For Wes Winters, music has been the thru-line of his life for as long as he could remember. Growing up in a musical family, he started playing the accordion at age 3 and guitar at age 4. But then, at the age of 5, he fell in love with the piano when exposed to artists like Floyd Cramer and Jerry Lee Lewis.
It wasn’t until he saw Liberace on television that his true passion for performing caught fire. It wasn’t the costumes or over-the-top lavish production that captured his attention, it was the joy and happiness with which Liberace played that fueled his passion. Like many young artists, hours of practice ensued. Until this day, his self-taught piano skills are his sole education; he continues to play by ear – and doesn’t read music.
After 17 years as a professional piano player in Kansas City, Winters set his goals on Las Vegas – a place where he could challenge himself and keep moving up. Vegas was the “best fit” for him. His showmanship and exuberance on stage have led him to headline showrooms across Las Vegas presenting a unique, modern take on the glamour and vintage style of classic Vegas entertainment.
Vegas Report: Tell us about how your act has changed over your 30-year career.
The funny thing about that is, it really hasn’t changed much at all. I am still doing the one-man show I started doing 30 years ago. What has changed is the technology with which I can do that show. It keeps becoming more streamlined, smaller and eons ahead of when I began. The music has changed as time has gone on. I would say my stage clothes have changed a bit—they are way more “blingy” than when I started. But substance-wise, my act has pretty much remained the same. It has worked really well for me all these years and continues to do so, so I don’t change it. I guess I just try to enhance and update it as time goes on.
Vegas Report: When did you embrace the Liberace-style of music and showmanship? How did it shape your career?
Seeing him on a CBS Sunday Night Special as a child ignited the love and passion for the piano in me. The more I listened to him, the more respect I had and more influence he had on me. His music always sounded like it had a smile in it, and I loved that. I never had the opportunity to see him perform live or to meet him, but have watched every video, television show, appearance and film clip I could find or get my hands on. When I moved to Las Vegas in Feb. 2003, I was talked into entering the “Liberace Play-a-Like Contest”. I didn’t want to do it because I don’t read music and I’m not a trained pianist. But I entered, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t win! It shocked the hell out of the other contestants, but mostly me.
After winning, I volunteered and performed at the museum then had this crazy idea and created, wrote and starred in “A Musical Tribute to Liberace”, the first show ever produced in the museum and endorsed by the Liberace Foundation. It ended up running 5 years and the performance venue I created there was named “The Wes Winters Showroom.” I am very proud of my time there. Having had the opportunity to become a part of the Liberace Museum and Foundation family, I was given access to a lot of information—personal and professional—about Liberace, the performer, the public persona, and the private man. The more I learned and got a glimpse into his life and who he was, the more respect I gained for him. He was an incredibly generous man, very kind, and very big-hearted. He was a very smart businessman and the consummate performer/entertainer. He inspired so many people through his music—that’s the brilliant legacy he left.
I’m happy and proud to do what I can to keep that legacy alive in gratitude for him lighting that passion in me all those years ago. He played a big role in setting the course of the life I have and love.
Vegas Report: Tell us about the difference between the “onstage” Wes Winters and the “offstage” Wes Winters?
LOL! I am pretty much the same person on or off stage. When you perform, you just put yourself into that “performer mode”, but I am the same guy, just more of that guy to fill up the room. When I am not onstage I am probably a little more subdued. I still laugh a lot and I tend to be a people pleaser. I’m kind of a homebody and love my time at home with my dogs and the bunny who sometimes thinks he is a dog. I am actually a pretty simple and very down to earth person. I guess that comes thru on or off stage because people tell me that after my shows and feel very comfortable, and I really like that.
Vegas Report: You’ve performed in venues from intimate lounges to the biggest stages in Las Vegas. Tell us about your favorite type of show.
My favorite is when you feel that you fit the venue and it fits you. And you can feel it when it happens. That’s what the Grandview Lounge at South Point is for me. It fits what I do, my crowd and feels like you are putting on your favorite and most comfortable gloves; they just fit perfect. When that happens, the structure of the show and having guests or not, the music performed…everything…can be fluid and off the cuff and it all just fits. That’s my favorite when that happens. I’ve been lucky enough to have had that many times throughout my career. They’ve been huge main stages, lounges and everything in between. I’ve been very lucky.
Vegas Report: How do you define success as a performer?
I love this question and struggled with it for many years in my life. The answer, for me anyway, is I’m working, still relevant in what I do, and still enjoy doing it as much as I did when I started. It’s just very simple.
Vegas Report: Launching an independent show in Las Vegas – from your experience what is the biggest challenge?
Making sure you follow your own intuition and not allow others to steer you in a direction different than the one your gut tells you to do. Everybody wants to tell you what you should do and how to do it. And I believe most people have good intentions, but it is not their decision to make or their career and livelihood…it’s your own. Healthy and professional constructive criticism can be a wonderful tool if it’s coming from the right place and the right source. Also, being totally and brutally honest with yourself is necessary…knowing what you can do and what you can’t, what works and what doesn’t, what sells and what doesn’t, and your strengths, limitations, and weaknesses truthfully are.
Vegas Report: What does the future hold for Wes Winters?
More of what I have done for the past 30 years, just more mature and seasoned. I hope to perform and play music until I leave and go to whatever is next. If or when I am not able to sing anymore, I still will always play the piano. It is my life partner. I’ve also learned I love and kind of have a knack for audio and video editing. I get lost for days working on projects and love the process, and also love the look, sound and feel of something when you get it exactly right. I also want to start “smelling the roses” a little more. I haven’t taken or given myself much time for that for many, many years and I am ready to start.
Vegas Report: Your ideal audience—would include who?
Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Liberace, Barry Manilow, John Williams, Carol Burnett and the Muppets.
Quick Notes for Wes Winters
Baby Grand or Upright: Honestly both
Black Keys or White Keys: Again, honestly love all of them the same
Mozart or Beethoven: Beethoven
Liberace or Victor Borge: Liberace
Rhinestones or Sequins: Rhinestones
Favorite Song: It changes all the time (that’s not a song, that’s his answer)
Favorite Entertainer: Tina Turner
Favorite Quote: Don’t try; Just do it.