Edgar Winter is best remembered for "Free Ride" and "Frankenstein" and for being Johnny Winter's younger brother, but what he should be best remembered for is White Trash, his excellent 9-piece band who released this overlooked gem in 1971. This lineup didn't last long (perhaps Edgar couldn't afford to keep paying 8 other people), but boy were they something else, at times recalling Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Stax, Chicago, brother Johnny, and especially Joe Cocker/Ray Charles, all while ultimately standing out on their own as true originals. "Give It Everything You Got" starts this filler-free platter with an obvious Sly homage, and I just love the overall energy and the recklessness of the vocals; the dueling saxes (one of several instruments Edgar plays) merely clinches it. "Fly Away" most closely resembles the gospel soul of Cocker, especially on its soaring chorus, while again the energy and high horn quotient are the most memorable characteristics of the catchy "Where Would I Be." An obvious highlight, "Let's Get It On" is a percussive powerhouse with a fiery guitar solo and catchy gospel soul pop vocals, while "I've Got News for You" is a straight up blues only with an exaggerated emphasis on the horns, as per usual. The star on this song is and most of the prior ones mentioned is powerhouse singer Jerry LaCroix, an underrated soul vocalist if ever there was one (pity that guys like him and Bobby Whitlock never really found such suitable partners again after their shining moments) and this ensemble's not-so-secret weapon. LaCroix also co-wrote several songs with Winter, an excellent if occasionally overly frantic singer in his own right who sings lead on soulful ballads such as "Dying to Live" (a powerful anti-Vietnam statement which recalls Wonder) and "You Were My Light." Anyway, the album's best known song is probably the ecologically aware toe tapper "Save the Planet" (again featuring gospel backing vocals), or maybe it’s the generic but catchy and fun boogie rocker "Keep Playin' That Rock & Roll" (the album's only near-hit, peaking at number 70), while "Good Morning Music" ends the album with a low-key yet funky love letter to music. Clearly this group loved playing these songs together, and above all else this album is all but bursting with an infectious energy and an enthusiasm that's utterly contagious. The band's chemistry was obviously a major asset (despite Rick Derringer - who plays guitar on "Keep Playin' That Rock & Roll" and "Good Morning Music" - coming and going), and the songs on the whole are very well written. Perhaps some of them are obviously from 1971 (i.e. they sound a bit dated to that era) , and most of these songs are very good without quite rising to greatness, but I'd easily rate Edgar Winter's White Trash as a minor classic and suggest that any fan of any of the artists mentioned above check it out ASAP.
Roadwork (Sony ‘72) Rating: A-
This live album, the last White Trash album, is top notch as well and contains no overlap with White Trash aside from "Save The Planet," which is longer, looser, and wilder (the screams at the end simply must be mentioned) than its studio counterpart. Elsewhere, much of the album is comprised of covers and features even more sharing of vocals (Edgar was very democratic and let others shine), with Rick Derringer singing Chuck Berry's "Back In The U.S.A." and his own "Still Alive And Well" (later recorded by Johnny Winter), where his guitar work also steps to the forefront. Although the unhinged vocals and incendiary sax/horn interplay that highlighted White Trash is still in evidence, this is a more guitar oriented rock record, with many a cool moment even beyond LaCroix's spot-on Otis Redding impersonation ("I Can't Turn You Loose"). For example, "Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo" is introduced by Edgar saying "people keep asking me, where's your brother?"; the crowd goes nuts, and with that Johnny appears on stage for the first time in nearly a year and sings a sizzling version of the song. Also, tracks 8-10 ("Cool Fool," "Do Yourself a Favour," and "Turn On Your Love Light") were recorded at the Apollo Theater in front of a black audience, and you can hear their SHOCK when Edgar and company come onstage - the whitest of white boys. Of course, appearances can be deceiving, and the crowd is soon won over by their funky rhythms and paint peeling screeches. Earlier, Edgar's scream on a bluesy 17+ minute "Tobacco Road" is 23 seconds long (do not attempt this at home!), and though the song has too much down time and the scat singing was a bad idea, some strong solo sections and a frenetic finish make its indulgences well worth enduring. Elsewhere, "Jive, Jive, Jive" is fairly generic boogie rock, but again some stellar sax work (and LaCroix's always stellar vocals) makes it more than just that, and White Trash's singular strengths are again on ample display throughout. The album isn't as easily loveable as its predecessor, where neophytes should start, but it makes for an excellent companion piece, as this short-lived band's high energy music was tailor made for a live setting. Note: Tragically, White Trash drummer Bobby Ramirez was killed in a Chicago bar fight in July 1972.
They Only Come Out At Night (Sony ‘72) Rating: A-
Edgar broke up White Trash in early '72 and got guitar flash Ronnie Montrose from Van Morrison's group (Ronnie later left to form his own band Montrose in the spring of '73, to be replaced by, who else? Rick Derringer, who also produced and plays a jack of all trades type of role on this album). It's too bad that White Trash was such a short-lived concept, as once Jerry LaCroix left (or more likely was fired - he went on to replace David Clayton-Thomas in Blood, Sweat & Tears before receding into obscurity) Edgar decided to follow a more straightforward rock approach. White Trash was special, but fortunately the newly minted The Edgar Winter Group was also very good, though perhaps they lacked some of the distinctive characteristics that made White Trash stand out. Impresario Steve Paul (who managed Edgar, Johnny, and Derringer) was likely largely to blame for the new direction (and for the departure of LaCroix), which was a major departure as the band obviously attempted to score a hit, but that doesn’t really matter much at this point now, does it? Besides, they got their monster hit with the ultra-flashy “Frankenstein,” which was simply one of the all-time great hard rock instrumentals, featuring classic riffs, great drum fills and solos, memorable keyboard noodlings and sax breaks, and even the kitchen sink (one would presume). “Frankenstein” was actually the b-side of the catchy, seemingly much more commercial “Hangin’ Around,” which stiffed. But its b-side took off, becoming the band’s lone #1 hit, while the also-great “Free Ride," with its groovy guitars, excellent lead vocals and airy harmonies, good guitar solo, and memorable wind effects, hit #14 and remains a much played radio track. The lead singer on this track and “We All Had A Real Good Time,” “Hangin’ Around,” “Alta Mira,” and (I think) "Autumn" is Dan Hartman, who has a smoother, more pop friendly (but far more anonymous) voice than LaCroix, while Edgar shows off his versatile pipes on several songs as well. For example, the really good “When It Comes” sees Edgar in his gruff voiced blues belter guise, as does the excellent “Undercover Man,” which has near-metallic guitars and vocals flying all over the place, whereas “Round & Round” is an agreeably melodic, singable, country flavored soft rock vehicle on which you’d never know it was the same singer. “Autumn,” which recalls Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down At The Schoolyard," is another very mellow yet very pretty ballad, while “Alta Mira” has a summery Caribbean flavor (despite this album’s summer feel - song titles notwithstanding - it was released in November '72, though it was still on the charts in the summer of '73). Elsewhere, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues” and “We All Had A Real Good Time” could both be classified as "generic boogie rock," but both songs are still energetic and fun, and the album on the whole is stylistically varied and features great playing throughout. This album is mostly remembered for its two big hit singles, which are the best songs here, but there's much else besides (my best of the rest are "When It Comes" and "Undercover Man") on what is a consistently enjoyable collection. Alas, Edgar has recorded only sporadically since, and it is his 1971-’72 peak on which his reputation primarily rests. Note: Hartman later had some notable solo success with dance oriented songs such as “Instant Replay” (#29 in 1978) and “I Can Dream About You” (#6 in 1984).
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