Gary James' Interview With
Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards is probably best known for his song "Sunshine". That song went all away up the charts to number four and sold over 1 million copies. Did you know that Jonathan Edwards also recorded a children's album in 1987 called "Little Hands"? That album was chosen as a notable children's recording by the American Library Association. And did you know that Jonathan Edwards is also an actor, appearing in the film The Golden Boys with Bruce Dern, David Carradine, Charles Durning, Mariel Hemingway and Rip Torn? There's probably a lot you don't know about Jonathan Edwards.

Q - Last Fall you were touring with Michael Martin Murphey, correct?

A - Correct.

Q - Had you two guys known each other for a while? Did you cross paths in the early 1970s?

A - Yeah, we did. We did some shows back in the dark ages. He kind of went to wrangling cows and I went to sailing boats. We sort of never managed to hook up for many decades. Then this opportunity came up and we both said, "Yeah, it sounds like a lot of fun," and it was.

Q - When you did these concerts together, how did it work? He would open for you? You would open for him? You'd each do a 45 minute set?

A - No. The major reason I wanted to do it is to sit on a stage together and do a show that's different. Do a show that's unique. Do a show that people can get a bigger picture of our personalities and our music and our musical abilities and musical loves and desires by sharing the stage. Helping each other. Whenever we'd know something to sing or play, we'd add it to the other guy's songs. It was a lot of fun.

Q - You did this for how long?

A - I think we had 10, 11, 12 dates, something like that.

Q - You went to a military school when you were quite young. How do you think that experience help you prepare for the road?

A - (Laughs). My drill instructor was Vince McMahon, if that informs any of your opinions. Vince was the guy that started World Wrestling Foundation, WWF, back in the day. Now he's still at the helm of the wrestling entity, what ever it is. He was an upper classman to me when I was in school. That kind of toughens you up for sure, having a guy like that to breathe down your neck and discipline you.

Q - You don't sound like that was such a bad thing. Maybe it helped you out?

A - Well, military school wasn't all that bad for me because I was an only child and kind of unhappy living alone with my parents. This was a perfect opportunity to get out and meet some kids.

Q - You went to Ohio University. What did you study there?

A - I was studying art, painting, sculpture, visual arts, a little pottery, a little drawing.

Q - What were you hoping to do with that?

A - I don't know really. Just try to pursue a career in art. Of course, one's parents want you to go into something you can make money from, so they were helping me steer towards commercial art, industrial art, that kind of thing. Even medical illustration, believe it or not. But I started playing in military school. Started learning how to play guitar and writing songs right off the bat when I started high school in military school and I continued that on all the way through college. I was always having bands and always playin' in bars. Always learning, learning, learning. By the time I became a senior in college I was totally in the band and not invested in painting at all, which really pissed my parents off.

Q - That you were able to start writing your own material is not something most musicians in "cover" bands do.

A - To me it's more of a mind set. I think the majority of people have the ability to conceptualize with words and pictures and drawing. I think young people totally don't even concede that it takes practice and it takes work. If you are an artist, you need to draw. If you are a singer, you need to sing. If you are a writer, you need to fill up notebooks full of words. Eventually it starts to take shape, it starts to take form. It starts to have meaning and depth.

Q - And if you are in a band today, you encounter the problem of shrinking venues.

A - Yeah. The venues seem to be shrinking for sure. Although, I just performed last night for a groundbreaking for a brand-new club in Hartford. It'll be ready in about a year. It was really neat.

Q - You opened for The Allman brothers and BB King when you were starting off. That was when you were part of a band?

A - I was a solo by then for sure.

Q - How difficult of a job was it to open for The Allman brothers?

A - It was actually a really good marriage. A really good pairing of acts. We were very compatible. It was just me and a bass player. That was my band at the time. They loved me (the audience). The Allmans loved me. We had the same record label.

Q - Their audience didn't give you a rough time then?

A - No. I think they had a lot of respect for somebody who could stand up in front of 3,000 or 4,000 people and deliver a good set of music all by himself. I think they had a lot of respect for that.

Q - How was it that Capricorn records signed you? Did someone from the label see you perform somewhere?

A - Yeah. I'd been doing some preliminary recordings for some time. Between the 'live' act and the recordings that Phil Walden heard, he took a liking to me and signed me up.

Q - How long did it take you to write "Sunshine"?

A - I don't know. I want to say 20 minutes, maybe less.

Q - That's pretty fast, isn't it?

A - Yeah. I'm of the opinion that if a song takes longer than 20 minutes to write, you are probably doing something wrong.

Q - What happened to you when that song became such a hit? How did it change your life?

A - I could sit up front of the airplane if I wanted to. That was a nice change. (Laughs). I could order whatever I wanted at a restaurant, without skipping out on the check. It seemed to open a lot of doors. (Laughs). It gave me a lot more respect in the music business. It's a big damn deal! It seems to me more of a big deal now, (laughs) than it was at the time. I took it for granted. It was such an easy thing for me. Such a natural event for me to do what I did, to go out and play music and sit and write songs and play with my friends. It seemed like such a natural event even though that's all I did in life was sit and play guitar. That's all we ever did, any of us. I was the one who was plucked out of our nest to go and be on a national stage.

Q - And now you are thinking how did that happen?

A - How did that happen? (Laughs). I doubt if it could happen today.

Q - We don't have top 40 radio anymore.

A - Well, we have corporate radio. The evolution of the music business has been astonishing over my lifetime, the de-evolution or whatever you want to call it. I say de-evolution because if you listen to popular radio you'll come away pretty disappointed.

Q - The follow-up to "Sunshine" was what?

A - I was going to follow up with "Shanty". It was about sitting around the kitchen getting high. That was what the song was about. I still do it in the show, but it was right on the heels of Brewer and Shipley's "One Toke Over The Line" and the FCC came down pretty hard on their record company for that, and my record company didn't have the balls. I was now with Atlantic and they didn't have the balls to do anything with it. So, I didn't have a follow-up.

Q - Spiro Agnew would've come after you pretty hard.

A - Yeah, well I went after him pretty hard too, so I guess it's all fair. (Laughs). He was such a corrupt individual, he was easy fodder for political ridicule.

Q - Does it follow that if you write one hit song that you can write another hit song?

A - Well, that would be the logical step, wouldn't it?

Q - It seems like it.

A - Yeah. Certainly. The tools are there. Like I said, I don't think "Sunshine" could've happened in this climate today. I don't think there's any way that would've reached the kind of audience if I did the same exact thing I did back then, now. I don't think it would have that level of popularity or impact or meaning to people, or even get heard.

Q - There was a time when you could turn on the radio and hear singer / songwriters like James Taylor, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens. You don't hear that today.

A - Yeah. We all became electrified and amplified. If you show up with an acoustic guitar, you're suddenly thought of as a Folk act, and that's just an unfortunate stimulus generalization.

Q - The singer / songwriters were pushed aside by Disco.

A - Yeah, so were The Beatles.

Q - By that time the Beatles were no more.

A - Yeah.

Q - You recorded for three big labels, Capricorn, Atlantic and MCA. Who did the best job of promoting your career would you say?

A - I'm drawing a blank on that one. I've got no comment on that one I'm afraid.

Q - They may be waiting in the wings to sign you up and you have to be careful what you say.

A - No, that's not it at all. There are no labels anymore that would be interested in a 66-year-old folksinger. It's not happening.

Q - As we talk, are you writing, recording, touring?

A - I've been touring 45 years with a couple of breaks, a couple of short breaks in between. So yes, that's who I am. That's what I do. I'm actually pursuing my limit which is somewhere between 60 to 80 shows a year. I've got a great family and a great team of supporters and helpers and I'm still writing all the time. I'm still playing all the time and I'm still recording all the time. And I'm loving it more and more. I've been really lucky and fortunate and grateful for all the joy I've been able to be a part of in my life.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Edwards
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection