The band Winger is an American glam metal and progressive metal rock band that achieved success in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Named after the lead vocalist and primary founder Kip Winger, the band had some insane success in those days, due to heavy rotation by MTV (back when MTV really was “Music Television,” not the garbage on that channel these days) of three hits by the band: “Madalaine,” “Seventeen,” and “Headed for Heartbreak.” Other major hits include “Can’t Get Enuff” and “Easy Come, Easy Go.” The indisputable fact is that the camera loves Kip Winger; watch more than one of their videos and you will see all the hair, the glam, the postering, not to mention the virtuoso guitarists Reb Beach and Paul Taylor trading riffs that are emulous and street-wise. So, is it any wonder that what loused up Winger’s meteoric rise to fame was ridiculous mid-90s entertainment scene jealousies? Yeah, believe me, Kip could tell you all about it. Here was a newcomer band that had hits on the Billboard 200 for 63 weeks, were nominated on the American Music Awards show for “Best New Heavy Metal Band” and yet they were ultimately stymied by,”Beavis and Butt-head!” Okay, stop laughing everyone–stop laughing! Yeah, it’s too good, but it’s true! And the Winger band did not deserve what followed.
Before we get to that, let’s lay out the essentials for the Winger band: they were formed in 1987 by Kip Winger, having left the Alice Cooper band, which Kip had joined in 1985. The four original members are: Kip Winger-lead vocals and bass guitar; Reb Beach-lead and rhythm guitars, keyboards; Rod Morgenstein-drums; Paul Taylor, rhythm guitar, keyboards; and they also had a touring guitarist on rhythm, lead and bass guitar, John Roth. The Winger discography is this: Winger (1988); In the Heart of the Young (1990); Pull (1993); IV (2006); Karma (2009): Better Days Comin’ (2014); In addition, Kip Winger has written classical music scores played by different symphonies and has a current broadway musical based on the legacy of Jack the Ripper.
So what was the deal with “Beavis and Butt-head”, which was a smart-ass cartoon series run by MTV in the 1990s, and how did it impact Winger’s successes? For this you have to look at the fan page for Reb Beach, which is an amazing compilation, and Reb, who has also played extensively with Whitesnake (as well as gigs with Alice Cooper and Dokken) should be given one’s due for the phantasmagorical website for all the Winger (and Whitesnake) fans of his: http://www.rebbeach.com/history_faq_2005_interview.htm
Here is how Reb described what happened with the “Beavis and butt-head” debachle:
“The experience was very sudden. I had just bought a house on the lake in Florida and life was good. We spent years on one record that was by far our best, and I figured it had to at least go gold, since our last one went platinum, and this one was better. If the record went gold I would have gotten like a $200,000 publishing advance. Life was good.
“So we released the record and went out on the road and that’s when the floor fell out from under us practically overnight. Some guy came to the bus with a copy of Beavis and Butthead and in it they hung a nerd up by his underwear while he wore his Winger t-shirt. They went to his house, and his loser family (including the dog) were all wearing Winger t-shirts. That week people stopped coming to our shows and record sales came to a screeching halt. “Down incognito” was taking off at radio when DJ’s just dropped it from their playlists because they were too embarrassed to have their station associated with it. A month later I called Atlantic records and they had never heard of Winger.
“So, how did it change me? When you are just going up and up and all of the sudden you go straight down, it changes you for the better… eventually. I am sure I was getting a little cocky. That went right out the window. I had lived the perfect life up until then, so I was due for some kind of disaster. It changed me very much by making me have to grow up fast.” (Excerpt from: Reb Beach’s website http://www.rebbeach.com)
Now let’s hear from frontman Kip Winger, and this is the best way to give any band’s true history, from verbal descriptions of the group members themselves. This is from an interview in “Grantland” in 2014 by Steven Hyden:
Steven: How old were you when you first started playing in bands?
KIP: “ About 7. My brothers and I played in a band. It was me and my two older brothers and one other guy from the neighborhood, this guy Pete Fletcher. We started getting gigs when I was about 8 or 9. We were getting paid to play very, very early. I could play anything by the time I was 15. Anything rock, anyway. I was playing 2112 and shit like that when I was fucking 14 years old. But, I mean, I’m not so interested in bass. It’s just the instrument I played, and I was good at it. Writing is really my thing.”
Steven: I read that you started studying classical music when you were a teenager. Did you see metal and classical as being interconnected?
KIP: “It’s not true. I was a self-taught musician. I took piano lessons and I studied classical guitar when I was 16, so I guess that is true, but that was, like, just baroque music and stuff. That’s where I learned to play really fast and complicated. That kind of led me down the path to classical. But I dropped out of high school, man. I wanted to get a record deal. So I got a GED when I was 15, and then toured with my band and all that shit. I didn’t really start studying classical music until I was 35. There was the Beavis and Butt-Head thing, which took the band out. Metallica fucking threw darts at our poster, and fucking told their fans to put a curse on us and hate us. I don’t really understand what that was about.”
“I couldn’t get a gig, so it was like, ‘Cool, I’m going to go back and start studying the way I’ve always wanted to study, because now I’ve got the time, basically.’ It’s kind of a weird, backward way to do it, but it turned out great, I think.
“See, my brain works like a classical musician. I’m more interested in the really complex stuff. Like, when I hear really complicated counterpoint, a fugue, or something like that, it turns my brain on. Like, ‘Wow, what the fuck is that?’ I latch onto it and I can track it really well. “ (From: “Conversation with Kip Winger about Being Taken Seriously, Prog-Rock, and Metallica’s Scorn,” Grantland, April 24, 2014)
There you have it, Glam Metal and Glam Rock fans! You want your kid to become an incredible rock star? Hand him a guitar at age 7, but you have to get him off of the computer first.
Meanwhile, Winger is on tour in 2019, check out their website for details, including the Monsters of Rock cruise departing Miami, February 24 through March 1st. http://www.wingertheband.com/