Rod Morgenstein

#662: Wingers of Destiny

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”.

Yet 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!


REVIEW: Dixie Dregs – Night of the Living Dregs (1979)

Dedicated to my dear friend Uncle Meat.  This CD was purchased off Joe “Big Nose” at the Waterloo branch of the Record Store at which I used to work.


scan_20161009DIXIE DREGS – Night of the Living Dregs (1979 Polydor)

If they could bottle genius, distill it down to its essence, sell it and serve it at a party…then the Dixie Dregs are the music that should be played at that party.

The Dregs are undefinable.  Just when you think you have them nailed down to a progressive jazz-rock hybrid, they go classical on you, or full-bluegrass mode.  Their instrumental chops are incomparable, while still managing to deliver such basic song pleasures such as “melody”, “hooks” and “grooves”.   These melodies are usually delivered at the hands of Steve Morse (guitar) or Allen Sloan (violin).  Listeners familiar with with the guitar stylings of Morse will have an idea of the kind of songs and arrangements he writes:  challenging, but rewarding.

Night of the Living Dregs is half studio, half live.  The first side, from the cleverly-titled “Punk Sandwich” to the ballad “Long Slow Distance” are carefully crafted studio recordings, each different from the last.  While each track is unique and showcases different sides of the band, it is “Long Slow Distance” that really shines.  This soft work captures so much of what Morse does well.  There are jazzy licks embedded within melodies, and so many different textures of guitar.

The live side is recorded nice and clean without a lot of crowd noise.  “Night of the Living Dregs” is an upbeat little number, featuring some absolutely jaw-dropping melodic bass playing from Andy West.  This is also where drummer extraordinaire Rod Morgenstein comes up to the plate.   His playing is so multifaceted and you can hear it on this track.  The most fun can be found on “The Bash”, a full-on bluegrass ho-down, chicken-pickin’ full steam ahead.  Any jaws left on the floor are hopefully picked up so they don’t miss “Leprechaun Promenade”.  There are celtic flavours thanks to the violin, and the song is comparable to Jethro Tull.  Then suddenly it turns into Frankenstein’s monster with some eerie keyboards (Mark Parrish).  This is complex stuff, not for the timid!

The whole experience ends on “Patchwork”, which works as a description of the album at large.  It is a patchwork of style and feels, which create the whole.  The Dixie Dregs are a challenging listen, but ultimately rewarding.  There is plenty of joy in the grooves.  The band does not play anything simple or easy.  Everything is a little bit of smarty-pants music, but for the listening, this is a delight.

4/5 stars


REVIEW: Winger – II – In the Heart of the Young (1990)

Part II of a Winger DOUBLE SHOT.

WINGER – II – In the Heart of the Young (1990 Atlantic)

Another awful album cover; another Winger album!  The ambitious follow-up, still sonically mutilated by producer Beau Hill, was several steps forward and a few steps backwards at the same time.  The year was 1990, and while most bands were starting to toughen things up and go a little heavier, Winger turned on the tap marked “syrup”.

Truly awful is “Can’t Get Enuff”, which Winger admitted took about five minutes to write, when he decided they needed to “make a video about sex”.  Because that’s never been done before.  Nor has a song called “Can’t Get Enough” (spelled correctly).  There is nothing new or necessary here; the talented band are neutered by programmed rhythms and cheesey, generic lyrics.  Not good enuff, although the second tune “Loosen Up” is better.  There could have been some rock and roll groove with “Loosen Up”, but the plastic and thin production removes its teeth.

Keyboardist Paul Taylor, who left the band after this tour, wrote the ballad “Miles Away” by himself and it hits all the bases that a power ballad needed to hit:  Big chorus, sad keyboards, and sappy lyrics!  “Miles Away” never quite felt like it fit on the album stylistically, but it’s actually a decent ballad.  It’s well written and arranged, but so pigeonholed to its time.

I hate synth horns, therefore I hate the single “Easy Come Easy Go”.  There is no substitute for real horns.  Keyboards are quicker and easier, but there is no comparison to the real thing.  Thankfully Winger did utilise real horns on “Rainbow in the Rose”, the first of two epics on the album.  Where “Can’t Get Enuff” was written in minutes, “Rainbow in the Rose” took a year to compose and arrange.  Its complexity is admirable, but a better producer could have given it the finish it deserved.  It’s a shame that with a complicated track like this, you can barely hear what drummer Rod Morgenstein is doing.  He’s one of the best in the world, but he’s buried under keyboards.  When you do listen to what he’s doing, it’s quite incredible work.  As for the song?  The chorus kills!

The second side was more of the same, including another epic at the end.  “In the Day We’ll Never See” was Winger’s attempt to write more serious lyrics, and that’s all well and good.  With a peppy riff and serious tone, it’s a good enough song for a car tape.  Reb Beach’s anthemic guitars are the highlight.  Another side; another ballad — “Under One Condition” sounds like a Warrant song, although that’s probably being unfair.  Warrant could never play like Winger.

Side two has a slew of annoying songs in the middle.  “Little Dirty Blonde” is as putrid as it sounds, but let’s face it folks, it’s not as bad as Kip Winger rapping.  The story goes that they wanted to get Tone Lōc to do his thing over “Baptized By Fire”, but that didn’t happen so Kip rapped it himself.  It’s as annoying as you expect.  One of the most impressive moments on the album is just a short instrumental break, sounding like speedily tapped guitar and bass, right before “Baptised By Fire”, but it’s over too soon before MC Kip takes over.  “You Are the Saint, I Am the Sinner” improves the outlook mildly, annoying title aside.  That leads to the final epic track, “In the Heart of the Young”.  Like “Rainbow in the Rose”, this is a more ambitious arrangement, done with skill and care.  Once again, focusing on Rod Morgenstein allows you to hear the complexities within.  The melodies are strong and Kip’s singing is under-appreciated.

Winger were on to something with the more progressive material.  Where they lost fans was with the dumbed down sounds of songs like “Can’t Get Enuff”, and they paid for it during the grunge onslaught down the road.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Winger – Winger (1988)

Part I of a Winger DOUBLE-SHOT.

WINGER – Winger (1988 Atlantic)

When Winger started out, they really played down to their audience.  Kip Winger was a classically trained musician.  Reb Beach was already a virtuoso guitar player whose talent can’t be under-stressed.  Keyboardist Paul Taylor had been around the block a number of times, including a stint with Kip Winger in the Alice Cooper band.  Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein is best respected for the rock fusion combo Dixie Dregs.  To hear guys with that background singing a song that goes, “She’s only seventeen, Dad says she’s too young but she’s old enough for me,”…well it’s just embarrassing.

I call bullshit, Mr. Clarence R. Winger.  He’d been studying classical music since the age of sixteen.  You know he could do better if he wasn’t trying to write cliche rock lyrics.

Musically, Winger (the debut album) isn’t half bad.  In fact it’s more than half good!  The opener “Madalaine” is cheesey rock, but it’s above the bar due to the intense guitar shreddery of Mr. Beach.  It was an era when it was OK to just get up there and tap tap tap away.  There is some musical integrity contained herein, but it’s not in the lyrical department.  The single “Hungry” begins with a string quartet (only 22 seconds’ worth), arranged by Kip.  See?  Flashes of the talent within, but cloaked behind a typical rock power ballad with one of the most overused titles in the genre.  Good songs both…but written down to a specific audience by guys who can do better.

Chief offender “Seventeen” wouldn’t be half bad if it had a different title; any title.  Call it “Buttermilk”.  Instead of:

“She’s only seventeen (seventeen),
I’ll show you love like you’ve never seen,
She’s only seventeen (seventeen),
Dad says she’s too young but she’s old enough for me.”

Change that to:

“I love my buttermilk (buttermilk),
Makes my pancakes as smooth as silk,
I love my buttermilk (buttermilk),
Mom says it’ll make me fat, stop that buttermilk!”

See?  My lyric had depth that theirs doesn’t.  It’s light and shade.  Yes, buttermilk will make your pancakes extra tasty, but what of the health costs?  I could go on and on about the brilliance of my lyric vs. Kip Winger’s.  But I won’t.  You get the point.

Shredding musicianship aside, “Seventeen” is not a good song.

“Without the Night” works well enough as a Bon Jovi-esque power ballad.  What should have been deleted, because they already had enough original material, is a cover of Jimi’s “Purple Haze”.  This is dreadful, overplayed, oversexed, with the only saving grace being a guitar battle with Reb Beach on one side and Dweezil Zappa on the other.  Two monster players going at it is right on.  Kip Winger “ooh ahh-ing” all over “Purple Haze” is blech.  Just focus on Reb and Dweezil, and try your best to ignore Clarence.

The original LP had a side break here, and I think that’s a good idea.  I need to take a moment to get some fresh air.  Something stinks in here….

“State of Emergency” has a little progressive complexity to it, some chops and lyrics that are not about seventeen year old girls, so that is good.  “Time to Surrender” shreds impressively over a slow Ratt-like riff.  All considered, “Time to Surrender” is one of the strongest tracks on the album.  Sadly, “Poison Angel” is the worst.  This one could have been dropped.  “Hangin’ On” is good enough, again boasting some impressive playing from Reb Beach.  The key to listening to Winger is to focus on the instrumentation.

The most impressive track is the ballad “Headed for a Heartbreak”.  Cheesey, yes.  But listen for a moment, to the arrangement, and to the playing.  It’s a hit power ballad, yes…but there are progressive complexities to the arrangement.  Listen to Rod Morgenstein’s drumming.  His patterns are not simple rock cliches.  Too bad it’s so hard to hear what he’s doing.  Winger has a brittle production, thanks to schlock-meister Beau Hill, ruiner of many an album.  Over-processing and harsh gating on Rod’s drum sound gives the album a plastic feel.  Some tracks such as “State of Emergency” should have more heft, but it is lost.  “Time to Surrender” needs less gloss.  The album has hardly any bass, and the thing about that is that Kip Winger is actually a pretty good bassist (not to mention singer).

The CD only bonus track (oh 1988, I miss you so) is a short rocker called “Higher and Higher”.  It’s a better track than the similar-paced “Poison Angel” and should have swapped places with it.  There’s also one other interesting little track to be found.  Another short rocker called “Out for the Count” made an appearance on the soundtrack to Karate Kid III.  I picked that up at a Zellers store, I think, on a clearance sale around 1992.  It was an odd find, but being a collector I grabbed it for the one track.  (Also on the CD is “48 Hours” by a band called PBF, better known as Pretty Boy Floyd!)  Swap “Out for the Count” for “Purple Haze”, and the Winger album would have been far stronger.

It’s really hard to boil this down to a simple number rating.  I’ve come up with an equation based on your valuing of playing and songcraft,

Where x = a scale from 0-5 on how much you value shredding,

and y = a scale from 0-5 on your importance of song craft,

Then the rating for this album is:

= 3 + (x/4) – (y/4) / 5 stars








REVIEW: Platypus – Ice Cycles (2000)


Complete studio albums (and more!), part 13

Second review from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto…Again!  I paid $2.99 for this CD at Sonic Boom.  A steal.

PLATYPUS_0001PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 InsideOut)

Platypus are:  Ty Tabor – Guitars & vocals (King’s X).  John Myung – Bass (Dream Theater).  Derek Sherinian – Keys (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Kiss).  Rod Morgenstein – Drums (Dixie Dregs, Winger).

From the information above, you already know several things: 1. Platypus is a supergroup. 2. This is going to have plenty of incendiary playing on it. 3. It’s gonna be progressive. Much like their first album (this is their second), it’s also gonna be fun!

If you’re a fan of any of these guys, you will love to hear them in this band’s context. There are plenty of King’s X-isms, but the personalities of the players have their own influences. Nobody plays drums like Rod Morgenstein, and I always enjoy the chance to hear him work.

The opening track, “Oh God” is quite heavy, with quieter keyboard moments. The track has some serious weight to it. Ty of course is a melodic singer, so that balances it. It’s just one of several standout tracks.  “Better Left Unsaid” has a pleasant aura, similar to Faith Hope Love-era King’s X, but with Sherinian’s keyboards lending a completely different sound. Myung doesn’t play bass like Dug Pinnick does, but he does create a thick sound. Morgenstein’s drums have marching band precision.

PLATYPUS_0002The heavy melody-driven “The Tower” really gets the engine running during the chorus. The verses lack a bit, but that chorus section is furious, as is the guitar solo. The piano tinkle of “Cry” has a moment that is playfully lifted from Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead”, but the chorus is like Alice In Chains! This is a complex track, not instantly likable. Give it some time to sink in. Morgenstein, once again, leaves jaws on the floor.

My favourite tracks are two: the brief “I Need You”, which has the lush Tabor vocals that we know and love.  This track is probably the most like King’s X, coincidentally.  Then there’s the smoking hot “25” with its Dream Theater keys and Zeppelin guitars.  There’s also a Rush riff in there somewhere.  This is one of only two instrumentals on the album, but it sure is a corker!  Just stunning.

The final track can only be called an epic.  “Partial to the Bean (A Tragic American Quintology)” is a instrumental that goes all over the board, in seven parts.  If you’ve heard instrumental epics by these players before then I’m sure you know what you’re up against.  A challenging but rewarding listen.

That can be said for the album in general.  It’s a rewarding listen that will, at times, challenge you.  I like that.

3.5/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)