‘Albinos are in fact discriminated against or ostricized in several African countries as being ‘devil worshippers‘
Frankenstein – Edgar Winter Group
Epic 10967 (USA) / Epic EPC 1440 (UK)
Recorded at The Hit Factory, New York City
Released February 1973
Writer Edgar Winter
Producer Rick Derringer
USA #1 26/5/73 1 week UK #18 6/73
Brothers Eric and Johnny Winter were both born in the 1940s, John Dawson Winter III in Leland, Mississippi in 1944 and Edgar Holland Winter in Beaumont, Texas in 1947. Johnny became a blues guitar tornado while Edgar’s work was somewhat more musically experimental and adventurous, his music a mix of jazz, soul/R&B, gospel, funk, rock’n’roll with a good measure of the blues. Both Johnny and Edgar enjoyed their most popular period during the first half of the 1970s when both were signed to Columbia Records. Aside from their powerhouse music, the most notable thing about the Winter brothers was of course the fact that both were born ‘Albinos’, an unusual affliction. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, an albino is, ‘A person having a congenital absence of pigment in the skin and hair, which are white, and the eyes which are usually pink.’ We’ll be coming back to the subject later.
Edgar Winter had no interest in ‘commercial’ or ‘pop’ music. In a 2002 quote from a retrospective collection released by Sony Music he explains that when signed to CBS/Epic in 1969 by the legendary Clive Davis he told the company, “(He) intended to broaden musical horizons, expand artistic awareness, and attempt to break down and eliminate some of the senseless stylistic prejudice existing between various forms of music. I loved jazz and classical, rhythm and blues, country and western, gospel and soul; nor did I see any reason why I shouldn’t be able to play them ALL – preferably at the same time – in order to express my oddly ecelctic musical views.”
Having played with Johnny in several bands during the 1960s on keyboards and sax, Edgar went out on his own in 1970 with a critically acclaimed debut album, Entrance, on which he played most of the instruments, before forming brass-based rock and roll outfit, White Trash in 1971, releasing 1 studio album and one live album. In 1972 he formed a new quartet known as the Edgar Winter Group and began recording his most successful album They Only Come Out At Night featuring his career-defining hit ‘Frankenstein’. This stunning rock instrumental (the basics of which were composed at least 2 years earlier) featuring some nifty ARP synthesizer effects (played by Edgar) began life as an on-stage jam entitled ‘The Double Drum Solo’. Since it was just an instrumental, the track wasn’t originally even intended to be included on the album – it was merely a lengthy live piece the group performed to showcase Edgar’s new-found interest in the synthesizer.
In the studio it became even more lengthy and Winter and producer Rick Derringer (former guitarist of the McCoys – see ‘Hang On Sloopy’) spent hours chopping and editing the master tape down to an acceptable length – in fact it became something of a monster. Says Winter: “When we were editing it in the studio, back in those days when you edited something, you physically had to cut the tape and splice it back together, so it was all over the control room, draped over the backs of chairs and the couch. We were making fun of it, trying to figure out how to put it back together, saying ‘Here’s the main body; the leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone…’ Then Chuck Ruff, my drummer, says, ‘Wow, man, it’s like Frankenstein.’ As soon as I heard that, I went, ‘Wow, that’s it!’ The monster was born.”
Initially released as the B-side to the album’s first single, ‘Hangin’ Around’, it was soon flipped by radio deejays and began a three month climb to the summit of the US charts (it was also Number 1 in Canada) and in the USA in particular it’s rated as one of the all-time greatest rock instrumentals – though we should also note that Edgar had a dynamic and powerful voice, as can for example be heard on his highly popular cover version of ‘Tobacco Road’, one of the highlights of his stage act. Edgar’s other major hit (from the same album) was ‘Free Ride’ (US #14, 10/73) written by his bass guitarist Dan Hartman. Mr Hartman would go on to have considerably more chart success than Edgar Winter, scoring as a songwriter/performer in the disco era with ‘Instant Replay’ and ‘Relight My Fire’ as well as writing and/or producing hits for numerous other arists including Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Dusty Springfield, Neil Sedaka, Diana Ross, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Tyler and James Brown, for whom he composed and produced the 1986 smash ‘Living In America’ for the movie Rocky IV.
Some facts about albinism: It is a rare condition affecting people of all ethnic backgrounds, manifesting itself in around 6 in 100,000 people though is most prevalent in sub-Saharan African countries. A lifelong condition that doesn’t worsen with time, it often leads to visual difficulties. It’s sad to report that Albinos are in fact discriminated against or ostracized in several African countries as being ‘devil worshippers’. Worse still, and according to Wikipedia, ‘In African countries such as Tanzania and Burundi there has been an unprecedented rise in witchcraft-related killings of people with albinism in recent years, because their body parts are used in potions sold by witchdoctors. For example, in Tanzania, in September 2009, three men were convicted of killing a 14-year-old albino boy and severing his legs in order to sell them for witchcraft purposes.’ National Geographic estimates that in Tanzania a complete set of albino body parts is worth $75,000. These truly horrifying reports seem beyond belief in our western society, yet these practises have been going on in Africa for years.
To close on a somewhat happier note, both Edgar Winter’s album They Only Come Out At Night (a US Number 3) and single ‘Frankenstein’ sold over 2 million copies in the States, and though not much in the public eye after the late 1970s (Johnny and Edgar made an album, Together, in 1976 – a US #89 – though after that didn’t perform together for another 15 years), both brothers were busy in the music business, putting out occasional albums. Johnny, who came in at #63 in Rolling Stone‘s list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, produced 3 acclaimed and Grammy Award winning albums for blues legend Muddy Waters and did session work for acts such as Meat Loaf, Dan Hartman and Bette Midler while Edgar also did a good deal of studio work – notably he plays the saxophone on Tina Turner’s major hit ‘The Best’. There was a 1984 remix of ‘Frankenstein’ – the 12-inch version also included a rap version – though i’ve been unable to trace this. Edgar Winter was last on the charts in 1976 though he has continued his musical career ever since, his most recent studio album, Rebel Road, released in 2008. Sadly, his brother Johnny died in 2014 – his last of 19 studio albums was released the same year.
(As a matter of interest, the novel ‘Frankenstein’ by English author Mary Shelley was first published anonymously in London in 1818 when she was just 20 years old and was inspired by a visit to the Frankenstein Castle in Germany some 4 years earlier)
Copyright © 2017 SongStories/Tony Burton