Edgar Winter Live at Koko in London.
In the early 1970s there were several bands and musicians from North America that were bought to the attention of British music lovers by Radio Luxembourg and a television show called The Old Grey Whistle Test. Along with artists like Todd Rundgren, Joe Walsh and Frank Zappa there stood out an album, initially for its striking cover but later for its content, called They Only Come Out At Night by The Edgar Winter Group. I don’t think you were considered cool if you did not have this or one of the preceding White Trash releases in your record collection. This album forms the nucleus of the songs tonight.
Spanning time and space to arrive at a gathering of like minded folk at the London venue, KOKO, we are about to witness a rare visit of Edgar Winter to British shores, (I think the last time was around 2004). With his stunningly long white hair and albino features, one of the masters of prog rock keyboards bounds onto the stage accompanied by Jason Carpenter Drums, Koko Powell Bass, Doug Rappoport Guitar. This band make a sound so big you would think that there must be more of them hiding in the wings somewhere.
As tonight, Edgar has always loved playing with great musicians and the band that played on the album They Only Come Out At Night were made up of Dan Hartman, Rick Derringer, Chuck Ruff and Edgar Winter. Hartman and Winter wrote most of the songs together. (Ronnie Montrose was on verge of leaving the group and was replaced by Rick Derringer.) For years they were one of the tightest live acts around and even Todd Rundgren asked most of them to play on his Initiation album. Hartman went on to have hits of his own including Relight My Fire, which was also a top seller for Lulu and Take That.
Ring out then the opening chords of the first song Keep Playing That Rock N Roll, followed by, one of the band’s most famous songs, Free Ride, this gives Edgar the opportunity to show off his moves with the keyboard, on a strap around his neck. “Why should all the guitar players have all the fun” he told me recently, “I just want to get out there and boogie”. Proclaiming later that he had invented the strap for the keyboard.
Next we hear Hangin’ Around with Koko Powell tackling the high vocals and the great live favourite, Tobacco Road, originally brought to the fore by The Nashville Teens in the 1960s but written by John D Loudermilk. Rappoport’s guitar playing is let loose on this version (not quite clocking in at 17 minutes long) as it merges into Sunshine Of Your Love. I have to say Doug is some guitar player.
As great as the musicianship is I get the impression that the songs here are well drilled and the set piece sequences slightly over rehearsed, there does not appear to be much room for deviation or spontaneity. However…….
The highlight of any Edgar Winter gig has to be the instrumental Frankenstein. Originally the piece started as drum exercise for Edgar, who when he first started out was a brilliant drummer. It was then developed by his brother Johnny Winter as a guitar piece and Edgar Winter then progressed it further to become to the jazz rock prog fusion work we know today. On this we were not let down with Edgar showing what a great multi-instrumentalist he is as he packs a punch with a great saxophone riff.
As a tribute to Johnny Winter, who died last year, Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo and Jumping Jack Flash are performed as the night’s closing tracks. Both songs were frequently played by Johnny in his own live sets and although written by others like Jimi Hendrix he made cover versions his own.
For me though there was too much of the well-practiced improvising and overly long solos and not enough of the great collection of songs that Edgar Winter has. It was great to see him but left me wanting for more than just the Texas boogie good time feel that was delivered.
Photography & review by Simon Jay Price.
Edgar Winter at Koko 1st December 2015.