October 15, 2015

Jonathan Edwards Runs His Own Life

by Jim Newsom

“Sunshine go away today, I don't feel much like dancing
Some man's come, he's trying to run my life, don't know what he's asking”

From the autumn of 1971 through the following spring, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” was ubiquitous. A four-chord song less than two and a half minutes long, “Sunshine” seemed like a happy little tune but carried layers of meaning that struck college and draft-age listeners in various ways.

“It worked on many levels,” he said when he called from his home in Maine recently. “I hesitate to tell people what it was about because it means so much to so many people—differently, very differently. That was a lesson to me in my songwriting: Don’t be too specific. Let people make up their own minds how they want to relate to the song.

“It got its genesis with the distrust of authority and disrespect for all kinds of people who were in charge of our lives. It was the whole military-industrial complex that we are still in thrall of. My dad was an ex-FBI agent, and I had just narrowly survived a pre-induction draft board physical. I didn’t want to go to Southeast Asia.”

Technically, Jonathan Edwards, who performs at the Virginia Beach Central Library on November 7th, may be classified by some as a one-hit wonder. Except that he’s had a lengthy career writing and performing some very fine music. His catalog is rich and diverse.

“Eighteen albums in eighteen different zip codes,” he laughed. “I’ve been sort of a free spirit, doing my own thing and not worrying too much about the business end of it. I just love to do what I do, go out and entertain audiences and keep being creative, writing songs. I write every night. I woke up at 1:30 this morning and I didn’t turn off the light until 6:00. I just write all the time.

“I’m still doing 60-80 shows a year. I lived in the Caribbean for ten years—I call it my ‘lost decade.’ I met some great gardeners! I’ve always been working on the road. That’s who I am; that’s what I do. And I’m starting to get the hang of it!”

Edwards first burst into the public consciousness 44 years ago as part of the then-flowering singer-songwriter movement with James Taylor, Carole King, Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell. We thought of him as a New Englander, a Bostonian. But he had actually spent his childhood from age six through high school living in Virginia.

“Alexandria,” he said. “I went to military school in Waynesboro, at Fishburne. It was an adventure. I’ve always loved the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville and all those little towns around there.”

He next attended Ohio University where he began playing in rock bands.

“I joke about this,” he recalled, “but it’s really kinda true. My band became the best band by far in the northwest corner of southeast Ohio. So we moved it to Boston and promptly started starving to death. But we lived and started making records, and started taking our place in society pretty seriously in terms of musical culture.

“There was a thing called ‘the Boston Sound’ that we missed by about two years. [laughter] It seemed like a really young town and we wanted that. We wanted a big city but we didn’t want New York, Nashville or LA. We’d been to Boston before and felt an affinity for it. There was the great Club 47 folk scene too. At night when we were off, we’d always be in a coffeehouse singing songs with our acoustic guitars. We found a way to get in with that crowd and love life from that angle.”

His new album, Tomorrow’s Child, features guest appearances by Shawn Colvin, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and Vince Gill but it feels like his most personal recording to date. His voice is more rustic than back in the “Sunshine” days, and there is wisdom in his singing and poignancy in the songs.

“I think it’s my finest work yet,” he said. “It touches on subjects and scenarios and dynamics that are common to all of us: The unconditional love of parents and their children; a little bit about adoption, a little bit about reunion and keeping the circle unbroken; a little bit about getting older and taking care of our own parents; and a little bit about the love I have for my own daughters and the world they live in. It’s personal, but people come up to me after shows in tears saying that a song of mine had touched them deeply, and wondered if I knew their story.

“This is a bit of a throwback to those days where we just sat in a room and played music with each other. And ran the tape machine. That’s what Darrell Scott, who produced it, had in mind. He thought this would be the best way to color and portray these songs, to do it like we used to do it—no click track, no overdubs to speak of, no pitch correction. If after almost fifty years I can’t sing in tune, I should be a welder!

“We did the whole thing in three days. We had dinner on Monday and started recording on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It was finished by Friday.”

Jonathan Edwards
Meyera Oberndorf Central Library, Virginia Beach

Saturday, November 7 – 7:30 pm
Tickets: $20 – 25.00

copyright © 2015 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved.