Checking in with Dennis Winters
of The Winters Brothers Band
by Michael Buffalo Smith
One question we here at Gritz have been asked time and time again over the past year is “whatever happened to The Winters Brothers Band?” The answer? Nothing happened to ‘em! They are still rocking and rolling with a great new CD Southern Rockers and they even have their own television show. We caught up with Dennis Winters for an update on one of the South’s finest bands.
Where are you guys from and where do you live now?
Donnie and I were born in south Florida not too far from the Everglade Swamp and moved into the hills of Tennessee when we were about 3 or 4 years old. We have lived in middle Tennessee ever since. I live in the hills between Nolensville and Franklin, Tennessee and Donnie lives on the outskirts of Nashville in Bellevue, Tennessee. The entire band is currently located in middle Tennessee.
How did you and your brother first become interested in playing music? Who were some early influences?
We are third generation musicians. My grandfather had a group called Pop Winters and The Southern Strollers and my father Don Winters is a solo artist and also worked with Marty Robbins for 23 years as part of the trio, up until Marty’s death. Growing up backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in the late '50s and '60s influenced us a lot. My uncle Zack Tucker always played music and we always had family get togethers where we would pick. As we got older, we were more influenced by rock bands of the '60s.
When was The Winters Brothers Band formed? Maybe give a little history of the band.
We lived in a smokehouse converted into a bunk room while raising cattle for Marty Robbins on his farm near Franklin, Tennessee. You might say we were sharecroppers. That’s where the initial Winters Brothers Band came to be. We also wrote songs for Marty Robbins.
Did you ever have people thinking you were Edgar and Johnny Winter?
Yes, it still happens. They were much more famous than we were. The only difference in our name is the “s” and a lot of people don’t catch it. They never toured as “The Winter Brothers," only as “Johnny and Edgar Together." A promoter was going to book a show with The Winters Brothers Band with Johnny and Edgar but decided that it would be too confusing for the fans. It doesn’t really bother us, as we are big fans of their's and it comes with the territory. No one has ever been disappointed after hearing us.
How many albums did you guys record?
Actually, we have recorded four albums and one with our father, Don Winters. The Winters Brothers Band was our first, on ATCO/Atlantic Records, Coast To Coast also on Atlantic, Keep On Running on Star Track Records and the latest release on SouthStar Records, Southern Rockers. The release which featured our father is called Yodeling King on Star Track Records.
Tell us some of your favorite memories of the recording studio.
When we recorded the first two albums at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia there was always somebody dropping by. There was a rehearsal room in the front so we were always running into someone from The Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels or Marshall Tucker, which was very exciting. One day while in session, we were able to take a day off to go out to visit Dickey Betts at The Allman Brothers Farm near High Falls, GA. For Thanksgiving, we took our families to the home of Paul Hornsby for dinner. That was a special treat for all of us.
Same question, touring. Favorite memories.
The worst show we ever had was wonderful because we had the opportunities to open for some of our greatest heroes. When we toured with Skynyrd, Ronnie would come back to the dressing room before the show each night with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bottle of champagne. He’d always say “A little something for the brothers."
On occasion, he would ask us to come out to jam with them. The Marshall Tucker Band would do the same but the most memorable was a show at Boston Garden, Toy came out and played steel with us. Jerry played sax and then they had us come out on their last song. I believe it was “Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and we sang with Doug. Charlie, Taz and Tommy Crain would jam with us regularly. Once, in New York City, Charlie bought us some amps for our dressing room.
Dickey Betts would also show up at our pre-Jam parties to jam with us in Nashville. Memories like these you never forget ! There are plenty of stories, maybe one day......
Who were some of the bands you toured with and opened for?
We toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, Bob Seger, The Outlaws, Grinderswitch, Stillwater, Blackfoot, Wet Willie, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, Pure Prairie League, Firefall, Sea Level, Dixie Dregs, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Elvin Bishop and Delbert McClinton, just to name a few.
Did you guys ever play the Volunteer Jam?
Yes. On ten to twelve Volunteer Jams, when they were held in Nashville. We were featured on two of the Volunteer Jam albums, Volunteer Jam III & IV and Volunteer Jam VI on Epic Records.
Between your '70s southern rock stardom and this great new record what did you guys do?
When the Southern Rock scene started to fade work dropped off dramatically. We had to pay the bills, so we went to work doing what we could in order to take care of our families. Donnie got into construction and I started driving tractor trailers and buses for Waylon Jennings, The Oak Ridge Boys and others. I even did a weekend run for Charlie up to West Virginia and Jersey. All the time trying to keep the band doing as many shows as feasible.
Then I wound up in a car wreck in December, 1993 and suffered a broken neck, closed head injuries and a few other things that has kept me from being able to work. Shortly after, Donnie was knocked off a 15-foot wall by a forklift, landing on concrete, causing him to crush both ankles and heels from the fall.
My wife drove me over to his house to help care for him during his rehabilitation while I was still being rehabilitated. Man, it was the funniest thing you ever did see -- the blind leading the blind. We have both since recovered from these injuries.
Tell us a little about the tv show.
We’ve been taping the tv show for five years. It’s a local show that airs in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee on CATV Channel 19. It airs several times per week. We film approximately once a month and tape 3-4 shows at a time. Many friends have appeared on our show....Taz, Sid Yockim and his children, Sydney and Tucker and a lot of local talent from this area. We like to give newcomers a break.
We have a great time with this show. We also film our Southern Summer Jam each year, which is held on our farm outside of Nashville. When people ask me about the show, I tell them it’s a cross between Hee Haw, Grateful Dead and Waynes’s World all mixed up together. Our producers, Sammy and Betsy Thompson, are to be credited with giving us this opportunity.
Tell us a little about the album. George Clinton mixed and engineered it, I doubt that it’s the same guy from Parliament-Funkadelic, right? (laughs)
Correct. George Clinton is a well-known engineer in Nashville at Bayou Studios where this new release was recorded, originally from Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
He’s a real pro and it was a pleasure and an honor to be able to work with him. He really helped us to get our sound together and are looking forward to working with him in the future.
About the CD, you might say that David Corlew inspired us to do another Southern Rock project. Donnie and I decided he was right, the time was right, and we wanted to produce it ourselves. We knew we wanted to record some of the songs from our first album LIVE, so we decided on “Smoky Mountain,” “Sang Her Love Songs,” “Misty Mountain Morning “ and “ I Can’t Help it.” They were recorded in Nashville on November 27, 1999.
I had written most of the newer songs while on vacation with my family two years ago. Donnie and I really enjoyed producing and recording this CD. The title of our new CD is “Southern Rockers,” named primarily by the suggestion of our bass player, Ron “Rad” Dunn and myself. The concept comes from the reflection of the words and music of all the musicians that helped to inspire the art of southern rock.
You write a lot of good songs. Describe your process. Do you come up with a title first, a melody? Just how do you do it?
Everybody does it different. I personally just wait until something pops in my head, I never know when it will come or where it will come from. I don’t actually ever sit down and try to write and I never write a song down until I am at the point of recording. I figure if I can’t remember it all in my head, it’s not a strong enough song. Donnie writes differently, but when we write together, we will sit down to work on it.
Who’s in your band and are they the same guys that were in it before?
Three of the original five are still active members. Donnie, myself and David “Spig” Davis on keyboards. I think that he is one of the most talented piano and B-3 organ players that has ever played Southern rock. Ron Dunn is on bass. He is an original member, but as a guitar technician. He moved into the bass spot 15 years ago and does a fabulous job of pumping it out. Our newest member is Fred Satterfield, long time drummer for The Oak Ridge Boys. Fred goes back about ten years when I was driving for the boys. He was familiar with our music then and told me several times that he would love to jam with us. As fate would have it, Fred left the boys to pursue other career opportunities, we crossed paths again and united for this project. In addition to the band we now have three inspiring backup vocalists, Casey, Cody and Carly Winters which are also featured on our TV show occasionally. We call them “The Southern Belles.” I’m not honking my own horn, but listen to this CD, these guys are hot and a force to be reckoned with.
Any European dates? Lots of Winters Brothers fans over there!
Nothing on the books as yet. One of our main goals is to set a tour in Europe for all of our friends who have been so supportive over the years. We receive tons of email daily from all of our friends in Europe. It’s quite rewarding.
What’s next for the band?
There are several projects in the works, a tour or two, or three. Our next CD will be a concept that leans toward the western/southern rock vein. We have lots of surprises in store. We’re also working on the re-release of earlier albums on CD. So, cinch up your saddle and buckle up your spurs!
All photos this page by Michael Buffalo Smith
Update: The Winters Brothers Band recently released a new CD, Southwest Stampede, and have been seen opening for The Charlie Daniels Band, The Marshall Tucker Band and .38 Special.