Saturday, December 12, 2009

Edgar Winter Group: They Only Come Out At Night

Despite its unusual cover, the Edgar Winter Group’s album “They Only Come out at Night” is really one of the great albums of all time. Instead of featuring one of the LP’s two hits, I have picked my favorite cut “Autumn.”

This is truly a beautiful song written by bassist Dan Hartman and features Edgar Winter on marimba (although it sounds more like a vibraphone). Although I can’t verify it, I believe Hartman sang lead on this tune, as he did with “Free Ride.”

Produced by Rick Derringer, “They Only Come out at Night” has a plethora of styles. The hits from the LP included the instrumental “Frankenstein” at #1 and “Free Ride” at #14. I got this album at Pittsburgh’s Heads Together as part of a two-fer special as my high school graduation present from my older brother. By the way, the other album was George Harrison’s “Living in a Material World.” By far, the Edgar Winter Group album was the better of the two.

During summer 1973, the three Top-40 stations in Pittsburgh (KQV, 13-Q, & WIXZ) played three songs to death: “Frankenstein,” “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. This was the studio version from Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” LP and the Pittsburgh airplay of this album cut forced Warner Brothers to release “Smoke on the Water” as single featuring the studio version on one side and the live version from the “Made in Japan” album on the other.

Although I own all three songs, the frequent airplay of these monster hits led me to not listen to them that much – too much of a good thing I expect. The other hit, “Free Ride” is a classic. I am including a live version that features Rick Derringer on lead guitar. It appears that guitarist Ronnie Montrose had already left the band at this time. Check out some of the interesting things happening in this song.

Live Version of Free Ride

First of all when Dan Hartman plays the opening riff on the guitar part of his double neck guitar/bass, Edgar is doing the hammer-ons on the bass neck. Edgar Winter also has his clavinet strapped around his neck. It is reported that he was the first person to strap on a keyboard – and if my memory serves me correctly - this may be so; however, Billy Preston was also doing this around the same period of time.  Contributing to this tune  is the great wind sounds from the ARP synthesizer.

I never owned an ARP, but I had my heart set on owning either an ARP Odyssey or a Micro Moog. When I had enough cash saved, I drove 90 miles to the Pied Piper in Huntington, WV. Instead of the Moog or the ARP, they convinced me to purchase a Sequential Circuits Pro-One instead. It was a little easier to use than the ARP or the Moog and I believe that the cheaper price was the real selling factor. I think I paid about $500 for it in 1981 or 82.

Needless to say, the use of the synthesizer in “Frankenstein” and in other songs such as Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Lucky Man” influenced me to buy one in the first place. It would be difficult to imagine that “Frankenstein” could be played without a synth; however, the song predated “They Only Come out at Night” by at least four years. Edgar wrote this song when he was performing with his older brother Johnny in the band, Johnny Winter And. I found a live version of the Winter brothers doing this song without synthesizers and it is as powerful as ever. Check out the drum dual by Edgar Winter and Uncle John Turner - fantastic.

Johnny Winter And - "Frankenstein" from 1970

Finally, to give you a taste of what this LP was like when you heard it in its entirety, I have constructed a YouTube playlist with all of the tunes in order. Enjoy.

"They Only Come Out At Night" - the entire LP

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