Image courtesy of quotefancy
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, everybody was stirring, because this is the 21st Century and everyone is a maniac. I was perusing the Think Country Facebook page and noticed a message popped in. Now, normally, they get sent to a mailbox which generates an automated response until a human can reply. We get tons of messages every single day. All kinds. This one, however, came in at exactly the right time. I just happened to see the notification as it arrived. It was also a little “different”. Normally, I would have let it just go to the regular mailbox, but something about it made me open it immediately.
Mind you, it WAS Christmas Eve. I had stuff to do! Maybe it was Christmas magic, but in any case, it was a woman asking about an artist interview. One thing led to another and within three days that interview happened AND I was able to see that artist play a live show. That has certainly never happened before. Especially from someone I had never heard of before. We really steamrolled this one into high gear quickly. Was it worth it? You have no idea how much it was worth it. Christmas magic, weird timing, that penny I picked up in the Target parking lot? Whatever it was, yes, it was very worth it.
The artist was J Edwards. We met two days after Christmas and had a very good talk. Before we got down to chatting about music, I did mention that the method of contact was, indeed, unique, and had it not been for that, we would never have been sitting in a coffee shop at that moment, so kudos to his team for their standing out in a crowd, so to speak. I’m going to leave it at that. I don’t want to divulge their “secrets”.
Photo of J Edwards courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country
J Edwards was born in Paragould, Arkansas in the northeast corner of the state, where his grandfather was pastor of the church. Edwards’s father, originally from Louisiana, was a traveling minister, and eventually the family ended up in the southern part of Arkansas in a town called El Dorado. By the time he was 19-years old, he’d traveled with his family all over the country playing Christian music. “You name it, I’ve probably lived there.” While Edwards may have traveled extensively in his youth, he graduated from high school in El Dorado, Arkansas and still considers it home.
Image courtesy of TownMapsUSA.com
When Edwards was young, his activities were completely based around going to church and traveling to play music, in fact, he learned to play instruments via that nomadic lifestyle. “My Dad plays guitar and played it on flat top guitar and my Mom plays anything with keys on it. She, as a kid, played accordion. As they traveled, he’d have an acoustic guitar and she’d have her accordion and they sang together. They’d tell me stories about ending up in Jackson Square down in New Orleans, preachin’ and singin’ out in a park and just playin’ instruments together. They cut records and I’ve got a sister and brother and all of us grew up singin’ and playin’ music. When Dad moved to El Dorado to pastor the church, if somebody wasn’t able to make it one night, if there was an empty spot, say bass guitar, that’s where I went. ‘Well, I don’t really know how to play bass.’ ‘Well, you’re gonna learn’, and I did. My Mom taught me how to play bass and she’s never played bass before in her life.”
It didn’t stop with the string instruments either. “I played some trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, drums, keys and harmonica. You name it, I’ve probably touched it and played it one time or two.” I had to know if it was fun or if it was drudgery. Edwards explained it well. “I think in the beginning learning instruments is tough anyway because you don’t see progress in the first few years or first few months of anything you’re playin’. By the time a kid’s seven or eight-years old, he doesn’t wanna play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ anymore, he wants to play whatever music that is he’s listening to. So, if you don’t teach them something they can grasp a hold of and they can show their friends, like, ‘Hey, watch what I can do!’ and teach them some boogie woogie or something that’s simple but matches the music they’re listening to, then they get discouraged with it.”
Edwards continued, “I talk to people all the time that say, ‘Man, I want to learn guitar but it’s been six months and I just couldn’t do it. It was too hard or I just didn’t like what I was playin’.’ It’s just so much easier to teach somebody a few simple chords and let ‘em play ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ and let ‘em go, ‘Hey, look what I can do!’ I just saw this thing on Netflix last night with Bruce Springsteen. That’s exactly what he did when he was seven-years old. He got a guitar and he was about to take it back because he couldn’t play it and he wasn’t having any fun learning it. Right when he took it out and was about to take it back to the store, he went out in the yard and showed it to all the kids and he posed with it and he danced with it. He said, ‘I didn’t play it, because I couldn’t play it, but I realized, yeah, this is what I want to do.’ He said he did the Elvis shake with it and everything.”
Overall, Edwards is extremely grateful for the music education he received during those years of traveling with his family. He said he still calls his Mom from time to time and thanks her for helpful tips she gave him as he was learning to play various instruments. In retrospect, he said he wishes he had paid even more attention, but wouldn’t trade the experience.
Today, Edwards plays a mix of country, rock and blues, so when did he “flip” from playing Christian music? With a little laugh, he replies, “I’m gonna say about 20 years ago. I was livin’ in South Carolina and ‘flip’ is the word. It was just a total 180-degree turn. I had some total life changes. I went from playin’ Christian music. I had got a divorce, the whole thing. I started playin’ blues bars and honky-tonks and hootenannies all up the east coast and South Carolina until I just exhausted the resources out there in South Carolina and decided it was time to move out to Nashville.”
It was at this point that I remarked what a good move it was for Edwards because his voice is just so suited to Nashville. It’s got that bluesy, country rock sound and that the first time I listened to him, it didn’t take me long to think if Chris Stapleton and Bob Seger had a lovechild, it might sound a lot like J Edwards. This prompted Edwards to tell me that he really appreciated what Stapleton is doing and that although he has never met Stapleton or Seger, the usual six-degrees of separation has been pared down to about two with both of those artists for him. Edwards has worked with songwriter, Steve Leslie, who helped bring Chris Stapleton to Nashville to get his own songwriting career started. Shaun Murphy, longtime backup singer for Bob Seger is a good friend of Edwards as well. So, in the perfect world, maybe someday, Edwards will get to meet one or both of these gentlemen, because according to him, they are both on his long list of people he would love to collaborate with.
Photo of Chris Stapleton courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country
Photo of Steve Leslie courtesy of indieconnect.com
Photo of Bob Seger and Shaun Murphy courtesy of shaunmurphyband.com
Edwards officially landed in Nashville in August of 2009 and met a blues musician named Rickey Godfrey. Godfrey, who lived in Nashville, but was originally from South Carolina and played a lot of shows there, was also blind and needed transportation from Nashville to South Carolina frequently. He and Edwards struck up a friendship and began to ride together to South Carolina and back whenever they needed to. They did this for years. Godfrey wasn’t just a friend that needed to hitch a ride now and then either. The very first night Edwards arrived in Nashville, it was Godfrey that took him to Bourbon Street Blues Bar and began to entrench him in to the blues circuit. It was that night that Edwards met Shaun Murphy (Bob Seger). “He introduced me to tons of people.”
Photo of Rickey Godfrey courtesy of THE GUITAR SHOW with Andy Ellis
There’s no doubt that Edwards has pipes that are reminiscent of the finest blues vocalists on record, but he wasn’t content with just writing and playing in that genre forever. He wanted to stretch further. He wanted to write country songs. He started hitting places like the old Fiddle & Steel Guitar Bar in Printer’s Alley and met country songwriter, Rick Tiger and “a ton of other great country guys”. “About 1 o’clock in the morning, we’d be waiting on doing an open mic or something and then we’d just forget that and all get our guitars. There’d be fifteen people with guitars all around the bar just playin’ songs they’d written. It was phenomenal, such a great time.”
Photo of Rick Tiger courtesy of Twitter
Still playing some blues, but not wanting to be completely locked into that circuit, Edwards started exploring ways to get more involved in the country music scene. He went to NSAI (National Songwriters Association International) and was told he needed to “go to Memphis”, he was too bluesy and there was no way he could write a country song. He knew he could, but he needed to find some co-writers that believed in him. Finally, his friend Rick Tiger agreed to write with him. It took them a long time, but they did finally come up with a song and since then, he’s not only written with many other people, but he’s also becoming selective about who he writes with. NSAI may not have believed he could write a country song, but obviously, others disagree.
Edwards, along with Rob Snyder, co-wrote a song on Edwards’s new album, Cold, called “Staying Here”. Snyder, who is quite well known around town for his writing and for a songwriter round he runs at Tin Roof on Demonbreun called Revival 615, recently had one of his songs hit number one. Luke Combs’s “She Got the Best of Me”, co-written by Snyder, Combs and Channing Wilson was Combs’s fourth number one hit. So, it’s apparent that Edwards is running with a talented crowd when it comes to colleagues these days.
As soon as we really started talking about the new album, you could feel the excitement building in Edwards’s voice. He is passionate about this record. I could tell right away. With good reason. I listened to it several times before I sat down to speak with him and it was like a truly wonderful, yet unexpected, Christmas gift.
It was recorded in two studios. Red Fern, until it suddenly shut down, and Omni Sound Studios. The producers were Drew Smith and Mike Sprinkle. “The players on it are all A-list players here in Nashville.” Edwards made sure to name each musician individually in our interview, which tells me he appreciated each one enough to do that, so I’m going to take the time to list them all here as well. Kevin “Swine” Grantt (bass), Jim “Moose” Brown (piano/B3/Rhodes), Justin Ostrander (electric guitars), Smith Curry (lap steel/pedal steel/acoustic guitar), Dennis Wage (Clavinet/B3/Rhodes) and Tommy Harden (drums/percussion/tambourine).
Album photo courtesy of Logan Stroud Photography
Doing backing vocals on the record is Cricket Davis, who happens to be Edwards’s daughter. She is an accomplished singer who got her nickname, “Cricket” thanks to a skill her Dad taught her and one he demonstrated for me. She can whistle in a way that sounds exactly like an actual cricket. She wasn’t there to show me this, but Edwards did it so well and told me she does it much better than him. I was looking around to see if the employees in the coffee shop were going to start checking for bugs. It was that convincing. If you should happen to see either Edwards or Cricket Davis (Davis plays regularly on Broadway in Nashville), definitely ask them to do their cricket imitation.
Every track on the album is so good, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but there are some that stand out in different ways. I know there was one that I thought was the most “radio friendly” and I thought to myself, “This is a Dierks Bentley song. He needs to cut this. Somebody needs to cut this.” I asked Edwards which song HE thought was the most radio friendly. Without much hesitation at all he came back with, “Long Way from Lonely Tonight” (J Edwards, Drew Smith). Exactly! Out of 11 songs, we both agreed that was the one most suited to mainstream country radio. He said a couple of artists wanted to cut it but said it was about 30 seconds too short. We both also agreed that somebody just needs to add 30 seconds of something to it and cut the thing.
If you want to see J Edwards in action (and believe me, you DO), you can find him at Bootleggers on Broadway every Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 PM. According to Edwards, “If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Broadway and 2nd, you’re gonna hear me. It’s a four-hour shift and I only do originals. I guess I just got old and mean and I told ‘em, ‘I got all these songs and I don’t wanna do covers’, and it’s workin’. We’ve got tons of folks comin’ in from all these other states and countries and we advertise in Nashville, ‘It all begins with a song’, and they get here and they walk up and down the tourist district and it’s the same thing as comin’ from Wisconsin and hearing their cousin’s band that plays in a bar up there.”
I loved the idea that Broadway is starting to open itself up to artists playing original material, but I laughed a bit at the thought of Edwards being old and mean. He didn’t seem all that mean to me, but I told him I supposed he could LOOK mean if he wanted to, and maybe that’s how he got his way. Whatever his methodology, I’m glad it turned out the way it did. He said his shows do quite well.
One thing Edwards is not a fan of is the way music has become over processed with things like autotune. He doesn’t even want his own band to overplay. Every now and then he likes to “strip it down to where all you might hear is a kick and a high hat and the voice.”
I was curious if there were any artists Edwards listened to that we might be surprised to know about. His answer was quite solid that he didn’t think so, but then he just sort of began talking about different performers he liked. “Joe Cocker, John Fogerty, Phil Collins, Clapton, guys that were givin’ you some steak that you could chew on. I’m a huge fan of some female artists. Bonnie Raitt, oh man, that’s a dream of mine to someday sing with Bonnie Raitt. When I did cover stuff we did Alanis Morissette and oh, Christina Aguilera…”
I had to stop him there. I said, “Okay, I’d be surprised that you like Christina Aguilera.” He jumped right back in with, “Oh, but she is such a powerhouse. Some of these folks put too much into it, but she’s great. I like Pink, I like her voice. I’m not always impressed with the motives and stuff behind those shows, but I do think she has a great voice. One of my favorite things is the thing she did with Steven Tyler. If she did that all day long, that would be good. Bruno Mars has the funk stuff and I can listen to that, but I like a lot of old school. It’s what I grew up with and what I identify with.”
Since we were doing this interview at the very end of 2018, I decided to ask what the highs and lows of the year were for Edwards. “I think the highs were the expectations of doing this record. Finally getting it out, finally getting somebody behind me. We were cruisin’. We had the right team together and it was so awesome. I had guys talkin’ to me about, ‘Man, this is Grammy material. We believe in you. This is CMA material. This is goin’ somewhere.’ We were so high at the beginning of the year with hearing the recordings and it sounded the way I wanted it to. It was a little bit more music than it was intended to be, but it all just clicked, it was so great, it was so awesome. We set the release date, we were talkin’ to the right people, we had a big list of who we were gonna send this out to and really get there. We had our minds made up to push in the door and say, ‘Look, you’ve just got to listen to this record’, so that would be the high.”
Video courtesy of Patti McClintic and YouTube
The highs were really high, but there were lows too. Where Edwards had a brightness in his voice talking about the creation and launch of the album, I could almost feel that brightness dimming as he started to describe the lows of 2018. “Yeah, there were lows. When all that fell apart. I was sitttin’ up there holdin’ this record all by myself in my hand, and I lost that support. It was back to my wife and I with this product and we were like, ‘What do we do?’ I still don’t have a publishing deal.
At that point, I had to shake my head a little bit and really wonder how this artist does not have a publishing deal, at the very least. This is an interview, I know, but I need to at least put in my two cents about what I’d heard of his music online. It was so good. He writes honest to goodness country songs. Not fluff, but the kind that get into your gut and make you think and stir up some emotion. Isn’t that what country songs are supposed to do to some extent? Sure, there are some that are straight-up party songs, perfect for bonfires and days on the lake, but think of the greats like Merle Haggard and George Jones. Those guys wrote songs with some grit to them. Add J Edwards to their club. He needs to have a publishing deal. He might even need to have a record deal, but more on that later.
I’m always interested in what type of gear artists enjoy most. For J Edwards, he favors an Australian Cole Clark guitar, which he has an endorsement with. He also has an endorsement with a smaller guitar company called Andrew White which he’s very happy with. At this last Summer NAMM, Edwards got an endorsement with GHS Strings as well.
“I’m gonna get an endorsement from Ariat Boots whether they know it or not”, declared Edwards with a smile, pointing to a slightly worn pair of the brand mentioned. Telling me he “loves Ariat boots” and has been wearing them for years, it would be a dream come true to someday become endorsed by that company. I believe he would be a superb representative of the brand, so if anyone from Ariat cares to contact Edwards, I’m sure he’d answer your call.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
On our website, we have a section called Think Nashville, which is devoted to lifestyles and activities in Music City. I often ask artists where they like to eat in Nashville. When I posed the question to Edwards, he replied, “Oh, man! Golden Coast! Right there on West End and 18th, a little Chinese buffet right there. On the weekends, they’ve got some crazy food. On the weekends they’ve got a huge Asian clientele so they’ve got chicken feet and stuff, it’s fun. Golden Coast, by far, is one of my favorite places to eat.”
What about the UK? Any following over there yet? “I do. In 2010 we did the blues album (LuLu’s House) and it blew up over there. We never went to tour there, we’re still workin’ on that, but just a few weeks ago we made a connection with some of those guys again, and being a blues album they’re still playin’ it. They’ll play it for the next 50 years, it’s the blues, we’re still listenin’ to John Lee Hooker and that was 50 years ago, but they just seem to like me over there, and I got called the other day, and he called every radio station and called all his friends he tagged on Facebook. Now blues radio stations are startin’ to call and say, ‘Hey, can we get a copy of this?’ So, that’s goin’ on.”
One of life’s most difficult questions to answer for anyone is, “Who is your favorite songwriter?” Up the ante and make it be a LIVING songwriter and ask that question to a SONGWRITER, and you’ve just made the question much harder. I put J Edwards on the spot with this one. As you can imagine, he had trouble narrowing it down to just one and we ended up going off into an entire side conversation about songwriters, but for the sake of time and space, I’m going to consolidate his response the best way I can.
“I think me and Travis Meadows could do something. He’s my wife’s second favorite songwriter. I started working on some stuff a few years ago with Patrick Aprea (works with Travis Meadows), but then he got so busy with Travis that it never got finished. In a few weeks, I’ve got a thing coming up, that I may have Whiskey Jack (Untz) playin’ on. Jack’s a good friend of mine. Travis is always on his way to somewhere else. He’s always, ‘Hey, good to see you, but I’ve got to go here or there’.” I then interjected that I knew Jack had problems with his arm and I hoped he was feeling better. Edwards said he was better and actually playing out already.
Photo of Travis Meadows and Whiskey Jack Untz courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country
“Of course, my friend Ashley McBryde, she’s from Arkansas too, she’s great, we’ve threatened to write.” I had to laugh at “threatened” to write. I could absolutely see Edwards writing with any of these people. His style and his personality fits right in the pocket with that crowd. “Bobby Pinson, he wrote a bunch of Toby Keith and Sugarland stuff. He wrote a monster song that never made it huge called, ‘Don’t Ask Me How I Know’. That was an amazing song.”
Photo of Ashley McBryde courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country
We discussed songwriters for a while and how songwriter shows are growing in popularity in the UK and Edwards agreed he really needs to get over there.
As for his favorite living performer, Edwards thought Garth Brooks was probably still the king of live performances, although George Strait can just stand there with a guitar and command an audience without running all over the place. This led to a little reminiscing about days gone by when Edwards used to do some crazy things back in South Carolina, like crawl up in the rafters with a cordless mic in his mouth, then swing from those rafters on to the bar. Reba McEntire also made the list. So, all in all, Edwards simply couldn’t pin it down to just one, and truth be told, I probably couldn’t either.
We had made it to the finish line. The last question. When J Edwards “Thinks Country”, what does he think? “That’s one where we could be here forever. Here’s my opinion. It’s the same thing with country as when rock and roll went so hardcore (Edwards made a growling sound). Rock went so heavy and hardcore that it opened up so much room, that some of the rock stuff that we used to listen to in the eighties got thrown over into the country basket. Now that country has gone over into what we consider eighties R&B, I grew up on the same grooves, everybody doin’ those finger snaps (he snaps his fingers). When it did that, what it did was open up such a big place for expanded Americana, so now we’re dumpin’ everything over that’s not pop country, we’re dumpin’ over into the Americana basket. So, you’ve got Bob Seger songs in Americana. You’ve got outlaw country in the Americana basket. You’ve got blues in the Americana basket. You’ve got the real old R&B in Americana. You’ve got bluegrass in the Americana.”
Edwards continued on, “So, when I think country, to be honest, I think of old school country, where there was a story and it was in a form just like readin’ a story, like readin’ a book. Nowadays, I’m a philosopher, but this is what came to me, was nowadays country music is defined by a comma. It’s just a long list of stuff. Tailgate, Truck, Big wheels, Girl in a sundress, Girl in cowboy boots, Sunshine, Suntan. Just a list of stuff, and it’s a comma. Listen to these new songs and be obnoxious and say ‘comma’ after every phrase. ‘Comma’, ‘comma’, ‘comma’, ‘comma’. Be obnoxious and do that and see. That just all puts it in perspective. There’s never a sentence that goes on and says, ‘She did this and this and we were like this and this. Then we were like this when we did this.’ It’s there, but it’s all defined by a comma.”
“Stories are what I want. So, I want to hear ‘Do You Wanna Go to Heaven?’ like some old TG Sheppard, you know? Oh, man, stories. That’s what country was. I love that country that told a story, but here in Nashville we’re like, ‘Oh, no. We’ve gotta put a comma in!’ Think about the material that’s being written. The guy that has a drink in his hand only has a drink in his hand because everybody else has a drink in their hand. It’s always a party song. It’s not because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. I have songs, but they’re never gonna get cut unless Johnny Paycheck comes back to life.”
I had to cut in and tell Edwards that I was just at Johnny Paycheck’s grave on Christmas Eve. I pulled out my phone and showed him a photo of me at that grave. Another oddity about that was Paycheck actually died on my birthday in 2003. I didn’t know that until I approached the grave, but I also wasn’t all that surprised. I’ve come to the realization that my birthday is a fairly common day for people to die. Paycheck died on February 19, 2003. Relatives on my husband’s side of the family seem to die on that day. Just another strange factoid about me that you didn’t necessarily need to know, but now you do. At least Johnny Paycheck was attached to this one, which makes it somewhat related to country music this time around.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
We ended our somewhat lengthy interview with Edwards telling me he was playing a round that evening at Douglas Corner in Nashville. I was free and decided I needed to see him play live. Although this was not intended to be a review, and it isn’t one, I will sum up that round (at least Edwards’s portion of it) quickly and call this piece a day.
I went to see J Edwards at Douglas Corner on December 27, 2018. I listened to his music on Spotify and focused extensively on his latest album, Cold, beforehand. I was extremely impressed by his voice and writing. I decided if he sounded that good on a recording, it might be interesting to hear him live, so I jumped at my first chance to do that.
Video courtesy of Patti McClintic and YouTube
Edwards engages well with his fellow songwriters on stage and with his audience, making for a fun and informative round. What really steals the show? I’ll tell you. Edwards has a voice that could drill tunnels through the Alps. Beautiful, fully finished tunnels. Somebody get this guy a deal already! I’ve read he’s “Nashville’s best kept secret”. Well, not anymore if I have anything to do with it. I’ll be telling everyone I know about him. He not only has the voice. Take the best country lyricists and roll them into one and you have J Edwards. Think Country just let the secret out of the bag and we’re not apologizing.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
J Edwards can be found: