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Jonathan Edwards Interview:
The Singer, Songwriter & Musician who brought us “Sunshine”
By Ray Shasho
"Sunshine go away today I don't feel much like dancing Some man's gone, he's tried to run my life
Don't know what he's asking" …
Since 1970, singer/songwriter/musician Jonathan Edwards has been captivating audiences worldwide with his acoustic guitar and a story to sing about. In 1969, Edwards’s professional career heightened after his bandSugar Creek signed with Metromedia Records and released their only album together as a band entitled ‘Please Tell A Friend.’ Sugar Creek’s debut release was a musically intelligent effort by the band, combining psychedelic blues & rock with exceptional vocalizations. Although the band had great potential, Edwards left the band, while abandoning electrified psychedelia for the acoustic renderings of folk and country as a solo performer.
Soon after leaving Sugar Creek, Edwards began touring with legendary artists such as the Allman Brothers Band and B. B King, and was discovered as a solo artist by Capricorn Records. In 1971, Edwards launched his critically-acclaimed debut album Jonathan Edwards. The release spawned his penned hit single “Sunshine” (Go Away Today) (#4 Billboard Hot 100 Chart), selling over a million copies and earning Jonathan a gold record. Ironically, an engineer accidentally erased the master of a track called "Please Find Me" near the end of the recording sessions for the album and "Sunshine" was used to fill the gap.
For many, “Sunshine” became a rallying protest cry against war and politics.
Edwards reveals in this interview …
“It was a combination of factors that went into the inspiration of pulling that one together and started with my dad being an ex FBI agent and me taking over ROTC buildings at the same time he was still an FBI agent. It was the height of the Viet Nam war that was brought to us through ways of lies and submergence, Nixon was president and I had just narrowly survived my pre induction draft board physical and I was very frustrated with our Government and the conduct it was having in our name, so I just sat down with this in Brighton, Massachusetts, wrote the song, and it took off.”
“Sunshine” has since been covered by numerous recording artists worldwide including … Juice Newton (#35 Billboard country charts), The Isley Brothers,
Jonathan’s 'Little Hands', his collection of children’s songs, was honored with a National Library Association award.
Jonathan Edwards official releases … (1971) Jonathan Edwards, (1972) Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy, (1973) Have a Good Time for Me, (1974) Lucky Day (1976) Rockin' Chair (1977) Sailboat (1980) Live!, (1985) Blue Ridge, (1987) Little Hands, (1989) Natural Thing (1994) One Day Closer, (1998) Man in the Moon, (2001) Cruising America's Waterways, (2006) Live in Massachusetts ,(2009) Rollin' Along: Live in Holland, (2011) My Love Will Keep, (2015) Tomorrows Child (NEW release!).
Jonathan Edwards’s new release Tomorrow’s Child also features Grammy Nominated, Darrell Scott, Vince Gill, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss. Edwards says … “A dream come true to have old friends like these on my album would be the understatement of the decade!”
I had the great pleasure of chatting with Jonathan Edwards recently about his exciting new release Tomorrows Child… The inception of “Sunshine” … Jonathan’s days with the psychedelic blues & rock band Sugar Creek … His longtime friendship with Emmylou Harris …
My infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ question… and much-much more!
Here’s my recent interview with Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Actor …
Ray Shasho: Jonathan thank you for being on the call, where are you at today?
Jonathan Edwards: “We’re hovering around home today in Portland, Maine.”
Ray Shasho Who were the early influences that got you interested in becoming a musician and performer?
Jonathan Edwards: “I don’t know, I guess I watched a little too much TV as a kid and saw people like Bobby Darin, Johnny Rivers, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles. Then I started getting into acoustic music in the form of bluegrass when I started high school and became aware of what power exists in acoustic bands. So I just started loving that whole thing and began writing around that same time.”
Ray Shasho: Early in your career you formed a blues-rock band called ‘The Headstone Circus’ which eventually became ‘Sugar Creek’ in 1967.
Jonathan Edwards: “I did yea, that was the name of the band our manager and his infinite wisdom thought we should have, but we were really called ‘The Headstone Circus’ and that was the name we came with although we recorded under ‘Sugar Creek.’”
Ray Shasho: I enjoyed all of the tracks from Sugar Creek’s album ‘Please Tell a Friend’ … “Lady Linda” is a beautiful song and reminiscent to a Stephen Stills classic, while “Memory Tree” is an incredible mind-blowing psychedelic phenomena …I thoroughly enjoyed the album.
Jonathan Edwards: “I drew the cover. We were six guys and it only showed four of us on the album jacket, but there were actually six of us until after the album was recorded so I just didn’t put them on the cover. We were six different guys in totally separate directions and we came together for this record. It does have some really cool moments for sure.”
Ray Shasho: So why did the band breakup?
Jonathan Edwards: “Like I said we were in six different directions. I wanted to pursue a solo career and get out of electric loud music and get into more organic pleasant sounds with acoustic guitars, mandolins, and banjos and see what they bring for me.”
Ray Shasho: When you did go solo you signed with the Macon, Georgia based Capricorn Records and toured with many of the Capricorn artists including The Allman Brothers Band.
Jonathan Edwards: “We were on the same label as The Allman Brothers Band, Cowboy, Livingston Taylor, Alex Taylor and so many other cool people.”
Ray Shasho: Jonathan you’ve got your new album, Tomorrow’s Child coming out soon and it was recorded in Nashville.
Jonathan Edwards: “I’ve found a kindred spirit in a guy named Darrell Scott, and my manager in Nashville suggested I hookup with him and see what would come of it, and so instantly a musical love and he produced this wonderful album. We sat down and he said… do remember when we used to make records, we’d all sit in a room in a circle with our guitars and a couple of microphones and run the tape machine. Well that’s what we did. We had percussion, standup bass, Darrell and I playing guitars, and this wonderful guy Dirk Powell. We just sat and rehearsed one day and began taping the next. We were in the studio for three days … (3) eight to ten hour sessions which is not what I used to do; I’d do twelve to fifteen hour sessions. But it was one of those organic things that grew out of the inspiration to go back to how we used to sound and feel when we were making acoustic records.”
Ray Shasho: Who are some of the other musicians on the album?
Jonathan Edwards: “I brought in one guy from my band called Joe Walsh, we call him the other Joe Walsh, and he plays mandolin on a song, but mostly it’s the Nashville Cats that are not only studio musicians but road warriors as well. Bryn Davies is playing bass and Kenny Malone is playing percussion and drums, Dirk Powell plays mandolin, mellotron, accordions, guitars and piano… he’s just a monstrous guy, and Darrell Scott of course playing all the guitars … metal steel, slide and Dobro. I got to play some Dobro with Jerry Douglas who plays on the title song along with his buddy and my old friend Alison Krauss. I’m so thrilled to be even saying that. I started calling my old friends and said hey, let’s do this thing, you all have been keeping your fingers crossed for me to get my act together and do a good record and here’s your chance to be of some help. So I called Shawn Colvin and she graciously came in, Vince Gill came in and sang on a couple of songs and he’s an angel from heaven as well. I’ve got John Cowan singing some high harmonies and Darrell and I do the rest. It’s pretty awesome and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
Ray Shasho: Let’s talk about your huge hit in 1971 called “Sunshine,” the single written and sung by you reached #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart and earned a gold record. What was the story behind writing that timeless classic?
Jonathan Edwards: “It was a combination of factors that went into the inspiration of pulling that one together and started with my dad being an ex FBI agent and me taking over ROTC buildings at the same time he was still an FBI agent. It was the height of the Viet Nam war that was brought to us through ways of lies and submergence, Nixon was president and I had just narrowly survived my pre induction draft board physical and I was very frustrated with our Government and the conduct it was having in our name, so I just sat down with this in Brighton, Massachusetts, wrote the song, and it took off. It became an anthem for many people at a crucial time in our history and culture. I just had the pleasure of performing that song along with three others with an eighty-two piece symphony orchestra behind us at Kingfield POPS in Kingfield, Maine which featured the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and that was such a trip and so amazing. I also did the title song from the new album entitled “Tomorrow’s Child” with the whole symphony setting. So there are a lot of things going on and I couldn’t be happier, healthier, and more involved.”
Ray Shasho:“Was that the first time you actually performed with a symphony orchestra?
Jonathan Edwards: “Yea first time, but I think the way it went and the way things are going …it’s going to be the first of many. I may do another five songs or so, tour cities and playing with their orchestras, so it’s going to be fun. I’m lucky enough to have a musical director named Tom Snow who writes these beautiful charts and arrangements for orchestra on my songs.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve written and performed so many great tunes … “Shanty” fondly referred to as ‘The Friday Song.’
Jonathan Edwards: “Yup and they play it at five o’clock on Friday’s.”
Ray Shasho: You perform one of the best versions of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” that I’ve heard and “Seven Daffodils” … just an amazing track.
Jonathan Edwards: “I first heard “Seven Daffodils” from Pete Seeger and it stayed with me all these years.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve had a longtime friendship with Emmylou Harris.
Jonathan Edwards: “We go way back to the late 60’s; she was part of the community that haunted the Childe Harold in Washington, D.C. In 1973, I had kind of had it with the music business and had wanted to take a break from it and understand what it was to get back to the land and get off the power grid and work with actual horses instead of diesel powered horse power and all that stuff. Learn how to feed a family and provide a sustainable lifestyle for me, friends and my family. I was in Nova Scotia for nine months and Emmy called me and she said, Jon great news, I’m doing an album for Warner Brothers and I want you to come out to LA and sing with me on this album. I said, save me a place, I’m on my way. So that’s how I got back into the music business and she’s a constant friend and loyal supporter ever since.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve also been an actor during your musical career?
Jonathan Edwards: “I am kind of an actor, I’ve been playing myself for all these years and that’s no easy task (all laughing). Yea, I did get a chance to do some Broadway and had a snippet in a movie and I loved that experience and hope to have more of those opportunities. I played Reverend Perley in The Golden Boys (2008) movie. It had an amazing cast …David Carradine, Rip Torn, Bruce Dern, Mariel Hemingway, Charles Durning, and Julie Harris to name just a few… and here I was my first time reading from a script and standing in front of these seasoned classical actors, and it was great to see how they reacted. But they kind of looked at each other and …whoa, this guy has it going on, and that was all the positive vibe I needed.”
Ray Shasho: I told Tom Rush this when I interviewed him … there’s nothing like a single performer onstage with an acoustic guitar and a story to sing about … and like Tom, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be humorous as well.
Jonathan Edwards: “For me … I get a lot of applause, I get a lot of tears, but laughs are really the bread and butter. If I can get a crowd laughing I’m in heaven.”
Ray Shasho: Jonathan do you experiment with other musical genres?
Jonathan Edwards: “Oh yea, I’ll sit in with a bunch of my friends who have local blues bands and I’ll go sit in and play some electric harp and they can’t get rid of me. The new album will have some of that on it.”
Ray Shasho: Do you have children that are singers or musicians?
Jonathan Edwards: “Yes and she’s on the new record too. Grace is on the new album and one of the songs is written about her called “Gracie.” She’s wonderful and is back in the United States trying to get her music going here in the states. She’ll be recording for Jimmy Buffett’s label Mailboat Records. I made the introduction and I’m so proud and glad for her. She’s awesome and twice the star I’ll ever be.”
Ray Shasho: Jonathan here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Jonathan Edwards: “I’ve already given it to you. To do an album with all the people I’ve named… Shawn Colvin, Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas …that to me is as good as it gets. I’m going to be hard-pressed to follow this album with something nearly as good but I’m sure going to try, I think I’ve got it in me. In fact I think I’ve got all the songs for the next record but that will be out there in my ‘Field of Dreams’ for sure.”
Ray Shasho: Jonathan, thank you for being on the call today but more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us and continue to bring.
Jonathan Edwards: “Thanks Ray for helping support live acoustic music.”
Jonathan Edwards new release Tomorrow’s Child also features Grammy Nominated, Darrell Scott, Vince Gill, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss.
Edwards says … “A dream come true to have old friends like these on my album would be the understatement of the decade!”
“Check the Gs is just a really cool story ... and it’s real. I’d like to see the kid on the front cover telling his story in a motion picture, TV sitcom or animated series. The characters in the story definitely jump out of the book and come to life. Very funny and scary moments throughout the story and I just love the way Ray timeline’s historical events during his lifetime. Ray’s love of rock music was evident throughout the book and it generates extra enthusiasm when I read his on-line classic rock music column. It’s a wonderful read for everyone!” …firstname.lastname@example.org
COMING SOON… Ray’s exciting new book series ...‘SAVING ROCK AND ROLL’