Jonathan Edwards Says: "I Just Do What I Know Well... Play Music"
Having a massive hit single early on in a career usually results in one of two things. At worst, the artist finds him or herself stuck with the stigma that they're a one-hit wonder. At best, however, the astute musician uses that success as a stepping stone and an ongoing claim to fame.
Jonathan Edwards could be classified in the latter category. Having scored a top five hit with the song "Sunshine" some 40 years ago, he went on to maintain a viable recording and performing career even without the benefit of any further chart triumphs.
"'Sunshine' was a one-off hit that propelled me into national prominence," he says on reflection. Indeed, following two major label affiliations -- first with Atlantic Records and later with Warner Bros. -- he's continued to release his records independently for the past three decades.
Nevertheless, there was an absence of 14 years prior to Edwards' most recent studio effort, appropriately titled My Love Will Keep. Happily, it boasts the same cheery optimism and soothing sentiment that marked his earlier endeavors -- his eponymous debut, its successor, Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy, and the effort that followed, Have a Good Time for Me, in particular. Half originals, half covers, it gathers a sense of wistful rumination thanks to his trademark blend of freewheeling folk music and casual country.
"I like to do music with a little bit of intelligence now and then," Edwards chuckles, speaking on the phone from his home on the coast of Maine. "To me, it's always about the song. I don't really care who wrote it. I love to write and it's the greatest thing in life. But if I find a song that fits what I want to say and I feel I can do justice to, I will." Not surprisingly then, My Love Will Keep takes several twists and turns, some of them wholly unexpected. An ambitious cover of the Beatles' "She Loves You" turns the once rollicking rave-up into a dreamy ballad. "I think it really works," Edwards says. "People stand up after we play that song in concert. Maybe they're ready to leave, I don't know. (laughs) I wasn't trying to disguise it -- I wanted to do an outside-of-the-box arrangement that went a little deeper."
Other tracks resonate in a similar way. "Johnny Blue Horizon" pays tribute to his late friend and fellow troubadour, John Denver. The lead track, "Surrounded," was penned several years ago, but Edwards was never able to find a home for it on any of his earlier albums. "Freewheeler" and "Everybody Works in China" continue his tradition of covering songs written by some of his fellow singer/songwriters -- in this case, Jesse Winchester and Henry Gross, respectively. His own "Crazy Texas Woman" boosts the energy level and takes its cue from his reflections of the Lone Star State.
Still, in the music biz where an absence of even 14 months can challenge the public's attention span, 14 years is nothing less than an eternity. "I've been working on the live show and the studio has been on the back burner," Edwards explains. "I really don't have any excuse. I was just waiting for exactly the right time." In truth, Edwards has always relied on his own instincts, a lesson he learned by necessity early on. After the success of "Sunshine," problems with his management curtailed his efforts to further maintain that momentum.
Other opportunities were squandered as a result. "All of a sudden I had some street cred and I had some respect in the business," Edwards reflects. "But I was just getting lousy advice and lousy decisions were made on my behalf. And because I hired those people and they worked for me, I'd take the heat." To his credit however, he's also been willing to take chances. Intermittent attempts at retirement gave way to an ambitious agenda, with him delving into documentaries, scoring soundtracks, and even acting and agriculture.
These days, Edwards' focus is mostly on his music. "I've never really had anyone in charge of the business end of what I do," Edwards admits. "I just do what I know well, which is to play music."