Business as Usual
A drummer’s journey from hole-in-the-wall restaurant to 20,000+ crowds
LP: So, Jason, how did you meet Edgar Winter?
JC: I didn’t meet him. That’s the story.
The first time I saw Jason Carpenter perform was in 2010 on the revolving stage at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, AZ.
We had just finished a run of gigs and the Edgar Winter Band was Johnny’s final opening act of the tour. Johnny had told me nothing but great things about his equally legendary brother, so I was anxious to meet him and his band.
They played phenomenally. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to hang out long. They just briefly stopped by on the bus and that was it.
Two years later I finally got the chance to have a proper hang over the course of a month-long tour dubbed the Rock ‘N Blues Fest. We spent time together exchanging countless stories at dinners and between shows, but one story that never came up was how Jason became Edgar’s drummer.
That’s usually the first thing I ask musicians: How’d you get the gig?
It took 11 years, but I finally know the story.
LP: OK. If you didn’t meet Edgar, how’d you end up in his band?
JC: I was playing at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in LA named La Louisanne. It was just regular R&B and Top 40 music. A bass player named Mark Meadows was sitting in at the time. He was Edgar’s former bass player. Towards the end of the night, he told me, “Man, you’re dope.”
“So are you,” I told him.
We exchanged numbers. It was cool. Business as usual.
Mark started frequenting the club and eventually he told his former touring manager, Dave Lopez, about me. The restaurant is mainly African American and Latino. Dave Lopez, who we affectionately call D-Lo, comes in the club and he sticks out like a sore thumb. He does not fit in.
He was sitting in front of the stage. There was a table in front of the band and he sits smack dab in the middle. He’s listening to us play. I’m noticing him, but I figured he’s just in town and wants to get some creole food or whatever. We’re playing the set, we finish, then he leaves. Cool. Business as usual. Nothing alarming — yet.
The next week he comes back and he brings his wife. He’s watching and I’m thinking, “Oh, he must really like the food.” We go through our normal set and then he leaves.
He comes back again the next week and puts a little camera on the table. Now I’m thinking, “OK, that’s weird. Am I going to end up in a little white van?”
He films and then takes off.
The last time he comes in, he brings Edgar’s guitar player, Doug Rappoport. During one of the breaks D-Lo comes up to me and says, “You’re a great drummer. Would you like to go on tour?”
All I heard was “tour.” That’s all I needed to hear. It could’ve been anybody. At the time, I was fairly new and hadn’t toured much outside of the gospel world. Honestly, I hadn’t even known who Edgar was. But I heard “tour” and we could’ve left that night. I would’ve gotten into that white van.
“Sure,” I said.
“Alright, we’re having auditions,” he said. “Come through.”
He gave me three songs to learn: Tobacco Road, Frankenstein, and Free Ride. All the Edgar standards. I listened to them and I realized I did know who Edgar was. My dad listened to him when I was a kid. We would ride around in his truck but, to me, that was just my dad’s music.
I realized, “Oh, this is the guy. I know him!”
I get to the audition and there are all these drummers. It’s a full-on cattle-call audition. At that moment, I started freaking out. I realized, this is rock-rock. And I don’t play rock ‘n roll. I’m an R&B/gospel drummer. So, I started to second guess myself. These other drummers are amazing. It got up to me and I tried to back out.
I told Dave, “Look, you got all these rock drummers, so it’s probably cool.”
“Just do the audition,”he told me. “You’ll be fine.”
Mind you, I had been practicing the solo in Frankenstein. I had worked out exactly what I wanted to do, but, of course, it never goes that way when you’re in the audition. I did my thing and we didn’t even get that far. I was playing Frankenstein all the way up to my solo and then…
“Good, good. Next song,” Dave said.
I was thinking, “What! But I practiced. Oh, OK… that’s cool.”
Then he told me, “Thank you for your audition. Next.”
I thought I did good, but I didn’t hear anything. So, I was like, that was that.
LP: Who was in the room during the audition?
It was Dave and Koko Powell, the bass player. Edgar was not there. I thought maybe he’d make his big entrance after the audition. Maybe he’s behind a curtain or something, watching.
He was not there.
After all the auditions I got a call a few days later. Dave told me that I got the gig.
He told me to learn all this music. He gave me five or six CDs. There were was about 30 songs. The first show was in a month. That’s not really a whole lot of time. If you learn a song a day, OK, but I like to really know it.
LP: Plus, you’d want to play with the guys and see how you all got on.
JC: There was none of that. Just learning songs.
One of the CDs was a live album and their former drummer Chris Frazier was on that gig. I’m listening to Chris play and I’m thinking, “Wait, I have to do all of this? This is what I have to do?”
So, I started panicking again because he’s a phenomenal drummer. Double bass drums. The whole nine.
I spoke with D-Lo and I told him, “Yeah, I didn’t realize that I’d have to play like this.”
I figured since I was replacing Frazier that I had to play like him.
“Nah, you do what you do,” said Dave. “That’s why we hired you.”
I’m learning the music, but still no Edgar. No phone calls. No emails. Nothing. It’s getting down to the wire. I was pretty sure that we would at least have one band practice to see how we all gel.
The day of the gig we are all at the airport. The first show was somewhere in Ohio. 20,000 people. It was some kind of festival. Edgar wasn’t at the airport.
I was like, “Where is this guy?”
Ten minutes before call time: “Everybody get to the stage.”
Still no Edgar!
I’m thinking, “Are we even going to have a show at this point?”
Everybody gets to their instruments. I’m nervous. All these people. I don’t play rock. I knew the material at this point, but we hadn’t jammed. We hadn’t done anything. I had only met Koko once at the audition.
He tells me, “You’ll be fine.”
“What if I mess up?” I told him.
The drummer is the heartbeat of the band so, if I mess up, everybody messes up. And the fans know the music, so I’m already in a hot seat. What do I know about rock ‘n roll? All I knew were those songs.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Edgar Winter Band.”
Then, all of a sudden, this limousine pulls up right to the side of the stage. Everybody’s screaming. Edgar gets out. He’s in an all-white suit. Plus, he’s got the white hair. He looks like a rock god.
He walks out onto the stage, turns around and looks right at me and says: “Nice to meet you. Let’s rock!”
He turns back around. The fans are screaming. I count off and we start playing Free Ride. I’m thinking, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. This is happening.”
The show goes off without a hitch.
It was cool. I guess that was my rite of passage. If I could manage that in front of 20,000 people, then I’d be fine. After the show, everybody was patting me on the back and then, I finally met Edgar.
Jason’s music career took roots while playing drums for his church at the tender age of eight. He graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 2003 and has been drumming for legendary musician, songwriter, and producer Edgar Winter since 2008.
Jason currently resides in LA and is also a talented singer/songwriter and producer in his own right .