Jonathan Edwards had graduated from his ROTC military high school, joined the Army, and shipped out to Vietnam, never to write his most famous song, “Sunshine,” inspired by “an unforgettably terrifying experience” at his pre-induction draft board physical?
What if the engineer working on Jonathan’s 1971 eponymous debut album hadn’t accidentally erased a song, necessitating the addition of “Sunshine” to the record, which led to the song’s success as a Top 5 hit single and Gold Record status?
What if Jonathan had enjoyed his mid-Seventies hiatus from the music business and stayed on his farm in Nova Scotia?
Fortunately for us, none of the above scenarios came true and Jonathan is now celebrating his fifth decade of performing, songwriting and recording with the June 14 release of his new My Love Will Keep CD.
Born in Minnesota, Jonathan moved to Virginia at age six when his father’s government job dictated a family relocation. John’s first public performance was a solo in church when he was eight, and the music bug sank its teeth into him. He began playing the family piano by ear, augmented by a few music lessons from a neighbor, but soon switched to guitar. “I immediately started putting a band together, writing songs, and learning all of the contemporary folk songs of the time,” he recalls. “I just loved it, loved everything about it, loved being in front of people playing music.”
After a couple of years studying art and painting in college, Jonathan decided to “go electric” musically and dropped out of school. He and his band, eventually known as Sugar Creek, spent the next few years playing more than 100 gigs annually throughout New England, cutting an album on Metromedia in 1969.
More comfortable with the sound of “bronze strings on rosewood” than “steel strings on magnets,” Jonathan left Sugar Creek and started performing as an acoustic solo artist. Signed by Capricorn Records, Jonathan recorded his first album throughout 1970. When a studio engineer accidentally erased a finished song, Jonathan added the deceptively upbeat “Sunshine,” his declaration of independence from the US war machine, and it became his self-titled 1971 album’s first single, reaching the national Top 5 record charts and earning him a gold record.
Suddenly a household name and a touring headliner, Jonathan reacted to his unexpected success in a song on his next album that declared “I don’t let it change all the things I believe in.” Although he moved to a farm in Massachusetts, Jonathan spent the next three years steadily touring, recording three more albums, and achieving burnout from road life. With a life-threatening illness as an additional factor, Jonathan decided to abandon his career and moved even farther from the music biz, to a farm in Nova Scotia.
But fate, in the form of country-pop singer and friend Emmylou Harris and her producer/husband, Brian Ahern, soon beckoned Jonathan to Los Angeles to add backing vocals to her 1975 Elite Hotel album. His relationship with Ahern led to two more Edwards albums, Rockin’ Chair (1976) and Sailboat (1977). Moving back to the US, first to New Hampshire, then to the Appalachian region of Virginia, Jonathan began attending local shows by acclaimed progressive bluegrass band the Seldom Scene, soon joining them on stage and then moving the pickin’ party into a recording studio. The resultant collaborative album, Blue Ridge (1985), showcased Jonathan’s longtime country/bluegrass leanings to excellent advantage.
The birth of his daughter Grace in 1976 inspired a song that would became the title track of 1987’s Little Hands: Songs for and About Children, which mixed traditional folk songs and whimsical original compositions. The album was named a “Notable Children’s Recording” by the American Library Association and remains a strong seller to this day.
Jonathan next moved into acting, touring with fellow singers Nicolette Larson (“Lotta Love”) and Henry Gross, ex-Sha Na Na and a hitmaker on his own (“Shannon”), in the Broadway show “Pump Boys and Dinettes” for six months. When the play hit Nash- ville, friends there including solo artist Wendy Waldman connected Jonathan with a producer, studio, top musicians and some great songs, which turned into his 1989 album The Natural Thing, rated by Jonathan as “one of the best albums I’ve ever been involved with.”
During the ’90s, Jonathan launched his own record label, Rising Records, and released One Day Closer, his first album in five years. He also scored the 1996 film “The Mouse,” produced such artists as Cheryl Wheeler, and recorded what would be his last studio album for 14 years, Man in the Moon. The start of the 21st Century found Jonathan hosting the PBS documentary series “Cruising America’s Waterway,” as he traveled by boat from Canada to Florida; along the way, a riverside concert became a video, “Cruising America’s Waterways: The Concert at Sackets Harbor,” released in 2001. That same year, he celebrated the 30th anniversary of his “Sunshine” hit with his “First Annual Farewell Tour.” His subsequent activities included recording two live albums, (one of them, Rollin’ Along: Live in Holland, to satisfy his rabid following in the Netherlands), and becoming the subject of a 90-minute documentary entitled “That’s What Our Life Is.” He also acted in and provided the soundtrack for the 2009 movie “The Golden Boys,” starring David Carradine, Bruce Dern, and Rip Torn.
Then it was time to head to a Maine recording studio to record the much anticipated My Love Will Keep, his first CD since Man in the Moon and his first for Appleseed. Forget the “what if’s” – Jonathan Edwards has a great new CD and a busy tour schedule that will keep him spreading his musical sunshine.
Listen to Jonathan talk about his career and the creative process of assembling My Love Will Keep in this "ASCAP Audio Portrait."