I was 13 years old when I saw Edgar Winter's White Trash at the New York State Fair in what was an inspirational rock & roll mindfuck of the highest order. The band was frenetic, maniacal, an amphetamine shriek of ridiculous power, chops and energy, a giant boner of Texas roadhouse mayhem, dripping with rye whiskey and Uncle Zumo's barbecue sauce and mushroom-stinking semen. I was in love, L-U-V.
It was the same for Edgar Winter, who says, "White Trash was a rock & roll band with horns. Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears were already around, but they were pop bands, and we had a strong emphasis on rock guitar and gospel harmonies. We wanted to bring the excitement of a Pentecostal revival meeting to people in a rock context. All I noticed was that people from other places didn't play with the same feeling as we did; they had different roots, hadn't listened to a lot of the same people as us."
Winter grew up in Beaumont, a schmendrick border town in southeast Texas. Edgar and his older brother, Johnny, started playing ukuleles together before they were barely out of their little Lone Star linens. That the brothers were ludicrously talented at such a tender age was abetted by the fact that both were albinos, adding to the garish, freak-show allure of their act. Their Texas upbringing was an integral element of what they became as well, both musically and culturally.
But eventually, Johnny, no one's fool, shit-canned the uke in favor of an electric guitar. By 1969, he was signed by Columbia Records for the then-record sum of $100,000 and soon became a cause clbre in the rock world. Edgar, meanwhile, played keys and alto sax in Johnny's band while still an awkward, short-haired little sprout.
"Johnny had the drive and ambition, and I got into the business through him," Edgar recalls. "He was like Johnny Cool Daddy at the time, with a big pompadour and sunglasses, and I was the weird-looking little kid that played all the instruments."
But Columbia honcho Clive Davis knew talent when he saw it and gave Edgar his own record deal in 1970, despite the fact that he played hard-to-get: little bro wouldn't sign on the dotted line unless he was guaranteed 100 percent artistic freedom over his debut album. Further, Edgar warned Davis he would deliver an album so weird, so eccentric, so all-over-the-map that no one would ever buy the thing anyway.
For reasons only Davis and a beneficent god will ever understand, Cool Clive agreed. And Edgar Winter made Entrance, an album some, including Edgar himself, consider his masterpiece.
"Part of what my career has always been about is to break down barriers and broaden horizons from musical prejudices that exist," he says. "I love jazz, rock, blues, country, gospel—I enjoy playing all of those forms. So my first album, Entrance, is still one of my favorites: there's an innocence, no commercial calculation involved in it whatsoever, and it was a blend of everything I loved."
In 1971, Edgar formed White Trash—pure bliss! Unfortunately, Edgar grew bored with White Trash long before I did and left the group in '72 after recording only two (great) records with them. And here is where the story starts to take a sadder turn, dear reader, as Winter went on to form the commercial-minded Edgar Winter Group. Their debut, They Only Come Out at Night, remains Winter's best-selling record, a fact that ought to be footnoted: the album included the demonic instrumental "Frankenstein," a song now so ingrained in the public consciousness that it has become a nugget of '70s pop culture history.
In the Edgar Winter Group, Winter shared vocal and composition chores with Dan Hartman, a studio-slick pretty boy responsible for imposing wimp pop such as "Free Ride" and "Hangin' Around" on Winter's records. As Edgar's Biggest Fan, I felt personally betrayed.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"I thought Dan Hartman sucked and that he ruined your sound," I boldly express to My Hero.
"I think you're the first person to ever actually bring that up and say that directly to me, and I appreciate it," Edgar tells me. "I understand that what I did with Dan was a different direction, but it came from the heart. I'm just going to continue evolving and changing. To me, that's what it's all about. That's what I love about music."
Next up for Winter, he says, is a jazz-based album, to be released in the Spring. Winter says Jazz & the Blues will resemble Entrance more than anything he has done since then. "Maybe for all those people who have been asking, 'Who is Edgar Winter?' all of those years," he says, "this next album will answer at least part of that question."
Edgar Winter, Leon Russell and Dave Mason appear at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella, Anaheim, (714) 740-2000. Sun., 8 p.m. $37.50. All ages.