Saturday, April 14, 2007

I STILL hear him Rockin'...

Tomorrow may be April 15th, but tax day isn’t a total bummer because it’s also the birthday of one of my all-time favorite musicians, guitarist Dave Edmunds.  You may not know his name, but chances are you’re familiar with at least some of his work if you listen to Rock at all.  He’s produced some major acts over the years (Foghat, the Stray Cats and Fabulous T-Birds, to name three), hit the Top 40 a couple times (with 1970’s “I Hear You Knockin’” and 1983’s “Slipping Away”), and he was a member of the band Rockpile, which he formed with bassist/producer Nick Lowe.  Edmunds has your basic cult following in Rock circles, but it’s a pretty big cult all the same.  I used to wear this Dave Edmunds concert shirt I got at one of his shows back in the ‘80s, and people would come up to me and say, “Man, where’d you get that shirt? I love Dave Edmunds!”  I first got into Dave in the summer of ’79 when his album Repeat When Necessary came out and the song “Crawling From The Wreckage” got a fair amount of airplay on the old KY-102.

By the way, who’s the nandofuck that came up with those gawdawful call letters (KYYS)?  Why on earth would you want your radio station named after a lubrication jelly?  But I digress…

Dave’s career goes all the way back to the late ‘60s with a band called the Human Beans (not to be confused with the Human Beinz of “Nobody But Me” fame) who did a cover version of the Tim Rose classic “Morning Dew”.  Edmunds later formed a trio called Love Sculpture, which was sort of a poor man’s ZZ Top, and they covered many old blues and Rockabilly classics, and did this manic rendition of Khachaturian’s classical classic “Sabre Dance” that was beyond belief.  He eventually went solo in the early ‘70s, yielding the fluke hit “Knockin’”, as well as songs like “Down, Down, Down” and “The Stumble”.  But it was when Edmunds hooked up with Lowe in the late ‘70s that his career really took off.  From 1977 through ’79, Edmunds and Lowe recorded albums under their own names, but it was in fact the band Rockpile, which was rounded out by guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams (who later toured with Dire Straits).  The irony of all ironies is how when the band finally put out a record under the Rockpile name, 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, it wound up being sub-par compared with their previous output under the Lowe and Edmunds names, and after one Rockpile tour, the band broke up, rather acrimoniously...

Normally, I don’t condone artists who make careers out of doing cover versions of other people’s work (Linda Ronstadt, White Courtesy Phone!), but I make an exception for someone who takes other people’s songs and adds their own touches to them or improves upon the originals, and that’s where Dave Edmunds excels.  And it’s not like Dave just plays the hits, either—he often took obscure tracks from legendary artists like Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley and made them his own, like “Dear Dad” and “Paralyzed”, respectively.  Dave’s version of another Elvis song (Costello, that is) “Girls’ Talk” blows the original away, and Dave’s rendition of Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver” is even faster than the original, if you can believe that.  DE also did a far superior version of “Queen Of Hearts” two years before Juice Newton had the big hit with it.

And there certainly was no dearth of original material along the way either, and much of it written by Nick Lowe, and much of it was very witty, including tracks like “Television”, “Not A Woman, Not A Child”, “What Did I Do Last Night?” and “I Knew The Bride”, which NL himself had a hit with in 1985, and which is now routinely played at wedding receptions the world over.  Bruce Springsteen wrote a song specifically for Dave in 1982 called "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" and “Slipping Away” was written by ELO’s Jeff Lynne, whose collaboration on two of Dave’s albums in the mid-’80s was rather derisively dubbed “Edmunds Light Orchestra” by uninformed critics.  Even with all the electronic drums and ‘80s overkill, Dave still managed to sound cool.  He would later take that technology and put it to good use on 1994’s Plugged In CD, on which Edmunds played EVERY instrument himself, including an updated version of “Sabre Dance“ that really kicks...

Oh, did I mention that Dave Edmunds could put on a pretty good live show, too?  I saw him and his band nearly blow the roof off the Uptown Theater twice back in the early ‘80s.  I also have to thank Dave not only for his own body of work, but for considerably broadening my musical horizons over the years—it was through him that I came to know the work of Nick Lowe, and it was through Lowe that I came to know the work of John Hiatt, who has subsequently become one of my favorite songwriters of all-time...

MY D.E. TOP FIVE (ALBUMS):
1) Tracks On Wax 4 (1978)
2) D.E. 7th (1982)
3) Repeat When Necessary (1979)
4) Get It (1977)
5) Plugged In (1994)

Happy 63rd, Dave! Hope we still hear you Rockin’ for a long time…

2 comments:

Randy Raley said...

Brian, Dave is one of my heroes too. Go back a little further in his career and you will notice he played guitar for a group called "Love Sculpture". Their album "Blues Helping' had THE best guitar playing ever to be done by anyone. Listen to "3 oclock Blues", "Summertime","Don't Answer The Door" and you tell ME anyone can play better than that. Nasty, wicked, mean and brutal solos coming from a guy you'd never expect. And, BTW, is there a better song ever than "Crawlin From The Wreckage"? I'll have my post about "Love Sculpture" soon.

Brian Holland said...

I'm way ahead of you on that one, Brother Raley--I do indeed have a vinyl copy of 'Blues Helping' in my collection, as well as an import LP I picked up at the old Tiger's Records (remember them?!?) called 'The Dave Edmunds & Love Sculpture Singles A's & B's' that was a really good compilation of his pre-Nick Lowe collaboration days. DE is so vastly underrated that it's downright sad!