7 p.m. May 15 and 16
Seven Steps Up, Spring Lake
For tickets, click here or call 616-678-3618
Tune into News Talk 1340 AM at 10 a.m. Wed. for a special edition of Local Spins Live with Edwards.
For 42 years, Jonathan Edwards has carried the singer-songwriter torch for classic rock fans across the globe.
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Along with stars such as Jackson Browne, Carole King and James Taylor, and departed troubadours Jim Croce, John Denver and Harry Chapin, Edwards helped define the term “singer-songwriter” in the early 1970s, propelled to the top of the charts by his enduring hit, “Sunshine.”
That song alone sold in excess of 1 million copies soon after its release, but a lesser hit, “Shanty,” may have turned Edwards into a true West Michigan hero, thanks to 25-plus years of airplay by WLAV-FM (96.9). The classic rock station continues to tout and spin the time-to-party “Friday Song” in welcoming the end of the work week, weekend in and weekend out.
But Edwards also continues to release new material, with his latest album, “My Love Will Keep,” featuring country-tinged tracks, tender insightful songs and trademark Edwards-styled romps. He also keeps crisscrossing the country on tour, having cultivated a diehard audience for his music.
Edwards, 65, who now makes his home in Maine, will play two straight nights at Spring Lake’s Seven Steps Up on May 15-16 as part of that intimate acoustic venue’s “Pin Drop Concerts Series.” He’ll also appear on my Local Spins Live segment on News Talk 1340 AM at 10 a.m. May 16.
He recently took time out of his busy schedule to chat with me by phone from a Chicago tour stop.
Q: Tell me about touring these days. How many shows do you play every year, and is touring easier or more difficult in the new millennium than it was when you first started out in the ‘70s?
A: It’s been a part of my whole life. It’s who I am; it’s what I do. Much of it is habitual and much of it is brand new. I love to go out and play live music for people. I always have, I always will. I love to engage audiences wherever I go and inform them and have them inform me.
The digital world has changed the game quite a bit and changed the rules of engagement quite a bit. I just forge ahead. I don’t pay much attention to the fads and the styles or the technology. I just forge ahead with what I do, and it’s gone pretty well so far. Why change?
That’s why I’ve done so many live albums. That’s where the rubber meets the road for me. To be one guy with a guitar in front of a lot of people and have them feel touched and moved and involved, then I’ve done my job.
There was a time when I was doing 250 shows a year. That’s not for me. I’m doing weekends, 60-80 shows a year. It’s a balance I’ve achieved between family, home, career and touring. It’s all a balancing act. For some people, the road becomes an addiction. I don’t choose that route. I choose to have a more balanced approach to living. … I have a lovely wife in Portland, Maine, and she’s part of our business. We call it our ‘Ma and Pa Lemonade Stand.’ We send out CDs and hats and whatever people want to remember from my shows.
Q: Your latest album, “My Love Will Keep,” covers a lot of territory, from insightful folk commentary on the issues of the day to love songs to some country romps. How did you approach this project? In the liner notes, you say that it “grew like a wildflower by the side of the road out of a desire to follow the music from the stage to the studio.”
A: It did, it really truly did. I’ve always responded to the forces in my life that converge all at once and present themselves as an opportunity. I found a studio in Portland, Maine, found an engineer and found great musicians. I look at each song as you would a child and what that child needs for his or her development. That’s the way this thing came tougher. We just followed each tune where it needed to go.
Q: I must say your version of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” on the album is so different from the original, such a languid treatment of such a familiar tune. The simple lyrics seem to take on a deeper meaning in this arrangement. How’d that come about?
A: People are really loving that song live. It’s typically a show-stopper; they won’t stop applauding after that. You can see them going, ‘OMG, it’s a Beatles tune.’ A friend of mine named Eric Lilliquest had a different arrangement of that song and I ended up taking it to a whole different place. People are just loving it. I’ve obviously been in that place where I’m telling a friend of mine that that this person loves you and you need to wake up and smell the roses.
I always keep my ears open and I’m always watching the opening acts and I’m always listening to bands and to music that peopel send me. I have the abuility to memorize a song that I hear. I can jot it down in my memory and keep that song for years and then get at it in the studio and explore it. The whole process of recording is a magical moment and so is songwriting. It’s sort of unearthly, the inspiration that comes down from wherever from a writer to the pencil to the paper to the digital songwriting tools that I use.
Q: Are there songs in particular on the new album that seem to resonate in a live setting with your audiences?
A: “Crazy Texas Woman” (which Edwards wrote), because that’s a real rock ‘n’ roll blues song. They also love the title song with the clear lick and high harmony.
Q: Here in West Michigan in particular , your “Shanty” song has developed quite the cult following as the “Friday Song” for classic rock stations like Grand Rapids’ WLAV-FM, which started the tradition and has kept it up. So what’s the story behind the popularity of this tune?
A: They’ve been in my corner all along. They’ve been playing this thing for 25 years at least which is amazing because most stations are changing their formats evey six months. It’s unique and gratifying that they’ve created this identity for the song on Friday afternoon. When I wrote it just came from the guys saying, ‘What are you going to do tonight?’ ‘Oh, I’m just gonna lay around the shanty and get a good buzz on.’ I just sat down at the table and wrote it. Now, it has gotten into people’s blood. It’s one of the predominant ‘getting high’ songs in the literature, along with ‘One Toke Over the Line’ and others. This one has become a celebration of, ‘Let’s start the weekend.’
Q: I’ve also read stories about “Sunshine” and how a recording engineer accidentally erased a track on an album you were recording. So, you replaced it with “Sunshine” and it ended up being your biggest hit. Tell me what happened.
A: That’s one component of its genesis. We were in the studio late one night and the engineer inadverently rolled over one of the songs we recorded that day, and we looked for it for hours and figured out it must have been erased. So the engineer said, ‘Go out there and do something else, kid.’ I had just written it. I went out and played the guitar and sang it at the same time and then overdubbed a 12-string … and it sounded pretty good. I put on the bass line and we went home. The next day I talked to the drummer Rich Adelman (who recently passed away) and asked whether he could try and overdub drums on an already completed track. He had never done that before but he went in and did it and that’s the song you hear: take one of him putting drums on it. It just rocked. I heard it on the radio the other day and I stopped and listened and turned it up. That thing still rocks. That rocks as much as anything out there.
Q: So what’s the song really about? I had my own interpretation of it, but I’ve read others.
A: That’s the beauty of songwriting. People attach to it all kinds of things they want to when they hear it, which is most times way more than when we write it. I will tell you that I was a survivor of a draft board pre-induction physical and ended up in an emergency room for several weeks. I was trying to convince the draft board how un-ready I was for physical service (to serve in the Vietnam War). My father was an ex-FBI agent and … I was occupying ROTC buildings. Nixon was president and the direction of the country was not something I wanted to be involved with. (The song) was a rail against authority and an angry little protest song disguised as a folk melody. Nothing has really changd. We’re still fighting the military industrial complex that wants to control most of our life, and that sentiment and that emotion still rings true.
Q: So do you think singer-songwriters have a responsibility to comment on what’s going on in society?
A: There is a responsibility that we as folk singers and troubadours accept because that’s where a lot of messages come from. It started with my lifetime. I’ve been here for all of it. … Folk music is where these messages come from. This is certainly not going to come from corporate radio. I don’t know. We do have a certain responsibility to speak out and be the voice that calls people’s attention to a different slant on the corporate news that we read and live by.
Q: You’ve certainly cultivated a devoted audience, and it sounds like you’re able to make a living doing what you’ve been doing for so many years.
A: People still want to come see Jonathan. I’m forever appreciative and grateful for that audience and I’ve taken care of them for 42 years. I’m still here. I believe I’ve taken really good care of my audience and that’s why they keep coming back. … I feel like I give it my all every night on stage. … I’ve heard about (Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake) and I’m excited to come and visit and play and meet people.”