Don Lee Van Winkle

In his late teens, Don Lee Van Winkle co-founded the seminal, Philadelphia-based, “American Dream,” and found himself playing up and down the east coast opening shows for the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Janis Joplin, and a host of others. In Philadelphia, just about any headliner playing the iconic Electric Factory had the show opened   by the American Dream. This put “Winkle,” as he’s known locally, in contact with a broad variety of talent before he was twenty-one.


Raised by his mother and grandmother after his father abandoned the family, he taught himself the fundamentals of song structure by playing his grandmother’s piano. Over time, he taught himself drums and bass and then, inspired by the Rolling Stones, he took up the guitar. He wrote his first song while still a teenager, and a number of his early compositions were used on the American Dream’s first album (produced by Todd Rundgren for Ampex Records in 1970).


During the late sixties and much of the seventies, a youthful tendency towards self-destruction took it’s toll personally and professionally. But by the early eighties Winkle was back with strong songs, a number of musical partnerships, and bands that solidified his reputation as a guitar player and frontman in Philadelphia.


Of these partnerships, perhaps most important was a solid working relationship with Daoud Shaw, a long-time producer and drummer with an impressive resume and a recording studio.


The birth of Winkle’s son, Major, in 1994 inspired a look back, and set Winkle on a path of personal discovery and songwriting that provided an unflinching view of his life. Working with Daoud Shaw, in 1999 Winkle released his first solo CD, “Fallin’ Idol,” which established his credentials as a serious songwriter. 


The intensely personal lyrics on “Fallen Idol” led one Philadelphia music critic to note; “The first two cuts, “Fallin’ Idol,” and “Who Do You Think I Am,” told me more about Don Lee Van Winkle than I’d ever been able to glean over all the years he’s been a part of Philly’s music scene. He dedicates the collection to his 4 year old son. Very few fathers would be as honest with their children.”


“I wouldn’t play the the songs on “Fallin’ Idol” at a Bar Mitzvah,” Winkle recently joked. 


His latest release, “13 Angels” continues the theme but with a less “dark edge.” Stories of love, forgiveness, and redemption are mixed with solid rock ‘n roll that showcase Winkle’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, piano, organ, harmonica), and his innate talents as an arranger.


The eleven years between CDs have allowed Winkle to take another, less harsh look at his life. 13 Angels” is a reminder to all that life is:


A: Longer than we ever expected

B: Shorter than we need

C: Filled with complicated, messy relationships

D: Full of hope