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Q&A: Edgar Winter

The multi-instrumentalist music lover on jazz, brother Johnny, growing up as an albino and the hit that made him famous.

Edgar Winter is still best known for his magnificent 1973 hit single Frankenstein. Well, that and the fact that, like his elder brother, the late Johnny Winter, he was born albino. It’s the Frankenstein aspect of his story that has become most apposite, though.

Unlike Johnny, whose heart and soul was firmly rooted in hard-core electric and acoustic blues, Edgar embraced every form of music, starting with jazz and classical before moving on to blues and eventually what became his own distinct brand of a very progressive rock. He could also play an instrument he set his mind to: drums, bass, sax, piano, organ, synthesiser. And he could also sing, write, produce and put on a show like no other. You like eclectic? Edgar was your man. Sewing it all together to make it into one long, Frankenstein of a career.    

Did your albinism contribute to your outsider status as an artist?

There’s a definite correlation. My earliest memories of music are being nestled in my mother’s lap hearing this beautiful music floating over me. My mother played beautiful classical piano. My whole family played instruments. Growing up, music became my own private escape world. I couldn’t see well enough to play sports. So [the albinism] separated me in a sense. Music was something I could do. But it was internalised. My brother Johnny, on the other hand, was more ambitious and he really had that dream of being a rock star. He was Johnny Cool, with the shades and the guitar; I was the weird kid that played all the other instruments.

In fact you gravitated more towards jazz than rock.

Yeah. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cannonball Aderley, Dizzy Gillespie… For Johnny it was always the blues and rock’n’roll. 

As brothers were you competitive?

No, we weren’t competitive at all. There was not the sibling rivalry that you might think, because I was completely content to be in the background. I was just into learning all these different instruments and breaking the music down into parts I could teach the rest of the band. I had no desire to be a singer or frontman. Although I did sing together with Johnny. There was almost a telepathic communication between us.

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