DOUBLE FEATURE! Check out Deke’s Winger story at Stick It In Your Ear!
GETTING MORE TALE #662: Wingers of Destiny
A highschool guy named Rob Petersen recommended Winger to me. Rob was one of the only kids with long hair. I was so jealous of him. He had the Rick Allen curls and everything. Girls thought he was cute. I thought maybe some of his cool could rub off on me. Luckily I sat next to him in Mr. Lightfoot’s history class.
The year was 1989 and the easiest way for me to check out new bands was via the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic.
I recorded the music video for “Seventeen”, which was OK, but didn’t particularly stand out. Kip Winger’s abs did. Towards the end of the video, he did this weird thrusty-dance with his bass. This is memorable to me because the tape that “Seventeen” was on, was also used for a school video project. I made a music video for “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison with friends, for a school award. I recorded my copy on the same tape as “Seventeen” — immediately after it, actually. When we presented the video to the film teacher, she caught the tail end of “Seventeen”, and Kip’s thrust. “Oh,” I heard her comment, and I sensed it was more disgust than titillation.
Kip Winger mid-thrust
Despite their image, Winger possessed a rare rock pedigree. Classically trained bassist and singer Charles “Kip” Winger was fresh from Alice Cooper’s band, as was keyboardist Paul Taylor. Kip also performed on Twisted Sister’s Love is for Suckers LP in 1987, with future bandmate Reb Beach. Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein was an alumnus of Steve Morse’s Dixie Dregs. Yet all these massive players went and made a commercial hard rock album with, let’s face it, pretty juvenile lyrics at times.
It’s hard not to be critical of Winger for this. Knowing what these guys are capable of, the debut album Winger seems like pandering. They did sneak in a few progressive hints, such as a string quartet on “Hungry”, but the impression was that they were just another hard rock band with big hair and candycane hooks. They were underachieving, from a certain point of view.
Winger was in the batch of the first CDs I ever got, for Christmas of 1989. This was based almost entirely on Rob Petersen’s raving. Another reason I chose it was the “CD bonus track”! One of the incentives for buying a CD player was to finally get songs that were only on the CD release. I had mixed impressions. The first “side” was decent but the second was a little filler-heavy.
I’m sad to admit this, but Winger’s version of “Purple Haze” was the first time I ever heard the song. Ozzy’s version was the second. Go ahead, judge me.
Winger could have taken it further on their second album. In a way, they did: progressive songs and complex rhythms stood alongside the pop rock tracks. While they advanced in that regard, they took a step backwards in another. Some songs were even dumber: “Can’t Get Enough” for example, was a transparent re-write of “Seventeen”, and the ballads were dreck. Worst of all was Kip’s very unnecessary rapping on “Baptized by Fire”.
Two songs, “Rainbow in the Rose” and “In the Heart of the Young” (the title track) were so far above and beyond the pack, they could have come from a different album. These two epics drip of the kind of progressive rock you know these guys can play. Yet they kept it radio accessible, somehow, even while Rod Morgenstein is playing rhythms my brain can barely compute.
While Winger II charted higher and sold as well as the first, 12 months later it was hopelessly outdated by the birth of grunge. Winger then fell victim to two of the 90s greatest antiheroes, Beavis and Butt-Head. A black Winger shirt was worn by nerd character Stewart, and the band were repeatedly mocked. This eventually killed Winger off as a business. Gigs dried up. Fortunately for fans, Kip Winger and Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-Head recently had a make-up session. Even Kip admitted, “Winger was a band that was popular for some of the wrong reasons, man.”
The third album, Pull, is a reference to skeet shooting. Kip knew that for all the chances they had, they may as well throw the album into the air and take shots at it. “Pull!”
It was a lose-lose situation and both Winger and the public lost by Pull‘s commercial failure. Keyboardist Paul Taylor had left, and so Pull features less of the instrument and a far heavier sound. Taylor was eventually replaced by John Roth, a guitarist. The message was pretty clear. Pull featured some of Winger’s best tracks: “Down Incognito”, “Blind Revolution Mad”, “Junkyard Dog”, and “Who’s the One”. Had Pull come out in 1990 instead of 1993, things would have gone very differently. Instead, Winger broke up.
The happy news is that like many bands, Winger reunited (the John Roth lineup occasionally with Paul Taylor as a fifth member), and started putting out albums again. Good ones, too. Their last Better Days Comin’ is pretty great.
As further proof of Winger’s greatness, Reb Beach went from there to Alice Cooper, completing the circle. Winger, after all, was originally founded by two ex-Cooper players. He was then picked to replace George Lynch in Dokken. And Kip? His 30 minute symphony “Ghosts” should speak for itself.
Those who are curious but sceptical should check out Winger’s Pull, and the albums that followed. Go ahead and wing it!