Edgar Winter strives to break down senseless musical barriers



By Steve Newton

Most rock bands from the ’70s aren’t making waves on the sales charts these days, but not every musician who thrived 30 years ago has been barred from Billboard in recent years. Edgar Winter had the chorus from his 1971 song “Dying to Live” used in an Eminem-produced track featuring the Notorious B.I.G. That tune, “Runnin’ (Dying to Live)”, ended up on the 2003 Tupac: Resurrection soundtrack. On the line from his home in Beverly Hills, the Texas-born musician explains that “Dying to Live” was penned shortly after he and his big brother, guitar legend Johnny Winter, played Woodstock in ’69.

“I had written the song against the social backdrop of civil rights and the peace movement,” recalls Winter, “and always thought of it more as an antiwar song. But it is about survival, and whether you’re fighting to defend your country or just to make it through another day on the street, it’s the same thing. And Eminem had what to me was a brilliant idea, of taking the chorus of that song and using it thematically to connect these raps that were done by Tupac [Shakur] and Biggie [Smalls] before their deaths.”

A singer, songwriter, and multi- instrumentalist specializing in sax and keyboards, Edgar Winter was one of the most creative musicians to ever go multiplatinum in the ’70s. He’s best known for the smash hits “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein”, both from the Edgar Winter Group’s They Only Come Out at Night disc of ’72, which saw him in the company of ace guitarists Rick Derringer and Ronnie Montrose, and bassist-vocalist Dan Hartman.

“When I put the Edgar Winter Group together, my intention was to create the quintessential all-American rock band,” he notes. “I wanted guys that could not only play, but sing and write and have the stage presence and charisma to make it an all-star band.”

Winter-who plays Chilliwack’s Retrofest this weekend (July 29 to 31) -continues to work with some of the top talent around. Just last month he performed at Les Paul’s 90th birthday party at Carnegie Hall.

“You hear that term living legend bandied about quite freely,” he says, “but Les Paul really qualifies. Not only for what he did for guitar, but for having developed multitrack recording, the use of tape echo, close-miking. He really changed the way people made records.”

At Paul’s birthday bash, Winter boogied old-school on Derringer’s trademark ’70s number, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”. Because the long-time friends are both booked for the final night of Retrofest, Winter expects that they’ll end the evening by jamming together on “Tobacco Road”. Besides the obligatory EWG hits, Winter’s set will include tunes dating back to his jazzy 1970 debut album, Entrance, and his days in the R&B-based Edgar Winter’s White Trash.

“It’s really an interesting mix of music,” promises the 58-year-old rocker. “You know, part of what I tried to do throughout my career is to break down the senseless musical barriers that exist. I don’t see why people who love classical can’t appreciate rock, or people who are into jazz can’t get down with country! You know, Ray Charles, who’s probably my greatest influence and all-time musical hero, he blended jazz and country in his unique way. And I love to see that.”

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