Rockin’ at MACC
Winter and Derringer on double bill
In the summer of 1969 when Edgar Winter performed with his brother Johnny Winter at the legendary Woodstock Music Festival, he discovered the transformative power of music.
“Woodstock really changed my life,” he recalls. “Music had been a personal thing to me, my own escape world. But when we played Woodstock, it was a transcendent moment. Looking out over this endless sea of humanity and seeing them united in a unique way, I realized music is a positive energy that can bring people together and transcend boundaries. Woodstock was like a spiritual awakening.”
While the Winter brothers’ incendiary performance was omitted from both the movie and the original live albums (due to manager error), Edgar went on to become a rock star with hits like “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein,” pursuing a slightly different path than his more blues-orientated brother.
The legendary multi-instrumentalist will perform tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului with his Edgar Winter Group, on a double bill with Rick Derringer, who will also front his own band. The two musicians have been friends for years recording on many projects.
“I first met him with the McCoys in a club in New York,” Winter explains. “I felt an immediate synergy and kinship with him. We have a long and storied history. He produced all my first albums and played in all the bands. Rick had the blues roots, and he could play jazz and country, and he could play great pedal steel and slide.
“When we do shows, Rick has a standing invitation to come up and jam on ‘Free Ride’ or ‘Tobacco Road.’ I like to do Johnny songs at the end, and we’ll do ‘Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo’ or ‘Johnny B Goode’ or ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ something that we played together. Since Johnny passed away, it’s been a great source of strength and comfort to play those songs. Every time I walk on stage, I think about Johnny because we grew up together and learned how to play together. Being brothers there was almost a telepathic communication when we played together.”
Raised in Texas on the Louis-iana border, Winter recalls playing ukuleles with his brother, singing Everly Brothers’ songs.
“We were playing ukuleles when I was four years old,” he says. “My dad played guitar and banjo and alto sax in a swing band, and my mother played beautiful classical piano. Everyone was musical. Johnny graduated to guitar, and it became apparent that he was going to be the guitar player, so I said, ‘I’ll just play everything else.’
“I played bass and drums and, finally, electric piano hearing Ray Charles. Ray Charles is probably my most profound musical influence. I had wanted to play piano, but I’d beat my hands bloody, so the electric pianos happened and organs like Jimmy Smith became popular. Then in my teens, I got interested in sax and I discovered the whole jazz world — Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker and then Trane (John Coltrane) and Miles (Davis) and all those guys.
“Johnny and I had formed our first band as kids, Johnny and the Jammers, but when I started playing jazz that was sort of the parting of the ways. He didn’t want no sax in his band. ‘OK, I’ll get my own band.’ “
Winter’s debut album, “Entrance,” spotlighted his eclectic taste with jazz-fusion highlights like “Fire and Ice” and a number of songs co-composed with his brother, along with a dramatic cover of “Tobacco Road.”
“I loved jazz. I wasn’t that interested in pop music or rock for a while,” he says. “Johnny was the guy with the ambition. He was more extroverted and I was more introverted. I was the weird kid who played all the instruments.”
With his follow-up, the brilliant “Edgar Winter’s White Trash,” he produced an instant ’70s classic of joyful, horn-powered, gospel-flavored rocking funk.
“We used to sneak into tent revivals,” he says. “If you think rock ‘n’ roll has energy, it pales in comparison to Pentecostal tent revivals. We were the only white kids among black people there. It was amazing. We loved Sly and the Family Stone and that kind of stuff. Our mission was to bring that kind of feeling into rock.”
Then came the Edgar Winter Group’s multi-platinum, “They Only Come Out at Night,” featuring the smash hits “Free Ride” and the million-selling instrumental “Frankenstein,” where Winter pioneered the synthesizer as a lead instrument.
“What prompted that was the discovery of the synthesizer,” he explains. “It looked like you could put a strap on the keyboard and play it like a guitar, which is what I proceeded to do. The first night I walked on stage with that people went crazy. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.”
“Frankenstein” was actually an afterthought for the band. Its origins lay with a keyboard riff that Winter would play with his brother, and later expanded as a long band jam. It was producer Derringer who suggested they chop it down to a single length.
“At a cerain point it was about half an hour long, but we never thought of recording it. Rick Derringer said maybe we could edit it to something usable. We had released ‘Free Ride,’ and it went nowhere. Then we released two or three other singles and, finally, we were ready to give up on the album. ‘Frankenstein’ was the B side of something else. It became a huge hit.”
With Derringer on board as the group’s lead guitarist, the “Shock Treatment” album earned Winter another hit with “River’s Risin’.” Later albums included “The Edgar Winter Group with Rick Derringer,” “Winter Blues” and “Together Live” (with Johnny Winter).
Over the years, Winter’s been a guest player on a number of artists’ albums including Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” and “Foreign Affair,” and B.B. King’s “Greatest Hits Live.”
He cites playing with Leon Russell and Michael McDonald as highlights, and is thrilled that he got to play on a few albums by Ringo Starr including Starr’s 2017 album “Give More Love,” where he played sax and sang.
“When Johnny and I played together, we used to do Beatles songs,” he says. “On his 70th birthday at (New York’s) Radio City Music Hall, Paul McCartney came on and we sang ‘Birthday.’ I was on stage with two of the Beatles. I was overwhelmed. Ringo is so natural on and off stage. He’s such a heartfelt advocate for peace and love. Being an old hippie who played Woodstock, the world can always use more of that.”
Derringer was also thrilled to have been part of Ringo’s 70th concert.
“I’m one of the few guys who got to play with Paul and Ringo at the same time,” he enthuses.
First finding fame with the McCoys, scoring the number one hit “Hang on Sloopy,” Derringer reports he created the band when he was 11.
“We liked the blues,” Derringer recalls. “We liked soul music. ‘Hang on Sloopy’ was first a hit for a soul group, The Vibrations.”
When Texas guitar legend Johnny Winter was looking for a band to back him, he chose the McCoys and launched Johnny Winter And in 1970.
“We were so into blues and soul, that’s what Johnny Winter saw in our band,” says Derringer. “The whole band joined Johnny Winter. But at that time, people were starting to characterize the music we did as poppy-bubblegum, so the record company was reticent to call it Johnny Winter and the McCoys. They said, ‘We’ll drop the McCoys and call it Johnny Winter And.’ We were cheated out of our glory in some ways.”
The Winter album featured the first recording of Derringer’s signature song, the pile-driving “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.” He later recorded the song for his 1973 solo debut album, “All American Boy,” and it became a staple of classic rock radio and ’70s rock music compilations.
“It was overdue,” he says about setting out as a solo artist. ” ‘All American Boy’ became a huge success, and all the songs on it I still get requested when I go out and play.”
Into the 1990s, Derringer began focusing more on the blues with his virtuoso guitar playing highlighted on albums like “Back to the Blues,” “Electra Blues” and “Jackhammer Blues,” which featured his stunning version of Boz Scaggs’ classic, “Somebody Loan Me a Dime.” His last blues release, the compilation “The Three Kings of the Blues,” paid tribute to B.B., Albert and Freddie King, with covers ranging from “Key to the Highway” and “Hide Away 1962” to “Born Under a Bad Sign.”
Making his Maui debut tonight he assures: “I’ve been doing it since ‘Hang on Sloopy’ for 50 years, so I guarantee it might be one of the best shows you will ever see. We know what we’re doing. We’ve been doing it a long time. I love doing live concerts.”
Will Marsh on sitar and Daniel Paul on tabla drums will present a concert of traditional Indian melodies and rhythms (raga and tala) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Temple of Peace, 575 Haiku Road, Haiku. Both musicians trained under Aashish Khan and his late father, Ali Akbar Khan, two greats of Indian classical music.
* Admission is $20 at the door, or $15 in advance at www.eventbrite.com/e/sitar-tabla-will-marsh-daniel-paul-tickets-42890220805.
Mana’o Radio’s Upcountry Sundays benefit show at Casanova Italian Restaurant & Deli in Makawao from 2 to 5 p.m. features the Ono Grimes Band and the Brazilian duo Renata & Bita. Admission is $7 at the door. For more information, visit www.manaoradio.com.