny record. It’s really easy to do, it rocks out and it’s a good thing to represent the record. And (Steve) Lukather will do all the Toto songs. He’ll do Hold The Line and Rosanna and Africa. And then Colin Hay is From Men At Work and he’ll do Down Under and Who Can It Be Now and Overkill. And it’s just o much fun. And then Ringo will do Yellow Sub and Help From My Friends It’s just really fun. You’re gonna love the show.
- Mean Town Blues – Joe Bonamassa
- Still Alive and Well – Kenny Wayne Shepherd
- Lone Star Blues – Keb’ Mo
- I’m Yours and I’m Here – Billy Gibbons, Derek Trucks
- Johnny B. Goode – Joe Walsh, David Grissom
- Stranger – Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Michael McDonald
- Highway 61 Revisited – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John McFee
- Rock ‘N’ Roll Hoochie Koo – Steve Lukather
- When You Got A Good Friend – Doyle Bramhall II
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash – Phil X
- Guess I’ll Go Away – Taylor Hawkins, Doug Rappaport
- Drown In My Own Tears
- Self-Destructive Blues – Joe Bonamassa
- Memory Pain – Warren Haynes
- Stormy Monday Blues – Robben Ford
- Got My Mojo Workin’ – Bobby Rush
- End Of The Line – David Campbell