Kip Winger - Winger
On the phone with Philip Anderson - September 2000
Talking with Kip Winger - ballet dancer, punk rock fan, rock star
One of the "stud boys" of the 1980s rock scene, Kip Winger had the blessing - and curse - of good looks, good stage presence, and the adoring female fans. Unfortunately, this tended to overshadow the fact that he was a very competent bassist and songwriter. When Winger, the band, formed, most critics tended to focus primarily on the pop music influences in the songwriting - almost completely ignoring the fact of the extraordinary musicianship within the band, along with the intricate arrangement details within many of the song structures. Thus, Kip and Winger both fell into the cracks of obscurity in many people's eyes. However, all is not entirely bad as there are those who knew and respected what was going on with Kip.
We got a chance to chat with Kip Winger about his career, his musical background and future, and his extracurricular activities. He is a very open and personable guy who would like the chance to redeem his talents in the public's eyes so that music fans might get a chance to see what magic he can pull out of his musical hat.
When we got started talking, Kip launched into an almost apologetic sense of understanding that many people didn't respect what he did based on the stigma of his past pop ties. It was a little odd to be greeted with a statement of, "Look, I know I suck.", to which I had to explain that I was in fact a fan of Winger, both the band and the solo artist. But when you get knocked around so much by the "other" media, equivalent to Beavis and Butthead, it could be expected.

K2K: How badly do you feel that you have been misunderstood musically, and as a musician?
KW: By the masses, greatly, especially as a songwriter. But the songs still hold up. The songs were really complicated. I used to meet people in bar bands who were trying to play our songs and they were really struggling with it. Technically it was really difficult stuff. That was one of the biggest misunderstandings of all. The basic Metallica fan thought that we were just a three-chord band. Metallica couldn't play the stuff we did. As a musician, basically the masses never thought I was a musician. My bass tech still goes out today and meets people who thought I was playing to tape. They thought I was corporate - Backstreet Boys. But, even the Backstreet Boys sing. They thought I was just a tape.
K2K: I just had that discussion a few days ago... that N'Sync and Backstreet Boys actually DO sing and do it well.
KW: Oh man! I love that Backstreet Boys "Millennium" album. The first two songs just crush me. I don't really like pop music, but when I do... it's that kind of total pop - no excuses pop.
K2K: In your career - when and what led to people losing respect for you, when they should have been paying attention?
KW: When Grunge hit. When Grunge hit, it was over. We had a pretty good run before that. Even the Guns 'N' Roses fans weren't total fans, but still liked "Headed For A Heartbreak" because it was a good song. It wasn't wimpy. It was around that time mostly.
K2K: You were kind of lumped into that pop vein.
KW: We were lumped into the Lite Metal radio bands. "Hair Bands" is what they called it. It's really a ludricous title because the Beatles were a "hair band", if you want to go by that. The common denominator was the hair. It was mostly the time when Grunge hit and too much of a build-up of those bands and time for music to change. But I knew it was going to change. I've watched.... so have you... watched Punk and Disco and New Wave. It's all come and gone. There's nothing new about that. It's a matter if you can survive. We didn't survive because the onslaught of that. Then the Beavis & Butthead thing. The whole "You Suck" thing. We were a victim of the "You Suck" era.
K2K: I didn't think that show would last at all.
KW: That was the biggest show in MTV history.
K2K: Boy was I wrong.
KW: It's everywhere in the world, I'm known for that.
K2K: You are the "You Suck" guy?
KW: I can go to Finland and they know that I'm on the T-shirt on Beavis & Butthead. It's heavy. But you know, a lot of people... especially the third album... a lot of people still buy that.
K2K: I don't think I had ever heard the third one.
KW: The third one is the definitive Winger album. That's the record. It didn't sell much. It was dead in the water. That's why I called it "Pull", because when you go shooting, you shout "Pull!" It was a joke for the title of that album. But that is the definitive Winger album. We got rid of the producer who I wasn't really a fan of, who owned the band on a production deal. I worked with Mike Shiffley who had mixed all the Def Leppard stuff. I co-produced with him and got it sounding like I thought it should have always sounded.
K2K: When you first started Winger, what did you hope that people would see it as?
KW: My whole thing was coming up with a band who wrote great songs, were good musicians, and could put on a really good live show. We should do really good records. Good records - from my point of view, where I grew up which was Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull... bands that were pushing the envelope a little - musically and in production. Well done stuff. You know, I liked punk music originally, where the recording quality was not so good. I dig listening to it. But when it comes to my own music, I get really fastidious about it.
K2K: Well, that's what killed it when Grunge came in then. It was the "anti-polish", the sandpaper production. Why did people start to not like Def Leppard? Because it was too polished. There name is synonymous with what you don't want to do when recording, which is over-polish.
KW: Well, I don't know if it's so much now because Grunge had come and gone. The Backstreet Boys are the slickest stuff out there. Even Sarah McLachlan, her productions are slick.
K2K: Speaking of production, I had just talked with Steve Walsh. I am curious if you had ever heard his band, Streets [the band after departing Kansas - ed.]. Had you ever hear any of their albums?
KW: Yeah, man. Streets. Beau Hill was the producer on that first Streets album.
K2K: That to me was one of the best produced rock albums - at least for that time.
KW: I don't remember it. I was on tour at that point. Beau did my first two albums. I grew up with the guy. What did Steve [Walsh] say about that album?
K2K: Steve thinks it is phenomenal and that he got screwed. The record company will not put it out on CD. He is thinking about doing a third Streets album.
KW: That guy can sing his ass off.
K2K: What was great about the production there was - as opposed to many albums were there is so much production and mixing that things get lost, the Streets albums are crystal clear. Every instrument was right up in front along with the vocals. You didn't miss anything. Very raw, but great sounding.
KW: That's cool. I thought the best album that Beau Hill ever did was Kix's "Midnite Dynamite".
K2K: That's right. Kix. You had written songs for that album?
KW: I just wrote one music track on that. ["Bang Bang" on "Midnite Dynamite" - Ed.]
K2K: How did you get that gig?
KW: I was a waiter in Hoboken. They heard the song and wanted to write lyrics to it. That was nice.
K2K: That was one of my favorite bands.
KW: Yeah, they were cool.
K2K: How many of your fans do you think were there to see you play for your pop, and actually didn't get what you were trying to bring across musically?
KW: A lot. A lot. It's like, on my solo stuff, every single person who buys the record, gets it. On the other stuff, the masses... when you have a hit on the radio, not everyone's going to get it. They are going to buy it for the hit. Probably about 25% knew what we were about. Maybe not even that.
K2K: When Winger first came out, I about crapped when I heard that you had Rod Morgenstein [from Dixie Dregs} on drums. That was the stamp of approval right there.
KW: That helped. That was the whole thing there about why we were different. It got lost in the wash though.
K2K: You didn't know who the Dixie Dregs were before you met Rod?
KW: I hadn't heard any of their stuff. Reb was a massive fan. Reb was freaking out on it. Of course after I went back to listen to it, Steve Morse is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. That guy is incredible. I'd love to mix their records because I think they are a bit one-dimensional.
K2K: In your style of music that you have done, who have been your influences?
KW: God, good question. All the early 1970s bands are my main influences - like Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes... I was really into Rush... I was into Joe Walsh and the James Gang. Grand Funk. The bass player in Grand Funk probably influenced me more than anybody. Him and Geddy Lee.
K2K: Have you always been a bassist or do you play anything else?
KW: I play piano and guitar. Acoustic guitar. I tried studying classical guitar when I was 16 but it got really hard. I could never play a lead to save my life. I was always the "rhythm guy" or the "utility man". I could play everything but could never take a lead. My brain just doesn't work like that. I don't want to do it. I think it's important to know your limitations too. Reb was just a god at that stuff. You could just plug him in and he would turn into Beelzebub.
K2K: How did you meet everyone in the band?
KW: I met Paul in Alice Cooper. That's where the seed of the band started. Actually, I met Reb first. Reb was playing on that Fiona album. It was right around that Kix "Midnite Dynamite" time. We were all hanging out at Atlantic recording studios on First and Broadway. Fiona was working there and Reb Beach got a gig working on that. I met him through a guy. When I went out on the road with Alice, with Paul I just felt like I knew a guitar player and I knew that I could put the whole thing together. Rod came and put the icing on the cake. We didn't think he'd do it. We asked him just to play on the album. Then we asked him to do the video. He kept saying Yes. Then it was, "Hey, we're going to go on the road. Do you want to go?" He was kind of into it because he had always wanted to be in a rock band.
K2K: That's cool. You never know with players like that.
KW: Yeah. And he's really digging on... Actually, he really wants to do it again. He wants to put it out for next summer. We wouldn't have time to do it for next summer, so we were thinking of... We were thinking about cutting a live album and then going out next summer and then doing a follow-up to "Pull". You've got to hear "Pull". When you hear "Pull", then you'll know what we're up against to make a better record than that, from my point of view. It's going to take a while. Winger was about the arrangements and the lyrics. It was really difficult to put it together. It was not just about going into a garage and jamming for a couple of months and keeping it raw. The recording could be done raw, but the arrangements and the riffs and all that stuff has to sit right with us.
K2K: Will Paul Taylor be coming back?
KW: Yeah. We would make it a five-piece. John Roth was the guy who did the "Pull" tour with us.
K2K: So you would have three guitar players? Make it like Iron Maiden is doing now.
KW: Maybe. There's a lot of keyboard stuff to hold down.
K2K: Why did Paul leave?
KW: He was just bummed on touring. He did two Alice Cooper tours and two Winger tours. Before that he was in Aldo Nova. It was like the guy was on the road for eight years straight. By the end of the second tour - we had toured for fourteen months on the second tour - the guy was a vegetable. He couldn't take it. He was just, "Oh, I want to get out of here."
K2K: Speaking of Paul, and Alice [Cooper]... how did you get hooked up for that Alice Cooper tour?
KW: When we were all hanging out at Atlantic, Beau had produced an Alice record. They needed a bass player for five songs, so I did that. Then I said, "Alice, if you ever go on the road, please consider me." I was a huge Alice Cooper fan.
K2K: Right. And who isn't!
KW: Totally. So I didn't even have to audition for that. They said, "You're there, dude." That was really lucky for me. That was a starting point. I was about 24.
K2K: That's when I first saw you play was during the "Constrictor" tour.
KW: That was great fun.
K2K: Do you ever keep in touch with Alice?
KW: I wanted him to sing on this album but he hasn't called me back. I talked to his wife and I've talked to him. He's really busy. He's a really cool guy though. I haven't spoken to him in about a year. I could call him tomorrow, but it just depends on whether you can get him in town because he's always playing golf.
K2K: I've wanted to talk with him about everything - from his career to his golf handicaps.
KW: Dude, do you play golf? You should play golf, find out where he's at, and go team up with him. He's the nicest guy on the planet. He'll tell you anything. (laughs) Alice is great.
K2K: How many tours did you do with Alice?
KW: Just one but I was on three albums. I did the big tour and then I thought, "OK, this is my chance to jump ship and get my band together or I'm going to be a sideman for the rest of my life." I took a big chance and it paid off. I was lucky, dude.
K2K: Did you like doing the tour?
KW: Oh yeah! It was way more fun in a way because you don't have to stress about your voice. As a singer in Winger, that stuff is hard to sing. I've got to hit the bunk at ten o'clock at night. (laughs)
K2K: What do you do to warm up? You have an impressive voice.
KW: I have a whole series of vocal warm-ups. I've studied voice from a few different people for years. I'm pretty on it. We tune down a full step when we play but I never miss a note. I've learned how to keep my voice. I was too scared to show up as a lead singer and not be able to sing the notes. When I was a kid and the lead singer would come out and not hit all the notes on the record, I would be bumming. So I thought, "Bullshit if I'm going to do that." The only thing is that I wrote so much crap at the top of my range, that you have to be a marathon man.
K2K: Oh... going back to the Alice tour... What was up with [guitarist] Kane Roberts and his whole Rambo look?
KW: He believed it. He thought the whole music business was based on image and contrivance and what you look like.
K2K: Yeah, but Rambo?
KW: He thought it was the thing. He was really... Let me tell you something... That guy is one of the two smartest people I have ever known. He's brilliant. But the blind spot is that he believes his own BS. He really thought that all that image stuff... you know, that was back in the 1970s or early 80s. By the time he was doing that, nobody was buying it. [With Alice Cooper's show] it worked perfectly. When it came down to holding his own, it was like the tunes weren't there and it was too much like David Lee Roth wannabe. The saxophone player in Tina Turner.
K2K: Did you ever work with him too?
KW: Yeah, we've done a lot together. We wrote some tunes together. I tell you, the guy is funnier as shit. We don't stay in touch any more. We don't have anything in common. He is really brilliant though.
K2K: Who made up the whole image for Winger? You seemed to really carry off the "Look, I really like myself" image.
KW: I was "in your face".
K2K: I'm thinking of a few T-shirts with you on them. You always had the pose and the pouts going.
KW: (laughs) Oh. That was just me being a dumbass. I was into Paul Stanley. If I had had cool make-up all over my face, it would have worked. I don't blame anybody for that. I have to take responsibility for my own fuck-ups. But it was working at the time.
K2K: I thought it was cool though. It got the girls to the shows, so I was happy being there.
KW: It was a chick extravaganza. It was unbelievable.
K2K: It was like early Van Halen from 1978 to 1982.
KW: If you look at what I was doing and then at what Dave was doing, there's no difference.
K2K: Both bands were very good for my sex life. That's all I have to say. (laughs)
KW: Me too! (laughs) There was no difference. We just came too late. We hit too late, so we got the crap kicked out of us. Had we come five years earlier, we would have been humongous. It wouldn't have mattered because I'd be so fucking rich.
K2K: But then the problem would still have been there that people would have been there for the pop and the image.
KW: You know, I wonder about that. If we had come earlier, we would have been able to catch some of those mistakes. We got hit in a blindspot when Grunge hit. If we would have been able to ride the wave, I think if I'd figured that out and had a bit more longevity, we would have been able to make it through.
K2K: How did you come up with the original name for Winger, "Call Your Doctor".
KW: Oh, that was Beau's idea, a joke idea. We were struggling for names and that one made us laugh, so we went with that for a while.
K2K: And then Alice suggesting Winger?
KW: He said, "Why don't you call the band Winger?" I thought it was a dumb name. He said, "No, it's a great name." "Oh really? OK." (laughs) On the first album we were "Sahara". It's on the bottom of the right hand corner. That was the name of the band until we got a letter from some band who said, "Uh uh! We own that name."
K2K: What is your real name?
KW: Charles Frederick Kip Winger. It's on my birth certificate.
K2K: How did you get the name Kip?
KW: When I popped out, my mom said, "You're Kip." She gave me Charles Frederick in case I wanted a "real" job. (laughs)
K2K: So when you're a waiter, you're Charles.
KW: When I'm a lawyer.
K2K: When you're a lawyer? What were you when you were a waiter?
KW: hehe... Dumbass Winger. "Here's your order."
K2K: What is your favorite song from Winger?
KW: Favorite song? "Who's The One".
K2K: Also, did Winger break up or is this an extended vacation?
KW: Extended vacation. Never broke up. We knew it wasn't time to make another record, so it was about doing our own things and "we'll call you".
K2K: I was just watching a VH1 special about the Police. [Drummer] Stewart Copeland said, "We never broke up. It was supposed to be an extended solo project thing. I'm still waiting for the phone call."
KW: He'll never get it. My best friend is in Sting's band saying they will never put that band back together.
K2K: What was the problem?
KW: [Sting] would always complain about Stewart's timing. I think it's bullshit. Stewart was an amazing drummer. "Ghost In The Machine"... give me a break.
K2K: Tell me about your dance background.
KW: I had a girlfriend who took ballet and none of her girlfriend's would take it with her. I said, "I'll do it." I got really into it. She quit and I hung out. In the Midwest, when you're a guy doing ballet, they recruit you into the company. I was fairly athletic anyway. I had done Karate and stuff and was pretty stretched out. I just dug it. I was always really into classical so the music was cool. There were tons of chicks. It was cool.
And with that, Kip had to get on his way. Look for Kip and the refreshed Winger out on the road with Poison this summer - 2002. With some of the most talented musicians in the industry collected together in this foursome, this is not a band to be missed.
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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