Rock icon Edgar Winter has been part of the musical landscape since his first album, Entrance, was released in 1970. Four-and-a-half decades later, he is still recording and touring, thrilling audiences with his multi-instrumental proficiency, his searing, yet soulful vocals, and a catalog of hits. When asked for five things he has learned about having a career in the business, he quickly offered five off-the-cuff tips: “Always get paid before the show. Never leave your wallet in the dressing room. Don’t do interviews. Dress like a rock star. Never listen to anyone’s advice, especially mine!” But then he issued five more elaborate responses.
1. Listen to Everything
Listen to all the greats, regardless of genre. There’s so much great music across rock, blues, classical, jazz, and country, and you should go back and find the early originators/innovators in each style. I feel we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us: My most profound single influence was Ray Charles. I would not be the musician I am today without absorbing and then personalizing his music. But I did that with a lot of musicians across the spectrum. Stay open to it all!
2. Surround Yourself with the Best Musicians
Always look for the best musicians possible. Playing with musicians who are better than you will teach you more, and inspire you to be your best. Conversely, try not to play with musicians who will lead you to develop bad habits. A drummer may have tons of chops and be exciting to play with, but if they don’t have good time it may have a negative influence on your own playing. I’d rather work with a simpler drummer whose time is rock-solid, with a deep groove.
3. Play Every Show Like It’s Your First, and Your Last
Even though I’ve been playing my songs for a long time now, I try to keep it fresh every night and treat it like it’s the first time. And I leave room for fresh interplay with the band, and to try out new ideas. Before I hit the stage every night I think, “What if this is the last gig I’ll play?” And I commit to give it my all; being able to play for an audience is a gift that I never take for granted.
4. Never Compromise Your Integrity
I’ve heard so many stories from people who regret musical and business decisions they made based on advice from people in power within the industry. Your career is going to be defined by your decisions; think long and hard about the path you take. Make sure it’s something you’ll be comfortable with for the rest of your life. Remember that music is an art form first, and then a business. I don’t define success in the music business as being famous, or making a lot of money. For me the goal is to become as good a musician as I could be, and to look back on what I have done and be happy.
5. Love, Humility, and Gratitude
If you love what you’re doing people will sense it. Stay humble: no matter how good you get, there will be somebody out there that will astound you. Be able to accept and be inspired by that. Be grateful for what you have. For me, making music is very rewarding in and of itself. So follow your dream, play the music you truly love, and never give up. You’ll never hear Edgar Winter talking about a farewell tour!
Edgar Winter is working on three new projects: a Broadway musical about Frankenstein’s monster, a book of poetry called The Songs That Never Were, and a series of fantasy short stories called Stories from the Shadowland. And he continues to rock out on the road. Keep up with all his activities at edgarwinter.com.