Dave Edmunds Interview: Rockabilly Guitar Hero Releases Brilliant New Album
By Ray Shasho
-Interviewed June 10th, 2015
Guitar hero DAVE EDMUNDS has never followed music trends, and throughout what Edmunds jokingly remarks as a “semi-retired” music career, has probably been more devout and grateful to the original rock and roll format than any other musician.
Edmunds recently released his new album entitled ‘Rags & Classics’ via the MVD Entertainment Group. It’s an all-instrumental masterpiece that displays Edmunds’ proficient guitar work along with his brilliant multi-instrumental and production skills. Recorded in his home studio, most of the cover tracks on the new album have never been performed as an instrumental and are extremely difficult to implement as a one man band.
I really enjoyed ‘Rags & Classics,’ Edmunds did a remarkable job handpicking singles that are classics but rarely relished. Some of the more notable tracks are the Brian Wilson &Tony Asher “God Only Knows,” and the Elton John &Bernie Taupin ballad “Your Song,” Both tracks are remarkable instrumental renditions while acquainting the listener to a fresh prospective to an ageless classic. ‘Rags & Classics’ delivers an eclectic mix of captivating musical gratification … you’ll be delightfully swayed by Edmunds’ intricate instrumental renderings of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” tracks from Dave’s guitar heroes … Chet Atkins “Black Mountain Rag,” and Merle Travis “Cannonball Rag,” and a surprisingly but phenomenal finale to an exceptional album, Mozart’s Symphony No.40 in G Minor, Molto Allegro. Everyone will truly enjoy ‘Rags & Classics’ by guitar legend Dave Edmunds.
... (5) Stars!
DAVE EDMUNDS, Welsh guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer has collaborated with some of the greatest musicians the world will ever know, including longtime pal George Harrison. Edmunds is a 1950’s rock and roll purist and remains a loyalist to this day.
After his stint with the blues/rock band Love Sculpture, Edmunds scored big with his cover hit … “I Hear You Knocking” (1970), a song written by Dave Bartholomew & Earl King and first recorded by Smiley Lewis in 1955. Edmunds’ rendition added authentic rock and roll dynamism and landed at #1 at Christmas on the UK charts and #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the U.S. It sold over three-million copies, was awarded a gold disc, and became a rock and roll standard worldwide.
In 1976, Edmunds began collaborating with British musician/singer/songwriter/producer Nick Lowe (Brinsley Schwarz) on several albums. Lowe and Edmunds were signed to different record labels and couldn’t record together as ‘Rockpile’ until 1980 when they released Seconds of Pleasure, their only album to feature the ‘Rockpile’ band name. Drummer Terry Williams and guitarist Billy Bremner were also in the group. Critics and music enthusiast adored Rockpile. Edmunds describes Rockpile’s short and sweet musical career as as a party band for four years which they never took seriously.Rockpile was also hailed as a band that laid the groundwork for ‘new wave.’
Between 1976 and 1981, Dave Edmunds released four albums on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records. After Edmunds and Lowe went their separate ways, Edmunds collaborated and produced albums for an assortment of friends and musicians including … Paul McCartney, King Kurt, Stray Cats, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Status Quo, the Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, and the Flamin’ Groovies. Edmunds also collaborated with singer, songwriter, composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist and record producer Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra. Edmunds released a song written by Lynne entitled “Slipping Away” which became a Top 40 hit in 1983.
In 1985, Edmunds arranged and became the musical director of Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session, a televised concert held in London, England, featuring … Edmunds, Carl Perkins George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton. It was the first public performance by George Harrison in more than ten years.
Dave Edmunds was selected to play in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band for tours in 1992 and 2000.
-Love Sculpture: Blues Helping (1968), Forms and Feelings (1970)
-Brewers Droop: The Booze Brothers (recorded 1973, released 1989)
-Rockpile: Seconds of Pleasure (1980)
-Dave Edmunds: Rockpile (1972) ,Subtle as a Flying Mallet (1975),Get It (1977),Tracks on Wax 4 (1978), Repeat When Necessary (1979), Twangin (1981), D.E. 7th (1982), Information (1983), Riff Raff (1984), Closer to the Flame (1990), Plugged In (1994),Hand Picked: Musical Fantasies (1999), Again ( 2013), Rags & Classics ( 2015)
I had the rare pleasure of chatting with David Edmunds recently about his new all- instrumental cover album ‘Rags & Classics,’ the inception of “I Hear You Knocking,” Rockpile, Nick Lowe, Carl Perkins, George Harrison, my infamous ‘Field of Dreams’ question and much-much more!
Here’s my interview with rock & roll guitar slinger/singer/songwriter/producer
… DAVE EDMUNDS.
Ray Shasho: Hello Dave! First of all, thank you for staying true to rock and roll. With all the changes in the music industry over the years, you remained loyal and I commend you for that.
Dave Edmunds: “Yeaaaaaaaa!”
Ray Shasho: Your new album entitled ‘Rags & Classics’ is your very first instrumental release. It’s an incredible mix of classics recorded instrumentally while spotlighting your proficient guitar playing as well as your multi-instrumentalist skills.
It’s an impressive recording that everyone should enjoy listening to over and over again.
Dave Edmunds: “I wasn’t sure how it would be received because it’s very different from what I’ve done and from what everyone else is doing. I had the whole idea for doing this sort of album because it was done in a home studio. If I had to rent a studio and book musicians, engineers, and all that, it would have never got made. My studio is a Logic Pro 9 on my MacBook Air in the shed at the end of my backyard, I don’t need much now. There’s no pressure or hours to keep to, I just do it when I feel like it.”
“I started putting down Merle Travis/ Chet Atkins things because I was interested in that since I was about 16-17 years old, but then I went off that stuff and just started playing rock and roll. So I’ve come back to it and thought I’d get it down, and then I thought, what could I do with a Stratocaster, because that’s my main guitar, and I just thought of these songs. What I really like is a well-crafted pop record, apart from all the other genres of music; I do appreciate a well-made put together, well-written, produced and recorded pop record. I was going through my list of absolute favorites and that’s where I got these, I could hear them on the guitar. I did the backend tracks so you’ll hardly tell the difference from the original and that’s a trip in itself for doing “God Only Knows” and whatever, and then the Telecaster comes screaming in and you go, whoa, what this! (All laughing) I wanted to do something well-known, because if you want to get people’s attention with new instrumentals of tunes they never heard, just been written, or obscure, it will be very difficult to hold their attention. But if you provide them with something everybody knows and then put the guitar on, everyone knows the lyrics and its nice listening to in your car.”
Ray Shasho: Dave, the mix of music you chose for this album is just perfect. I really enjoyed your version of “God Only Knows” the Beach Boys classic. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an all-instrumental track covering that tune.
Dave Edmunds: “No one had done it as an instrumental before. It was such a blast doing it and capturing what Brian had done, for instance, weird instrumentation. The only intro on the song is two accordions and a French horn, and that’s it. You go, wow, who’d of thought of that? But it was such fun doing it.”
Ray Shasho: Your cover of Elton John’s “Your Song” was also brilliant!
Dave Edmunds: “I’m proud of that one, it came together nicely. I was sitting late at night on my sofa ready to go to bed and was plugged into my Logic Pro 9 and my Taylor guitar, and I had sort of worked it out before, but I just played it all the way through in one take. Then I added a bass and a few strings on the keyboard and that was it. Yea, I like that one.”
Ray Shasho: On the next track you come in with “Black Mountain Rag” á la Chet Atkins. Your guitar playing almost sounded like you were playing a 12-string.
Dave Edmunds: “I did a double track on that one a bit. I used a Taylor acoustic and a T5 which is like an electric acoustic. There’s two ‘Rags’ on there and can’t remember which one I used on each.”
Ray Shasho: Another great track on ‘Rags & Classics’ is a song dear to my heart, and that is Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.” I used to sign-off my radio show with that song every night when I worked as a deejay.
Dave Edmunds: “When I did a recording of that one it was very similar to the Mason Williams version, so for that I thought I’d do it a bit different, so I did it in a swing beat with a raucous bass going underneath it. Then I played some drums on top of that last, which is very difficult to do. I think this album is a good example of my style guitar playing and production.”
Ray Shasho: The final track on the new album is a surprising finale … Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, Molto Allegro (Mozart).
Dave Edmunds: “I thought that’ll fool them! When I was living in LA, my wife Cecilia and I went to the movies and saw Amadeus. I didn’t know much about Mozart or classical music and on the way home we stopped at Tower Records and she went over to the classical music section and bought the best of Mozart CD ($4.95) all laughing. So I played it at home and instantly thought … now I get it! This is why people talk about the genius of Mozart. I just started picking it with a thumb pick, just the intro, and I thought what am I doing? I kept listening to the original and inched my way through it with the guitar, learning it, then I decided to do some solo acoustic gigs around America and I learned to play it as the last song of the set, and it went down a storm every time because people couldn’t believe it, what’s this guy doing alone onstage with an acoustic and playing Mozart’s 40th. It never failed and it was great!”
“So I thought I’d record it. I did it all in one take, put a little bass on it, and thought it would be good for the end of the album. It’s not meant for guitar but somehow find a way in normal tuning, I’m in G minor, and I found my way around it. It’s really difficult to play.”
Ray Shasho: Dave, the last time I saw you perform was with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. I know you played in the band several times but this particular lineup featured … You, Timmy Cappello, Burton Cummings, Nils Lofgren, Todd Rundgren, Timothy B. Schmidt, Zak Starkey and Joe Walsh. Just a great show!
You were semi-retired for a while, are you going to be coming back full-throttle with the release of this new album?
Dave Edmunds: “I think I’ve always been semi-retired. (All laughing) Not having any career plan really, it’s my hobby and I get to do lots of things with different people and work with my heroes, so it’s never been a full-on career, it’s more of …I’m lucky and made a living out of my hobby. I’m kind of a loner in the music business …like a one-man band thing. Maybe it’s because I came from Wales and not living in London like the Yardbirds, Cream, and all the guys back then. I feel like I snuck in the backdoor somehow and have just been on the periphery of the business ever since, and went in a completely different way.”
Ray Shasho: You scored the mega-hit “I Hear You Knocking” after your departure from the blues-rock group ‘Love Sculpture’ …
Dave Edmunds: “By accident! I knew some guys that had a recording studio, not a professional studio. I recorded “I Hear You Knocking” and EMI released it as just a single deal, not a record contract, just a one off deal, I had no manager, no band, no press agent … and the record just took off with absolutely any promotion, it went to Christmas #1 in Britain for six weeks, which was the longest #1 Christmas single ever, and a few months later it did the same thing in America, it just went screaming up the charts. It must have been that the deejays loved it and they promoted the record instead of the record company doing it, because there wasn’t a record company just a one off deal. Then I was stuck because I didn’t even have an album to go with it.”
“The song was first released in 1955 by Smiley Lewis. I just happened to hear it on the radio one day and I thought, gee, I had this idea to do Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together,” which I heard when I first came to America in 1969. I thought, when I get back home I’m going to do that one and do my own cover, but Canned Heat had the same idea. So when I heard Smiley Lewis, it was the same twelve-bar format, you could use the same backing track for both songs, so I thought, great, I’ll do that one instead, and that was it. It was done in 6/8 time, so I brought it into 4/4 time to make it a little bit more accessible and just had fun with it. It took a long time going back and forth, stripping it down and starting again, and then it finally came together.”
Ray Shasho: Who were some of the early guitarists that inspired you to pick up a guitar?
Dave Edmunds: “James Burton when he was playing with Ricky Nelson, Scotty Moore when he was with Elvis, Chuck Berry of course, Cliff Gallup of the Blue Caps … back then you had drums and drum fills and real guitar solos. my son told me when he was working in the A&R Department with Sony … he said, now what they want is no guitar solos, only a 4 bar intro and the vocals have to be auto-tuned. It’s all gone. If you listen to all the stuff that Ringo did with The Beatles, it’s fantastic drumming! But you don’t hear that anymore.”
Ray Shasho: “Do you ever talk with Nick Lowe?
Dave Edmunds: “He lives in London and we don’t cross paths anymore. When we did recently it was a Jools Holland gig and we were talking for a bit, so yea he’s okay.”
Ray Shasho: Rockpile was an incredible band but you guys only put out the one album (‘Seconds of Pleasure’) …
Dave Edmunds: “I think we ran out of enthusiasm by then and quite rightly because he didn’t just want to be a band member, he’d done that for years with Brinsley Schwarz. We had a great time; it was a party band for four years and we never took it seriously, and that seemed to come over onstage. We had a terrific goodwill from the American audiences, the record industry, the radio, and everyone seemed to love us. I still get asked about it today. But we only got together just to do a few gigs in London because we didn’t have anything else to do at the time.”
Ray Shasho: You also collaborated with Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) …
Dave Edmunds: “I was just about to move to America, I had just been through a divorce and hanging out with George (Harrison) for quite a few years because I lived near him. He was thinking about maybe making an album but he couldn’t make up his mind, and he wanted me to produce it, but he kept flipping and flopping. So I said if you want to do one work with Jeff Lynne because he’s very creative in the studio. I kept after George to work with Jeff Lynne and after eighteen months or so he finally said okay bring him down. So I did. I moved to LA. and then I kind of fell out of the loop.”
Ray Shasho: ‘Slipping Away’ (1983) was a really cool tune …
Dave Edmunds: “A lot of the purist didn’t like it because I was working with Jeff Lynne and using a synthesizer.”
Ray Shasho: In 1986, you participated in Carl Perkins's Rockabilly Session television special with George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton. …Great program!
Dave Edmunds: “Carl asked me and George if we’d be on his TV show. We said yes and then discovered that there was no TV show, he was just asking us anyway and then hoping that we would put it together. So George said to me, if you get all the directors, line producers and the studio and all that and I‘ll get Ringo and Eric Clapton in. So I said right, let’s do it! So it all came together and I was the musical director. It all came down to Carl’s personality that brought it off. George was so excited to be back out playing, he was like a little boy and enthusiastic to be playing with Carl.”
Ray Shasho: What was George Harrison like?
Dave Edmunds: “He was one of the most interesting people that I’ve ever met, and one of the nicest. Whenever the subject of The Beatles would come up … he always called them the fabs, like the fab four. He’d say …when I was in the fabs … and always looked at it with amusement, not with any ego at all. He looked at it like … what a weird thing that was, how the hell did that happen? The other three may have been egotistical about it and proud of being Beatles, but with George he saw it as some cosmic joke. He was just amused by the whole thing, he loved it but he kept it to himself, and you could tell when you were talking to him that there was no ego at all. Maybe acid burned it off. (All laughing) …I do miss him.”
Ray Shasho: You got to work in the studio with The Everly Brothers …
Dave Edmunds: “I did two albums with them. It was great! I had to sort of pinch myself and I was very nervous leading up to that because they are so iconic.”
Ray Shasho: Dave here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish like the movie, to perform or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Dave Edmunds: “I would sit, watch, and perhaps play with Merle Travis. I’ve played with Chet, and played with most of my heroes and some are still my friends. Steve Cropper was one of my main influences and I’ve done a lot with Steve, we did a long tour together in America with Dion DiMucci. Yea, so it would be Merle Travis. I’d say Elvis but what the hell would you say to Elvis without sounding foolish? Elvis you’re great, love your records! (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Dave thank you so much for being on the call today and for all the great rock and roll you’ve given us all these years and continue to bring!
Dave Edmunds: “Thanks Ray … bye-bye!”
Purchase the latest release by guitar legend DAVE EDMUNDS entitled …
‘Rags & Classics’ -an eclectic mix of captivating musical satisfaction …
You’ll be delightfully swayed by Edmunds’ intricate instrumental renderings.
-Purchase your copy at Amazon.com … (5) Stars all the way!
1) A Whiter Shade of Pale
2) I Believe I Can Fly
3) God Only Knows
4) Wuthering Heights
5) Your Song
6) Black Mountain Rag
7) Classical Gas
8) Green Onions
9) Cannonball Rag
10) Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, Molto Allegro
Very special thanks to Chip Ruggieri of Chipster PR & Consulting, Inc.
COMING UP NEXT … Longtime KISS guitarist/singer/songwriter …
BRUCE KULICK (Currently of Grand Funk Railroad)
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