Interview with Pioneering Singer/Songwriter Jonathan Edwards
By Paul Van Ness
We had a few moments to chat with Jonathan Edwards, the pioneering, and influential singer/ songwriter, who is performing at CinemaSalem on Thursday, June 9 at 8:30 pm. Tickets are available at www.CinemaSalem.com
As you look back on your career, do you feel that Massachusetts played a role in your early artistic development, either the natural environment or the tastes of the audiences?
Jonathan: I completely and early on found Massachusetts a welcoming and nurturing place from which to explore the idea of making a living creating, producing and performing music. It's always been a younger audience with all the colleges and universities all over the state and yes, a super enthusiastic crowd to play for. These audiences have always been appreciators of authenticity and honest, straight forward delivery and I'm grateful to have had so many formative years making memories with them.
At the same time my first album was a prominent and climbing part of the current charts, I was discovering the world of organic farming and gardening that was almost as deep within my soul as music and I was living in a little farm house in an orchard in Harvard, MA. I have always had an organic garden and raised a few chickens ever since.
When you first wrote a song like “Sunshine” or “Shanty”, how did you feel about it? Did you know right away it would connect with people, or did you discover the connection as you played it for audiences?
Jonathan: All the songs on my first "gold" album I wrote with the pretty certain knowledge that no one would ever even hear them, except my friends and that's just the way it turned out. I just suddenly had A LOT more friends!
"Shanty" is just what we called any little shack or funky little apartment we happened to be living in. "Sunshine" was born out of my constant desire to question authority, challenge widely held beliefs and express my personal outrage at the decisions being made on our behalf by our elected officials. My heart rate goes up just thinking of those incredibly tumultuous years of forced conscription to the Army and the indelible mark left on my entire generation.
Of course I was a "Conscientious Objector" to the wars in S.E. Asia but, as we were reminded just this week with the passing of Mohammad Ali, C.O. status still meant you went to prison for seeing more clearly than most the mistake that Viet Nam obviously was and refusing to participate. His example and this lesson were not lost on any of us. Hard to find heroes like that anymore.
What inspires you to continue to tour?
Jonathan: I LOVE just about every aspect of the way my crazy career has evolved. Mostly, I love playing music for people, and I always have. Sure, there have been times when life has urged me in a different direction or shown me a new avenue of creativity. But, I always come back to my love of performance and the engagement with the crowd.
I'll be 70 yrs old next month, still feel like I'm a teenager at heart. Whenever tempted to step back and reassess what I'm doing, I recall all the astonishing people I've met these past 50 yrs, and vividly remember a certain look in a fan's eyes, an emotional story, an intimate glimpse into the lives of the folks who spend their hard-earned money to show-up and share this special night with me! It's hard to imagine sometimes what a little song or an album can mean to people but I see it and get to hear about it every night in the "meet and greet' line at the end of every show. I am, as always, humbled with gratitude for all these special nights and for all these amazing years.
What experience with the audience continues to motivate you?
Jonathan: Audiences have become much more discerning, sophisticated and knowledgeable over the years, and that inspires me to always bring something new to the party, listen more closely to how I'm sounding and feeling, engaging more completely on a personal as well as a musical level with increasingly sold-out rooms and doing everything within my power to create a truly memorable evening to be shared by all. The power of the groove makes me move to improve!
(going a little "Ali" on ya there...may he Rest In Peace.)