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Album Of The Week Club: The Edgar Winter Group - They Only Come Out At Night

They Only Come Out At Night sold millions, birthed two hit singles and featured an all-star cast that included Ronnie Montrose, Rick Derringer and Dan Hartman. Does it still stand up?

“I don’t believe in musical segregation,” Edgar Winter told Classic Rock. “I blame the record companies; they prefer to put people into boxes: here are the pop people and the folk people and the country. It helps them sell you.”

They Only Come Out At Night was Edgar Winter’s third studio album and his first as The Edgar Winter Band – but it was no more straight-forward, or easier to ‘put in a box’ than his previous releases. That said, Winter had put together a crack ensemble, poaching guitarist Ronnie Montrose from Van Morrison’s band, with songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dan Hartman, Rick Derringer producing and the Eagles’ producer Bill Szymczyk as ‘Technical Director’. The result was his most successful album and two hit singles.

Listen to They Only Come Out At Night:

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. Join the group here.

Here’s what we learned about They Only Come Out At Night

Background

Edgar Winter was born in Texas in 1946 and, like his older brother Johnny, suffered from albinism. And, just like Johnny, he never let it hold him back. In fact, maybe it helped. “The boys were both musical from the time they were born,” their mother told Johnny’s biographer, Mary Lou Sullivan. “Part of it was because they were legally blind and their acute hearing made up in part for their lack of sight.”

They came from a family of musicians, and by the time they were teenagers, both were multi-instrumentalists and outsiders who felt an immediate affinity with rock’n’roll and blues. Edgar played in his older brother’s bands: “Not because he was my brother,” said Johnny, “it was because he could play a lot of different instruments.”

When it came to their solo careers, Johnny chose blues and Edgar went a more eclectic route, with a career that’s spanned jazz, blues, pop, soul and progressive rock. By 1972, he’d put together The Edgar Winter Group.

Ronnie Montrose

Ronnie Montrose – often referred to as one of the most influential US rock guitarists – didn’t even consider himself a rock player when he left Van Morrison’s band and joined the Edgar Winter Group.

“[Edgar] so much wanted to do that whole rock thing that he encouraged me,” Montrose said in Jaan Uhelzski’s award-winning piece for Classic Rock. “I don’t want to call it a struggle. It was a sense of need, that I needed to survive this gauntlet that had been dropped. I was in the Edgar Winter Group, and I had better start delivering this heavy guitar music. Now. Because I hadn’t done before.

“My watershed was when we were in Pittsburgh we did this song Tobacco Road. I was playing my rudimentary scale stuff and I heard some guy in the crowd go: ‘Play some fucking vibrato, man.’ And it hit me so deep, I go: ‘You know what? You’re right.’ So then I started realising that this was a voice that needed to be brought out.”

Ronnie left in 1973 to form his own band, Montrose.

Dan Hartman

Dan Hartman was a child prodigy who had backed Johnny Winter before joining Edgar. Hartman wrote and sung Free Ride and played – wait for it – guitar (electric and acoustic), ukulele, bass, maracas, percussion, sang and wrote or co-wrote six of the tracks on They Only Come Out At Night.

“Dan was a true genius and a musical visionary,” said Edgar after Hartman’s death in 1994 (aged just 43, of an AIDS-related illness). “The group would never have been the same without Dan.”

Free Ride

Free Ride was Edgar’s first choice as a single, and was released when the album first came out. It didn’t become a hit until the after the success of the much stranger and more complex Frankenstein.

The song was written and sung by Dan Hartman. “Dan had already written Free Ride when I met him,” said Edgar. “That is Dan playing the signature guitar chord lick (not Ronnie or Rick), and I’ve never heard anybody play it with exactly the same feel as Dan!”

Montrose played two solos simultaneously on the single Free Ride to give it an Eric Clapton feel. On re-release, the single went top 10 in Canada and to 14 in the US.

Here’s a great version of Free Ride with Dan on vocals, bass and guitar (look out for the moment around 0.46 when Edgar plays a few bass notes when Dan plays the guitar lick) and Rick Derringer on lead guitar.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein started life as a riff Edgar played during his time with Johnny. In fact, he claimed later to have played it at Woodstock. Its become an instrumental freak-out with a place in the classic rock pantheon along with Free Bird and Stairway To Heaven.

“I wanted an instrumental that I could use as a showcase,” Edgar said. “I thought of myself as an instrumentalist, not as a singer.”

The riff developed into a jam where Edgar played a dual drum solo with Johnny’s drummer, Red Turner. “We played that song all over the world and then completely forgot about it. I didn’t think of it for years.”

During the sessions for They Only Come Out At Night, the band warmed up each day by playing ‘The Instrumental’ with the tape rolling. One day Rick Derringer says, ‘Maybe we could edit that instrumental into something that would be usable.’

Edgar thought it sounded like “a good excuse to have a big end of the project bash and get a little more blasted than usual and have a big editing party.”

There was tape “lying all over the control room,” he remembered, “draped over the backs of chairs and overflowing the console and the couch. And we were trying to figure out how to put it all back together.

“And then, at that point, the drummer, Chuck Ruff, mumbled the immortal words, ‘Wow, man, it’s like Frankenstein.’ As soon as I heard, ‘Frankenstein!,’ the monster was born!”

Frankenstein became a US and Canadian no.1 and the record company wanted more: “When Frankenstein was a hit, they went: ‘Great! Now you can do Dracula! And the Wolfman! Then they can all meet and you can have this big monster rock party!’ I’m like, no, no! That’s not going to happen…” (Source)

What they said:

“Like Mark Farner and Alice Cooper, Edgar Winter understands that rock & roll is vaudeville; the goal is to keep the customers satisfied. What he lacks in charisma, Edgar makes up for in talent. In concert he has traveled the low hard road of loud, high energy rock, and his band stands alongside J. Geils as the prime American entertainers for what’s left of the hard rock mob. His forté has been the instrumental solo, the shrieking vocal, and the endless deafening riff.

“If he lacks the undefineable greatness of Jagger or Mitch Ryder, Edgar certainly knows how to entertain better than Mountain or Humble Pie. If rock & roll is still part of your blood and not part of your past, I can assure you this record will bring you hours of joy.” (Danny Goldberg, Rolling Stone)

What you said:

Chara Tsaousi: “Special. Controversial. Visionary. \m/“

David Ervin: “This is a fantastic album that I have had on vinyl since it came out. It is very diverse musically and the songs are all so tight. Autumn is a bit of a sleeper on the record, a very good ballad that really adds to the various styles and genres of songs on it. The two hit songs as usual are not the two best songs on the album. I love it!”

Hai Kixmiller: “This was a great listen. The songs are like a cruise through some big city, in the warm evenings of early summer. There’s something different happening on every corner of every block of your neighborhood. The songs on this album are like the people in my neighborhood; varied, some odd some more cool than others, but the songs somehow become strangely satisfying when you soon realise that it’s just good ole’ rock n’ roll and that’s why it sounds so cool and right on.”

Pete Mineau: “We used to listen to this album down in my buddies basement back in the 70s when it first came out. We were big on the two hits, and probably played them more than the whole LP straight through. Not a horrible album, but not a blockbuster either.”

Johnathon Hoskins: “I saw this version of the Edgar winter Band live on a New Years bill with Humble Pie and the Groundhogs. Watching Frankenstein performed live on stage was pretty incredible. Ronnie Montrose was so underrated as a guitar slinger. He definitely burned up the fretboard when I saw him. For a brief moment in time they were one tight band.” -

Kev Moore: “My first hearing of Edgar was Frankenstein which utterly blew me away as a 14 year old. Watching them on The Whistle Test the following week only piqued my curiosity even more. As so often happened after watching the show, I bought the album. It was probably my first encounter with an albino, which rendered him every bit as weird as Bowie. With a band of seasoned musos including the likes of Dan Hartman and Ronnie Montrose, he was always going to impress. I particularly loved Free Ride which Dan re-recorded later (a far inferior version in my opinion)”

Stan West: “What a fun album! Like most others, I picked this up back in the day for Free Ride and Frankenstein but enjoyed the whole package. There must have been something in the water for the Winter boys (Johnny is a personal favorite) as they’re both very talented musicians. Hangin’ Around is a fantastic rock song, bursting with good guitar playing and Winter’s jubilant vocals throughout. Summer’s coming up and this one was meant to be played loud and with the window open! Free Ride is of course the same way but we all know what a great song that is. When It Comes is a groovy, swamp-tinged little number that almost reminds me of a more commercialized/rock oriented Dr. John. Definitely dig that jam. Winter shows his versatility on Round & Round, wonderfully capturing that warm, country-rock combination that the Eagles eventually perfected. Might be the most pleasant surprise on the whole album. Rock ‘N’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues is another obvious highlight. Just a cocky, strutting ode to rock music.”

Oogle Boogle: “Never heard this before (apart from Free Ride) and I thought it was a pretty good set of distinctive, varied, catchy, pop/rocking songs - reminds me of the James Gang - or the early 70s Stones as a much more general reference. It’s the sort of thing I was hoping from from the Classic Rock Album of the Week Club rather than rolling out the albums most classic rock fans know inside out. It’s short (34mins), meaning you can take it in in one sitting and it’s got that great 70s production whereby it sounds like a bunch of talented musicians playing tunes together on real instruments. Do bands still make albums like this?”

Ed Brown: “Not really into this album. His older stuff is much more bluesy and this just feels like a generic rock record. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just feel like Edgar Winter is so much better than this album would lead you to believe.”

Iain Macaulay: “Can’t fault the playing but the songs do nothing for me other than remind me of Smokey and the Bandit and a hundred other dodgy seventies American road movies..”

Michael Knoop: “The insides don’t quite match the outside, do they? I read a comment above that Edgar Winter was taking the piss out of glam rock, but when your bandleader poses half-nude all shiny and chrome on the cover, go the full Nigel and crank it to 11! It all choogles along pleasantly enough, but only the trinity of Rock ‘N’ Roll Boogie Woogie Blues, Undercover Man, and everyone’s favorite mental instrumental Frankenstein generate heat.”

Douglas C Ward: “I don’t think this is a great album. I think Free Ride and Frankenstein are great songs, but most of the rest of it sounds like filler. The faux calypso Alta Mira is especially egregious. There are definitely some great guitar solos (courtesy of Ronnie Montrose?), but most of the songs are not memorable otherwise.”

James Utvandraren: “Sorry to be a party-pooper, but this album just doesn’t offer much. It didn’t inspire generations, it didn’t seem to have a message, it didn’t leave an amazing instrumental footprint and, beyond a few tracks, most of the songs are utterly bland.”

Brian Carr: “One of the main reasons the 1970s has become probably my favorite decade of music is the diversity - classic albums in so many different styles. They Only Come Out at Night takes that idea of diversity and puts it on one album. The problem with the varying musical styles here is that it was hard for me to find the band’s sound - it plays almost like a mix tape. The different singers added to my dilemma. But I did like some of the songs, and there’s some nice performances throughout.”

Final Score: 6.7310 (138 votes cast, with a total score of 959)

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