Edwards shines on with solar-powered career
by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Sun-Times Media
He brought us “Sunshine” four decades ago, a watershed mega-hit that pushed Jonathan Edwards into celebrity status that persists all these years later.
But Edwards isn’t a ‘one-hit’ wonder who disappeared. He’s an artist who’s crafted many excellent songs on his 15 official studio releases, continued to perform and tour.
He’ll bring his talent and professionalism to a solo acoustic show April 26 at Evanston’s S.P.A.C.E. Emily Hurd is the opener.
Edwards’ music is high energy, featuring a fast-forward folk-rock rhythm to many of his songs, but he also plays blues and ballads, country and bluegrass.
The bluegrass influence came during his teens years at a military academy in Virginia: “Every chance I got, my buddies and I would put on our civilian clothes and get out to the VFW halls and church basements and watch the bluegrass bands, and that’s literally where I started to understand the power of driving acoustic music, how it can make people feel and what it can say,” he recalled.
Of course, Edwards’ anti-establishment hit, “Sunshine,” continues to be an expected and highly anticipated song at all his shows. Intriguingly, this song was not intended for his self-titled debut album released on Capricorn Records in 1971, but was added only after the recording engineer accidentally deleted one of the other tracks.
“I’m not tired of playing it,” he said, “because every time there’s a different crowd. It meant a lot to a lot of people. It meant a lot to me. I still get messages from people all the time, how that song helped them get through Vietnam, or tough times in a relationship or with the law. It was an uplifting song if you listened to it on the surface, but if you delve a little bit deeper, it’s a pretty angry anti-war song.”
“Sunshine” ends with the lyrics: “This old world, she’s gonna turn around / Brand new bells’ll be ringing.” Asked if he sees such positive changes on the horizon, Edwards said: “We are headed in a direction that’s fraught with peril and there are no easy answers. It’s not a simple time anymore. It will be interesting to see how we get through these tough times.”
He saw some positive signs in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Yet, he said, “I hope that our activism and protest is long-lived and has legs, because that’s what it’s going to take. Nothing happens from complacency.”
An anti-war activist and regular performer during the Vietnam Era, Edwards recently added back into his show Dylan’s “The Time’s They Are A-Changin.’” “I used to sing that (back) when we occupied ROTC buildings all over the northeast where I was living at the time,” he said. “I added another verse, rewrote it a bit.”
He noted: “My shows typically have a lot of energy, and I give it all on stage. I’ve done that for my whole career.” Edwards still believes playing live for his fans. “I do 60-80 shows a year, and I love performing and my crowds,” he said. They are more intent, more sophisticated, more respectful somehow. And I’m getting from audiences that they expect artists like myself to stay involved with social issues.”
It’s an obligation, he said. “There is a responsibility I feel we have as carriers of the folk tradition, traveling from town to town, paying it forward, trying to communicate. I’m delving deeper into my songs, and feel rejuvenated by the songs and performance, and feel that after all these years my knowledge and experience gives me more gravitas.”
Of course, he, like all recording artists, has been affected by the technological changes in the music industry. “No one can rely on album sales. CDs are long gone, used as promotional tools for tours and agents,” he noted.
“I fear that commercial radio just won’t play anyone over 35, never mind 65. There’s a real age bias against those who have in many ways paved the road for the 20-somethings. They won’t play Dolly Parton on country radio, they won’t play George Jones any of that ilk, Merle Haggard — (those) who were there and created this thing called country music. They’re not going to play it because they’re old.”
Asked “what’s next for Jonathan Edwards,” he chuckled. “I want to be a movie star!” he said, joking. “But, seriously, I’m very happy doing what I’m doing.”