Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine” Mind

edwards.gifThree words succinctly sum up Jonathan Edwards’ sunny disposition. 

“It’s all good.”

He’s excited about his upcoming Claremont Opera House show.  Edwards performs Saturday, November 10 with his long-time side man, bassist Stuart Schulman.  He also plans to sit in with opening act Northern Lights.   

“We share the same manager; I’m on their new album. We enjoy playing with one another, it’s great,” he said during a recent phone interview.  “It’ll be a jam-nation!”

The singer-songwriter’s ebullient mood is infectious; his conversations are inevitably punctuated with smiles, laughter and those three words.  He’s been making music for over 40 years, and appears to still love every minute. 

After the success of his self-titled first album in 1971, which yielded the international hit “Sunshine,” he harbored a few doubts.

“When Nixon was president, and my second album met with no promotion – it was like I was dropped from the label – I decided to move to Nova Scotia and learn how to do some other stuff that I’d really wanted to do for years, like work with horses, raise a garden, work with friends and family and try to make a little community out of the bare bones essentials of self-sufficient farming,” he says.   

“I was there for about 5 months, and then Emmylou Harris called me up.”

Harris coaxed him to Los Angeles to work on “Elite Hotel.” She helped him land a deal with her label. “I did two albums (“Sailboat” and “Rockin’ Chair”) for Warner Brothers, and before I knew it I was right back in the middle of it,” says Edwards. 

“It was all good.”

Edwards’ latest project is a film score for “The Golden Boys.”  The movie, with a cast including Mariel Hemingway and Charles Durning, is due next spring.    

Working from his new Manhattan home, Edwards recruited several musician friends to work with him, including fellow songwriter Jesse Winchester, guitarist Bob Golub (Rod Stewart, Billy Squier) and Stuart Schulman.

Edwards also has a small acting role in the period film.  When the director, who’s also a friend, offered him the music direction role, he recalls, “I said OK, but only if I can be in it.  I was kidding, but he said OK, done, you’re in it.” 

“I play the Reverend Pearly,” he says.  “It’s pretty ironic, because I preach against the evils of rum in the town.  I tell all my friends, and they go, ‘yeah, right, that’s a hot one.’”

“Golden Boys” isn’t Edwards’ first time in front of the camera.  He hosted the PBS series, “Cruising America’s Waterways,” in 2001.  The travelogue show ventured “all the way from St. Lawrence to Champlain, to the canal system of the Hudson, the Eerie Canal, Key West, the Dry Tortugas and everywhere else in between,” says Edwards.  “It was a blast, and I think a lot of people learned a lot from that series.” 

Though he’s made 12 albums over his long career, Edwards is forever known for the energetic, upbeat “Sunshine” – a song that, interestingly, almost wasn’t recorded. 

“Another song on the record was accidentally erased,” he says. “I’d just written the song, and I put it down and it sounded real good.” 

“I bet a lot of the songs that we know and love were conceived and created through just such an effort of chance,” says Edwards.  “It’s all good.”

If he’s perceived as a one hit wonder, he has no regrets.  “If I never play another note but that song, and left that as a legacy I’d be satisfied,” he says.  “I still hear at the shows how much it meant to someone going through a hard time, or a great time, or people who were in Vietnam when it came out and how it helped them kind of understand that they weren’t in this alone.  So I love the fact that the song chose me to have one hit with.” 

“As I told someone recently, one hit’s better than not having any.”

Besides, he’s had the last laugh, building a solid regional following – not to mention a huge fan base in, of all places, the Netherlands.  

“Surreptitiously, someone bootlegged the two records I did with Emmylou Harris, this was years ago,” says Edwards.  “They became quite popular.”

Edwards enjoys helping performers find their way.  He discovered Lisa McCormick in a Peterborough, New Hampshire club, and produced her first record.  “It’s been real fulfilling and rewarding for me to find young artists who are starting out and to maybe give them some advice, maybe some musical help,” he says.  

“That’s really been fun for me, to work with other artists and try to sort of launch them on to the next level.”

What kind of advice does he give them? 

“Get a good attorney and take it from there,” he says, and guffaws heartily.  “That’s the cynical answer.”

 “I do have some advice for young singer-songwriters starting out, and that is – acquire an audience … three little words, a lot easier said than done.  Do whatever you can to try and attract an audience and they will show you the way.  They will lead you down the path that makes them happy and entertained.” 

It’s certainly worked for Jonathan Edwards.  With a musical career that shows no signs of slowing down, he’s unflappable.  There are those three little words again:

“It’s all good.”

Local Rhythms – Listening to Marc Cohn

cohn.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I wrote that most current music wasn’t worth owning.  That’s not to say it’s not worth listening to, but most of it’s disposable when all is said and done.

I have a handful of artists, though, who are automatics – I’ll buy anything they put out, sight unseen.  It’s a short list – Patty Griffin, Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn and Don Henley (though I prefer to steal his music after what he and the Eagles did to the concert business)..   

I’ve added a couple of new names – the moody, ethereal band Winterpills, and Americana chanteuse Tift Merritt have recently made the cut.

Most people know Marc Cohn for his one big hit, “Walking in Memphis,” and his brush with mortality a few years back, when he was shot in the head during a carjacking.   

If you don’t know any more than that, you’re missing out on one of the most gifted songwriters alive.

He’s not prolific, with a mere four albums spanning an 18-year career. The most recent was 9 years in coming.   

But when Marc Cohn commits music to tape, it’s timeless, perfection.  “Join the Parade,” Cohn’s latest, is essential – a great artist’s greatest work.

One of his new songs in particular evokes what it means to be passionate about music.   

“Listening to Levon,” paints a picture of young lovers, long ago, kissing in a car.  The details – the girl’s features, the weather outside, are all there.  But what Cohn remembers best is a song on the radio that blurred everything else about the moment. 

“I was looking at the girl,” Cohn sings, “but I was listening to Levon” – Levon Helm, the sandy-voiced singer/drummer of the Band (in their heyday, another of my automatics). 

Great music transforms and transcends; it stops time and reveals possible worlds. 

Long after human entanglements end, it remains a constant friend.  To quote Stephen Stills – “I have my ship, and all her flags are flying/she is all that I have left, and music is her name.” 

When art speaks with unmistakable clarity, I need it as a constant companion.  That’s why I love my iPod I’m never without my music collection. 

And I’m here to tell you that “Join the Parade” is that rarest of things, a new record that you must own.  If the Internet ever crashes, you don’t want to be without it.   

Thursday: Conduction No. 167, Spaulding Auditorium – Lawrence “Butch” Morris is a musical renegade, working the confluence of jazz, new music, improvisation and contemporary classical music.  Using the Conduction® language of hand gestures, he improvises musical landscapes with ensembles from around the world.  Tonight, he conducts an expanded edition of Dartmouth’s Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble.

Friday: Al Alessi/Bill Wightman, Sophie & Zeke’s – The next JOSA season is just about set, and brochures should be hitting the streets in a few weeks.  Last year Alessi, who can croon like Sinatra or Van Morrison depending on his mood, opened the series.  This year, he’ll do it again, this time bringing his daughter Elizabeth, who sounds like a young Norah Jones.  Meantime, he and Wightman hold forth every First Friday in downtown Claremont’s hottest nightspot. 

Saturday: Hexerei, Claremont Moose – It’s been awhile since the last heavy metal show at the Moose, and this one’s got a lot going for it.  It’s a reasonably priced post-Halloween show ($10 with a costume, $15 without), with five bands on the bill including the headliner – Soul Octane Burner, Anger Rising, Reflections of Mortality and Escape to Everything.  As a bonus, Hexerei will have demo copies of their long-awaited (and appropriately titled) third CD, “Pay Your Dues.”

Monday: Guy Davis, Capitol Center for the Arts – A bluesman of the first order, Davis mines the roots music of Robert Johnson (whom he portrayed off-Broadway in the early 90’s), Son House and Elmore James.  Davis has worked with some top-notch musicians over the years, but it’s solo, in a straight-backed chair, where he truly shines.  A Davis performance is an elemental experience – he’s as real as it gets.   

Tuesday: John Fogerty, Orpheum Theatre – How far has the music business come since the Sixties?  Well, Fogerty is back with his old label, Fantasy, a company he once swore an eternal enemy, and he’s released “Revival,” his most Creedence-like record in years.  If he hadn’t stayed so angry for so long, I’d venture he’s be filling hockey rinks today.  He’s an American original.

Wednesday: Terry Diers,  Canoe Club – A ubiquitous guitarist who works several.nights a week, playing solo or with a variety of Upper Valley ensembles.  Diers is incredibly diverse.   He plays 6 and 12 string guitar, slide, mandolin and is a talented singer as well.  Canoe Club owner John Chapin calls him “the essence of Northern  New England with a country overlay.”