Classic Tracks: The Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein"

Jul 1, 2011 9:00 AM

By Matt Hurwitz


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Edgar Winters (left) still plays “Frankenstein” during his concerts; Rick Derringer is at right.

Edgar Winters (left) still plays “Frankenstein” during his concerts; Rick Derringer is at right.

Alhough multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter originally had strong interests in science and engineering, the success of his blues-minded brother, Johnny Winter, changed that. At Johnny Winter’s behest, Edgar Winter played on his brother’s albums and performed in gigs in between sets at his brother’s shows.

In between some blues numbers, Winter worked in one of his new tunes, an instrumental to act as a showcase. The song had a distinctive riff at its center, which would later become the signature of “Frankenstein.” “It didn’t really have a name, but we started calling it ‘The Double-Drum Song’ because we had two complete drum sets onstage, and I would do a dual drum solo with Johnny’s drummer, Red Turner.” Winter played “The Double-Drum Song” around the world and it was forgotten—until 1971, when Winter wandered into Manny’s Music in New York City and spotted an ARP 2600 synthesizer. “As a keyboardist, I had always been frustrated,” he says. “You could never mike an acoustic piano well enough to hear it against the guitars and you were locked down in one place.”

The ARP 2600 appealed to Winter. It was connected to the base unit by a single umbilical cord as compared to Moog’s keyboard, which had to stay at the base. “When I saw it in Manny’s, I said, ‘Whoa, look at that keyboard. That’s pretty lightweight. Looks like you could just put a strap on it and play it like a guitar. The first night I walked out onstage and put on the synthesizer, the crowd went wild. It was just one of those rock ’n’ roll moments.”

Winter needed a tune that would showcase his new instrument so he turned to his old favorite. “I thought, ‘I’ll bet that riff in that old ‘Double-Drum Song’ would sound really great, with that reinforced subsonic synth bottom.’ We tried it out, and it was just killer.”

Over a period of a month, Winter studied and explored the ARP with the help of synth guru Bob Margouleff, with whom he traded piano lessons for synth lessons. “A lot of people at that time used the synth simply to emulate the sounds of already-existing instruments,” Winter says. “My approach was to introduce the synthesizer as a lead instrument. I wanted to use it to create never-before-heard sounds.”

Winter was like the proverbial kid in a candy store with his new tool as he applied it to the “Double-Drum” piece. “The song just kept getting longer and longer. Each time I would create a sound, I would make a new section of music to incorporate that sound.” Eventually it became a 15-minute favorite that closed every show. “Finally, I could play this keyboard and do it in a new and interesting way, where people can actually see my hands and see what I’m doing,” Winter says. “It was an amazing sense of freedom, and it created such an impact.”

About that time, in 1972, Winter brought a new group of musicians, dubbed the Edgar Winter Group—replacing his previous band, Edgar Winter’s White Trash—into the studio to record. Winter had formed the new group with guitarist Dan Hartman, hoping to take advantage of the duo’s songwriting prowess. They added guitarist Ronnie Montrose, bassist Randy Jo Hobbs and drummer Chuck Ruff, brought in by Montrose.

The Edgar Winter Group recorded two songs: “Free Ride” and “We All Had a Real Good Time.” The former featured Johnny Badanjek on drums and Hartman playing the song’s signature guitar riff. But Winter quickly decided that a quartet would be less unwieldy than a quintet. “It just seemed like with four people, it was easier for the audience to focus on all the individual members,” Winter says. So Hobbs left, with Hartman shifting to bass, leaving Montrose as the group’s sole guitarist.

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