By Ray Chelstowski
When blues guitarist Johnny Winter was signed to Columbia Records in 1969 he received a $600,000 advance. It was the richest record deal cut up to that point by any artist in any genre. Johnny had made a few live appearances where he delivered electrifying performances – the news of which spread quickly throughout the industry. He was seen as the next Jimi Hendrix and labels moved quickly to lock him down. His first two albums released in 1969 were backed by a band that included future Double Trouble bassist Tommy Shannon. It also included his younger brother Edgar. Through those studio outings Johnny’s talents were made clear. But it was the support he received from his brother Edgar, who provided keys, alto sax and vocals that Epic Records found difficult to ignore. They signed Edgar in 1970 and from there he set course on his own musical path – one leaning more toward jazz, fusion, and a pop-oriented sound. Johnny would move further and further into the blues
This weekend I decided to dig back into former Allman Brother Oteil Burbridge’s fantastic first album with his old band The Peacemakers. It’s a unique blend of jazz, funk, soul, blues and a demonstration of superb musicianship. It reminded me in some ways of Edgar Winter’s 1970 debut album Entrance. This album was introduced to me by the high school teacher who had the most lasting impact on my life. In the end, the record proved to be as theatrical, enlightening, surprising, and smile inducing as Bob’s English class. Like those English lit lessons, Entrance has stayed with me to this day.
It’s hard to imagine that Epic knew exactly what they were getting into with Edgar Winter. Entrance is more of an expression that a definable piece of music. While songs are tracked they run into each other like a singular piece of music. The title track opens the record and it’s there where Winter’s vocals and the occasional pop arrangement drew sonic comparisons to Todd Rundgren. Those continue through the record. “Entrance” has a pop sensibility that makes it sound like a forgotten track off of Something Anything. As “Entrance” moves through a number of tempo changes Winter’s incredibly flexible and soul anchored vocals rope everything together and time stamp the material.
It’s followed by a four song bundle that’s jazz drenched. Here drummer Jimmy Gillen sails, Edgar debuts his now well-known shriek, and more importantly rips into some alto sax solos that spill over with fiery runs. They arrive, get to cruising altitude, look around a bit and come to a flashy, bounce heavy landing.
Side 2 opens with a cover of JD Loudermilk’s 1960 hit “Tobacco Road”. Here Edgar is joined by brother Johnny and his band. The signature piece to this song is the closing scream which seems to last all of an hour. It’s the ultimate expression of Edgar’s broad talents. It leaves you wondering if there is anything that this guy can’t do. While he is clearly more moved by jazz, he can still lay down the blues with the best of ‘em. That’s the case here as it is with “Back In The Blues”, a smooth slinky shuffle. The tune checks all of the boxes that make every other song on this record shine so brightly. It also affords one more moment for brother Johnny to shine - this time on some tasty harmonica parts.
Entrance was completed when Edgar Winter was only 24. It’s an amazingly mature outing with a sensibility that you’d expect from a much more seasoned pro. There are twists and turns around every corner. Nothing is phoned in. Nothing lasts too long. Nothing is less than remarkable.
Critics have always faulted Edgar for not taking his career more seriously. He rarely applied himself to creating commercially viable fare. One might argue instead that Entrance was as commercial as he should have ever become. While he would continue to surround himself with very accomplished sidemen and produce some very memorable material, it’s the work Edgar did here that may ultimately be the truest expression of his immeasurable musical gifts.