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

Jul 1, 2011 9:00 AM

By Matt Hurwitz


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Winter played his ARP in the studio as he had onstage, moving around with his keyboard attached. He also switched between the ARP’s various patches. The main patch—which Winter used for the song’s signature riff, as well as its bass line and solo—became known as “Frank Solo.” The sound was played straight for most of the song, although Winter used a wah-wah pedal through the solo. For the song’s 6/8 section, Winter used another patch he donned “Acid Bath,” which was just a square wave modulating. Another signature patch, heard about three-quarters of the way through the song, “was done by changing the filter resonance while turning the ARP’s internal clock to give it that pulse,” Winter says. To give the ARP an added stereo effect on the recording, Szymczyk used a device called The Cube. “Bill had this little thing you would plug into that created this little boxy, small-room sound,” Derringer says. “We put Edgar’s main sound on one channel, and then also put it through the Cube and [brought] the processed sound up on the other channel. Coincidentally, the two [sounds] fit together like cogs in a wheel, creating this amazing stereo effect.”

The band performed live for the recording, except for the drum tradeoff, which was recorded as an edit piece and inserted into the master. “Originally, when I played that with Johnny’s band, we had two drum kits,” Winter says. “But that was so problematical onstage, I switched to timbales for the recording. And there’s a part of the drum solo I wanted to make certain had a stable timing, so we did that to a click track.”

Once the song was tracked, Szymczyk edited together the best parts of each take by cutting the original 2-inch multitrack tapes. “That’s what was done in those days,” Winter says. “You could work from a safety [copy], but then you’d have generational losses.”

As Szymczyk recalls, “Rick said, ‘Well, we’re gonna cut it like it is, and then we’ll start slashing.” He marked the tape with a china marker and cut. “If it didn’t work, you’d just put it back.” The main idea was to keep representative portions of each musical section of the song. “There were sections that were, like, ‘Well, we gotta have some of this, we gotta have some of this, we gotta have some of that.’ I remember getting it down from 10 or 11 minutes to about seven minutes. And there were nice, really smooth transitions.”

After Szymczyk completed the edit, Winter added the track’s one overdub, playing a second guitar part during the song’s jazzy interlude to create a three-part harmony with the saxophone he had played live during tracking. Clocking in at more than seven minutes, the song was too unwieldy to fit on the disc and was unlikely to be played on the radio. So yet another round of edits took place, this time with the team working from the 2-track stereo mix, with pieces of tape scattered everywhere throughout the control room. “It was a long, laborious, tedious and sort of agonizing process,” Winter says. “It was sort of like cutting a diamond.”

Derringer recalls: “What we had to do was take each section and whittle that section down to its smallest possible length that would still represent what that section was about. The idea was to try to retain the integrity of the whole song.” The team came up with an acceptable edit of 4:45 in length. “I just said, ‘That’s as much as I can take out and still have the song be what it was intended to be, and have it be musically flowing and intelligible,” Winter recalls. The edit, Szymczyk says, holds up quite well to this day. “I was listening to it the other day, trying to play a ‘spot the edit’ game. [Laughs] I found a few. But there are a whole lot more that went by pretty cool.”

Once completed, everyone listened to a playback. “As the tape was rewinding,” Winter recalls, “Chuck was watching, kind of in a hypnotic state, and seeing all those edits go by. And he mumbled the immortal words: ‘Wow, man, it’s like Frankenstein.’ I wasn’t sure about the negative connotations involved with the monster. But the more I thought about it, the more perfect it felt. The whole idea of Frankenstein was technology running amuck, with me as the doctor, and the song itself, the creation, as the Monster. It took a few minutes to sink in, then but I said, ‘Yeah! That’s it.’ So the monster was born!” Radio stations began playing “Frankenstein” in their own crudely edited versions to cut it down to size. Derringer, Szymczyk and an Epic A&R rep returned to The Hit Factory for another round of edits, this time without Winter, creating an acceptable edit length of 3:28.

“Frankenstein” remains a favorite of Winter’s: “I still love to blast it, and I still enjoy playing that song every bit as much as I did when we first started playing it live.”

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