Jonathan Edwards is one of those singer/songwriters that everyone knows, even if they don’t know they know. That’s largely due to his 1971 folk-pop hit “Sunshine.” The iconic tune paved the way for Edwards who has since released 16 albums with Tomorrow’s Child now joining the collection. Over the decades, Edwards has worked with Emmylou Harris, Michael Martin Murphey, B.B. King, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, the Allman Brothers, and so many more. For his new project, he got a little help from his friends… including Darrell Scott as producer.
When you were back in military school, just starting to write songs, did you have an ambition to pursue music as a career? Or were you just trying to pass the time and chase your muse?
I didn’t even know how to spell “career” at that time. Like most kids, I was like a thirsty sponge, soaking up chords, rhythms, grooves, lyrics, structure, and the whole self-expression, artistic, creative culture and community. Of course, the entire “process” of writing poetry and prose and the translation into songwriting was soon to follow. The muse shall not be chased; she will come on her own volition, at a time and place of her choosing. Just make her comfortable and happy.
Thinking back on making your first record — losing the “Please Find Me” recording and adding “Sunshine” in its place — that has to be the greatest “meant to be” moment in your life, right?
I have always been a creature of serendipity and convergence. What I mean by that is being open to the often subtle winds and currents and tides that push and pull your ship slightly off your intended course. There are rocks out there and shallow water, and I take it all in as I survey the horizon in front of me. I don’t miss a thing. I’m lucky I have such an unblemished driving record.
Do you ever go into “what if” mode and imagine how things might have turned out if that hadn’t happened?
Perhaps my high school guidance counselor would have been right when, after reviewing my aptitude test, she asked if I had ever considered welding as a profession. I don’t really believe in predestination or any of that; I just believe a creative soul (and I think everyone has one) needs to be wide open to ALL of the senses we are endowed with and the energy to sustain the impulse to reflect that inspiration for others to enjoy.
From the Broadway stage to the folk circuit to the silver screen, you’ve kind of done it all. Do you have a preference for one art form? Or do they each have their own special place in your heart and creativity?
I’d like to know what the statistics are regarding ADD and the creative process. I love doing it ALL. There is SO much to be learned from all these efforts, and they all inform and enrich each other all the time. Challenging? Sure, but it always seems to travel in a positive direction and I’m forever grateful that my friends and fans have joined me on this journey and have rambled through their changes right along with me.
For the songs, you balance confessionals and classics. How important is that levity for you? And how tricky is it to get the ratio right?
My approach has always been to talk about the feelings I am dealing with at the time, in hopes that other people will be able to relate and maybe gain some insight, perspective, pleasure — or maybe just the knowledge that they are not alone, that other folks, even the ones in the spotlight, may be going through those same feelings. The balance is tricky. I want so much to give the people who venture out on a Saturday night everything they want — everything and more that they expect from our almost 50-year relationship — while at the same time gently urging us all to move forward and make new memories and create new pictures.
Similarly, you’ve worked with a whole lot of folks… Emmy, B.B., Chapin, the Allmans, Murphey… so many. How did it feel to recruit some of your friends to help out on this record? You and Alison Krauss sound lovely together.
Speaking of memories, I have such amazing recollections of hanging out with some of the most treasured and revered artists of all time and I hold them dear to my heart. One of my favorite old photographs is me sitting in a chair in some dressing room somewhere playing James Taylor’s guitar and he is bending over examining my picking technique. You can’t make this stuff up!
And as for dreams coming true, when Darrell Scott and I met and started talking songs, musicians, studios, and soul, it was clear from “hello” that yet another dream was going to be realized in my waking hours. At the urging of my wife and manager (two different people), I very tentatively started calling up some of the people whose work I have so admired all my life, to carefully inquire whether they might possibly be interested in coming in and singing and playing with me on my new album. I didn’t hear, “I”m really busy” or, “Not right now” or, “I’d love to but…” I heard a resounding, “Yes, I’ll be there, just tell me where and when!” To sing with people like Shawn Colvin, Vince Gill, and Alison Krauss, and have Jerry Douglas play dobro — just to name a few — are among the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.