By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Callers know just what to expect when Edgar Winter answers the phone.
“I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll!” he yells.
He is excited about touring again with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, a jaunt that hits the Celebrity Theatre on Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21. The group also includes Steve Lukather, Colin Hay, Warren Ham, Hamish Stuart and Gregg Bissonette.
“I love doing the tours,” he says. “I really feel like the Beatles are in a class of their own. I think they changed the mindset of an entire generation.
“They brought about a revolution without having to fire a shot. It was about peace, love and revolution of the spirit. I particularly admire and respect Ringo for being such a heartfelt advocate and spokesman for peace and love.”
A great loss
This has been a bittersweet year for him. A self-proclaimed “old hippie,” the 76-year-old won his first Grammy this year for the tribute to his brother, Johnny Winter, called “Brother Johnny.”
After Johnny’s unexpected 2014 death in a Swiss hotel room, Edgar was quickly asked to record a tribute album tracing Johnny’s career, but it was too painful, he says.
“I started to get offers from various courters, and had a few meetings with record companies,” Edgar says. “They were asking me how long it would take, how much it would cost, what guests could I guarantee.
“I didn’t have any idea. I knew I didn’t necessarily want to do that. It became apparent to me that it was more businesspeople sensing an opportunity to exploit Johnny’s name and memory just to sell some records. I didn’t want to be a part of anything like that. I got it into my head that maybe someone else would do that. It wasn’t going to be me.”
Years went by and Edgar started to feel the need to make the album. He spoke to wife of 44 years, Monique, and she was determined to persuade him.
“She said, ‘You always talk about how Johnny’s your all-time musical hero. You always say if it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t be where you are today. This is the opportunity to acknowledge that. You owe it to yourself and your brother and your fans,’” he recalls.
“She couldn’t have been any more right in every regard.”
Once he started recording, he knew it was a great idea, albeit highly emotional.
“It was going to stir up a lot of childhood memories,” he says. “It turned out to be the most joyous, uplifting and healing in a sense. When I finished the record, I had to make sense of peace and serenity. It was really a great feeling.”
Thanking producer Ross Hogarth, Edgar adds meeting Bruce Quarto — of Quarto Valley Records and the album’s eventual executive producer — secured the project.
“Bruce said, ‘Take as long as you want. Money’s no object. Do it as you see fit. I just want you to present Johnny’s music. It deserves to be seen and heard again, not only by his longtime fans but for a new generation of people who may not be familiar with Johnny’s music,’” he recalls.
“He wanted to do it for all the right reasons.”
Edgar describes the album as “all about love” — his deep love of music and family and the brotherhood that he shared with Johnny. It’s also a love letter to Monique and, he adds, certainly for all the fans who have followed their music.
“It became increasingly aware it wasn’t a bunch of businesspeople who wanted this album,” he says. “Johnny’s true and loyal and devoted fans who wanted to hear that record. It was a cathartic and beautiful experience.”
Released April 15, 2022, the No. 1 blues album features friends and peers, including Joe Bonamassa, Doyle Bramhall II, Robben Ford, Billy Gibbons, David Grissom, Taylor Hawkins, Warren Haynes, Lukather, Michael McDonald, John McFee, Keb’ Mo’, Doug Rappoport, Bobby Rush, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Ringo Starr, Derek Trucks, Waddy Wachtel, Joe Walsh, Phil X, Bob Glaub and Sean Hurley on bass, and Bissonette on drums.
“I’m not a fan of tribute albums,” he says. “I didn’t want to make a soundalike album or a copy album. I chose the songs first. I didn’t think of them in relation to any particular artist.
“I let all the artists pick their songs. Joe (Walsh) picked ‘Stranger.’ I wanted Ringo on it, but I just didn’t think there was much chance of getting him to play on it. He doesn’t do many guest appearances on records. After Joe chose that song, I knew I wanted to ask Ringo.”
Starr and Walsh are brothers-in-law, as they’re married to Barbara Bach and Marjorie Bach, respectively.
“Now that I had Joe on this song, I had enough nerve to call Ringo,” he says. “He said, ‘Edgar, I’ll do it for you.’ It just touched my heart. I couldn’t believe it. Ringo Starr and Joe Walsh and Michael McDonald, an interesting an eclectic array of people. Monique was the one who thought of Michael McDonald. Nobody sounds like Michael McDonald, and I thought it was a great idea.”
Monique was key to “Brother Johnny.”
“If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have done the record. She persuaded me to do it,” he says. “It was odd. I was really dead set against doing a tribute album to begin with shortly after Johnny’s passing, which was devastating to me.”
No sibling rivalry
Johnny died two weeks before the start of a tour with his brother.
“I had been looking forward to that tour with him,” he says. “His death was very unexpected.
When Edgar heard he was nominated for a Grammy, he was honored but skeptical.
“I thought I had a good chance of winning when I was nominated for the Grammys the first time 50 years ago for ‘Frankenstein,’” he says. “The thing that’s so beautiful to me is the fact that if it weren’t for Johnny, I would have been a struggling jazz musician or piano teacher.
“I love jazz and classic music, and our musical tastes were entirely different. Johnny had that drive and ambition. He was going to be a star. He had a huge record collection. He was Johnny ‘Cool Daddy’ Winter with the shades. I was the quiet kid who played all the instruments.
“It was a great synergy. Johnny loved the spotlight, and I was quite content to avoid it.”
He’s just pleased he was able to pay tribute to his brother honorably.
“It was that feeling of full-circle resolution and a beautiful kind of completion,” he says. “I can’t think of anything more appropriate. I honestly never thought I would have any song on the charts, much less one that won an award. I’ve loved music. I never thought of it as a career. It’s something I love with all of my heart.
“I never had any particular desire to become famous. I just love music in and of itself, and I love my brother.”
He says he hopes fans will enjoy hearing his music played with Starr at the Celebrity Theatre.
“I’d like to thank all the fans who have followed my career and my brother’s career,” he adds. “It means the world to me when I see you rockin’ and having a great time. I hope to see some of you out there. Get ready to rock ‘n’ roll!”