Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest becomes a tribute to Edgar Winter’s all-time musical hero


Edgar Winter was eagerly anticipating a concert tour with his older brother, rock and blues guitarist and singer Johnny Winter, when he received devastating news: Johnny, his “greatest musical hero,” had died July 16 at age 70 while on tour in Switzerland.

Despite the tragedy, Winter has vowed to turn the previously titled Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest 2014 into a tribute to his brother, who was to be the headliner. The rock and blues multi-instrumentalist who rose to fame with his chart-topping 1973 hit “Frankenstein” will perform with his band, the Edgar Winter Group, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13 at the King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne.

Retitled Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest — A Tribute to Johnny Winter, the show also features veteran rock and blues artists Vanilla Fudge and members of Rare Earth and Savoy Brown. The artists will perform their greatest hits interspersed with a selection of Johnny Winter songs.

“My wife, Monique, and I are shocked at the suddenness of Johnny’s passing, especially since I was so looking forward with such joy and anticipation to seeing him again and playing together,” Winter, 67, said in a statement. “I know his body is departing this physical realm, but his presence, his music and his spirit are undiminished and alive as ever in my heart.

“Johnny has always been, is now, and will forever remain my greatest musical hero of all time. But more than that, he’s my brother — in family, in music, in life and beyond. I will do my best to carry on in honor of his memory and the Winter name.”

It’s the third time Winter has been a part of the tour. “It started out as Hippiefest, and has been going on for a number of years,” Winter said during a July 10 phone interview from his California home. “I heard about it and had an opportunity to do it and I enjoy it.”

An artist who plays keyboard, alto sax and drums, Winter displayed his musical prowess as a child growing up in Beaumont, Texas. Years later, his brother, ranked among the top 100 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, would bring Edgar on stage to perform with his band. 

Johnny Winter

“I’d walk out and people would be like, ‘Wow, there’s two of them!’ ” he said.

Winter’s biggest hit evolved from those appearances with his brother.

“I had devised this song, this riff sort of as a walk-on, as an instrumental showcase for myself,” he recalled. “And we had two sets of drums onstage. I did a dual drum solo with Johnny’s drummer Red Turner and also played alto sax and Hammond B-3 organ, and we used to call it the ‘Double Drum Song.’ And we played it all over the world. We played a version of that at Woodstock when Johnny and I performed there.”

After releasing his debut album in 1970 and two albums backed by his group, Edgar Winter’s White Trash, Winter formed the Edgar Winter Group in late 1972. During work on the band’s first album, “They Only Come Out at Night,” Winter, who had embraced newly invented synthesizers, wanted to record a song featuring the synthesizer as a lead instrument.

“That had never been done before,” said Winter, who became the first artist to put a strap on a keyboard so he could enjoy the freedom to move around on stage like his guitar-playing bandmates. “Synthesizers were being used mainly as sweetener. There were Mellotrons and they were being used largely to create the sounds of already existing instruments, like a string section or a horn section.”

Winter then took his old introductory riff and the “Double Drum Song” and worked it into a synthesizer-heavy live song dubbed “the Instrumental.” But as recording on the first album was wrapping up, the album’s producer Rick Derringer, who had a big hit with “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo” and later became a member of the Edgar Winter Group, suggested that the band assemble a shorter version of the 15- to 20-minute song from studio master tapes and include it on the album.

“I thought that was a crazy idea, but I love crazy ideas,” Winter said. “And I thought it was a good excuse to have a big end-of-the-project bash and get even more blasted than usual, and it just turned into this big editing party.”

During the laborious cutting and splicing of tape that covered chairs, couches and consoles in the studio, drummer Chuck Ruff came up with the song’s eventual title.

“We were kind of making fun of the whole thing by singing that old spiritual ‘Dry Bones,’  — you know, ‘the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone,’ ” Winter said. “And Chuck mumbled the immortal words, ‘Wow man, this is like Frankenstein,’ drawing the analogy of an arm here and a leg there and pasting it back together. And that was it: The monster was born!”

“Frankenstein” became a monster hit. “They Only Come Out at Night,” which also included the hit “Free Ride,” rose to No. 3 on the Billboard album charts and was certified double platinum.

With more than 20 albums to his credit, Winter’s work can be heard in dozens of television commercials and films, including “Air America,” “My Cousin Vinny” and “Wag the Dog.” He toured three times as a member of former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and recently contributed to “Light My Fire: A Classic Rock Salute to The Doors,” performing a version of The Doors’ “Crystal Ship.”

“It was an honor and a pleasure to do that,” he said of the track. “I know (former Doors guitarist) Robby (Krieger) pretty well. I played on one of his solo albums. It’s always fun to pay tribute to a lot of the great groups that helped shape all of our musical lives, the soundtracks of our lives so to speak.”

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