As work continued on Edgar Winter’s new album, Brother Johnny, a tribute to his late brother, the number of guest musicians appearing on it multiplied, happily complicating things for producer/engineer Ross Hogarth. Don’t miss Part 1 of this epic tale!
The list of guest musicians evolved organically as time went on, Hogarth reports. “Edgar, who is a good friend of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, originally wanted him on ‘Memory Pain,’ but I had already committed that track to Warren, so we had Kenny Wayne rock his blues shuffle on ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ and also play the solos on ‘Still Alive and Well,’” Hogarth says. “The rhythm track is my dude Phil X, who plays with Bon Jovi. He’s one of my best friends and one of the greatest guitar players; he also played a burning solo on ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’”
“Of all the players,” Winter says, “I think Joe Bonamassa came the closest to channeling Johnny. I used to think of Johnny as the John Coltrane of blues-rock. [His guitar playing] was like an unendingly inventive stream of consciousness that built in intensity. I think Joe really captured that in ‘Self Destructive Blues.’ He said, ‘That was the first song by Johnny that I heard. I learned that song and played it with the band.’ Joe walked in with a Gibson Firebird and a Fender Bassman amp,” the exact same rig that Johnny used, Winter adds.
Because the brothers lived very different lives, Edgar didn’t feel that he could bring an honest vocal performance to some of Johnny’s originals because the subject matter was outside his experience. “I’m Yours and I’m Hers,” for example, is about Johnny’s womanizing; Edgar has been married to Monique for going on 43 years. “Billy Gibbons was totally down for that one!” Hogarth laughs.
That track also features Derek Trucks on slide guitar, dueling with Gibbons’ guitar. “A lot of Johnny’s own productions had his guitars fighting each other,” Hogarth says. “So it’s honoring Johnny’s production, but doing our own version.”
The pair also drafted in Michael McDonald to sing “Stranger,” Johnny’s ballad about drug rehab. “It’s a magical vocal, one of the high points of the album,” Winter says. The song, the only track on which Bissonette doesn’t play, features Ringo on drums and Joe Walsh on guitar.
THEN, HOME TO SING, MIX
Once the Brother Johnny instrumental tracks were done, Hogarth says, “Edgar decided that he’d like to cut all his vocals at home, alone, and agreed we would comp them together. We set him up with a new Neumann U 67 with an NOS tube through a Firlotte [Tree Audio] Branch preamp, and I leant him my Manley original ELOP compressor.”
Edgar played piano on Johnny’s 1969 recording of “Drown in My Own Tears,” a song popularized by Ray Charles. “That was probably the most emotional song for me,” Winter reports. “I always felt Johnny did that song for me; he knew how much I loved Ray. When I sang the song on this album, I felt I was singing it back to him, the way he sang it to me so many years ago. I was crying my eyes out, but I got through it.”
Hogarth’s Boogie Motel is a hybrid facility that pairs Pro Tools with racks and racks of analog outboard, a lot of it permanently patched to I/O. “I don’t have a console,” he says, though he has multiple choices of passive output transformers and mix bus compressors. “I found that on this record, except for a few songs that wanted the API 2500, most of them went through the Dramastic Audio Obsidian,” he says, with the highs and lows knocked down 2 or 3 dB on the Dangerous BAX EQ before the chosen compressor. “Then it went into my Pulse Techniques EQ-P1S3 Pultec mastering EQs before going back to my dedicated Dangerous DA/AD on the mix bus. On many songs, it would also go to the blue NTI [equalizer] with the Air Band.”
Hogarth is a fan of too many plug-ins to mention. “But ultimately,” he says, “I find that the non-linearity of a tube and a transformer does something very special, particularly on the lead vocal. I have yet to find a plug-in that does that. On this record, once again, the Retro Instruments Sta-Level worked its magic on most of the vocals ”
The Brother Johnny project brought Winter a new appreciation of his brother, he says: “I really feel like I know Johnny better, in a different way, than I ever had before doing this record. I’d never sung a lot of those songs; it brought back so many childhood memories.
“I don’t usually like to listen to my own albums, but I have fun listening to this album because it has so many guest performances. There were a lot of magical moments and incredible performances. I really dig this record.”