When psychedelia and blues came together in Cream’s quickfire trio of studio albums in the late 1960s, it created a blueprint for blues-respecting bottom-heavy rock that would rule the airwaves for at least a decade. In their roots and early trajectories, the Winter brothers, emerging out of the heartland of Beaumont, Texas, were not unlike north Florida’s Allman brothers, both heavily influenced by Cream’s fluid use of blues, and yet Johnny and Edgar never attained the pioneer status afforded Duane and Gregg. Johnny’s traditionalism would keep him defined (and confined) as a blues revival hotshot guitarist, which in America was radical but also too far ahead of its time (it would be Stevie Ray Vaughan who would reap those rewards further on up the road). Edgar, a rock’n’roll survivor, still touring as of this writing, was always a crowd-pleaser with a ton of chops on keys and sax, but never really pushed beyond his pair of early 70s funky, AM-friendly, rock/pop/jazz fusion hits, “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein.” Maybe he didn’t need to.
“Frankenstein” started out in the tradition of Cream’s “Toad” and Led Zeppelin‘s “Moby Dick,” pieces with giant riffs whose sole purpose was to surround drum solos. It even began life entitled “Double Drum Song,” ending up with its final title (after also being called “Synthesizer Song”) as the result of the intense tape cutting that reduced its time to a length that made it palatable for radio. It was a huge success, an inventive and striking instrumental representative of American good time rock in the early 70s.
Four versions here chart its evolution across its first few years. The first is vintage club footage circa 1970, from a Johnny Winter tour where Edgar came along (of note, Johnny’s band here includes future Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon). The next is from the album it anchored, 1972’s They Only Come Out at Night, in all its succinct spacey glory, with the superb Ronnie Montrose defining its guitar part under the direction of producer Rick Derringer, a longtime partner of both Johnny and Edgar. The third version, from 1973, is a live TV appearance, with Edgar and Derringer (I think) intro-ing the song and talking about its genesis, and then tour guitarist Jerry Weems absolutely killing it, along with drummer Chuck Ruff and bassist Dan Hartman (who wrote and sang “Free Ride”). The last is also a TV appearance from 1973 with the definitive band lineup, this time with Derringer taking over lead guitar in another commanding performance.
There’s a lot that can be said about the relative importance of this specific school of early 70s rock, the Winters and the Derringers and (a bit later) the Meatloafs of the rock world, but in their glittering moments works like “Frankenstein” are as convincing as any that American rock — stacked against maybe more “serious” contenders like the Allmans or the Band — could still be a lot of fun.
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