Remembering Kenny Edwards
The music world lost an incredible talent last Wednesday. Kenny Edwards gave so much to his fellow artists and meant a great deal to his family and friends. A friend of The Time Machine radio show, musician and disc jockey Peter Rodman, let us share his remembrance over the airwaves during our musical tribute to Kenny last week. We spent two days featuring the music of Kenny Edwards and other artists that he's performed, produced and sang with. We barely scratched the surface. His body of work for over four decades has meant a great deal to so many listeners around the world that it's hard to put into words how much his craft put a stamp on pop music. The Time Machine Crew has spent over thirty years featuring the many songs that Kenny had a hand in shaping and we will continue to play his musical contributions in the years to come. Peter Rodman has had the privilege to see Kenny many times since the late seventies. Here's Peter's memory:
Earlier today, someone sent a link to a "remembrance page" for Kenny Edwards. I don't know exactly who I was writing this to, but this is what came out...
I first met Kenny Edwards with Karla Bonoff, in 1978, when they came out to play Boulder.
KBCO had helped 'break' Karla's solo debut album there (although we didn't know it quite yet, it was the first-ever 'triple A' radio station), so it seemed to make good sense, for her to kick off her new 'major label' solo career, in one of the few places where everybody already knew her name.
The Glenn Miller Ballroom was packed that night, and we broadcast the entire show "live".
Karla remains a timelessly great singer/songwriter, to this day--but at that time, she was a slightly reticent, almost 'green' solo performer. Across the stage, but always within her sight-line, Kenny Edwards stood tall--essentially right beside her, casting encouraging glances to this shy performer, the whole time.
He'd known her for a decade or more by then, and as surely as an Olympic coach 'spots' his gymnast, Kenny was right there, to make sure she'd never fall.
The show was history making--and seemed to literally launch her whole career.
At the end of their set, they'd played the whole debut album and a couple other songs, but the crowd kept stomping their feet, and screaming wildly: "More! More! More!" This went on for like ten full minutes--a remarkable thing, for college kids responding to what were, for the most part, essentially introspective, quiet songs.
Karla was totally stunned.
Heck...we all were!
But Kenny smiled his usual smile, sensitively leaning down to huddle with her, at center stage...and there, bathing in the din of adulation, they whispered a few words back and forth, to the effect of, "Geez...what else do we know?"
Finally, they settled on one last Karla Bonoff original. "We only know one more song," Karla said sheepishly, "and we hadn't planned to play it, but it's all I have left."
She wasn't kidding: It was a CHRISTMAS song, of all things!
"Everybody's Home Tonight" was received joyously, and moved many in the crowd to tears, even though Christmas was nowhere in sight.
Having wrapped the show perfectly, the crowd filed out into a balmy Boulder night, and it was clear they had given these performers as much as they had gotten. That's what all great shows do. It's a fluid exchange, between art and the love of art.
As a footnote, Karla's amazing Christmas song subsequently became a much sought-after collectors' item, and wasn't even officially released, until almost 20 years later. To this day, it remains one of my favorite Christmas songs ever written. But it would never have been played, had she not had Kenny's quiet sense of confidence behind her, on that magical Boulder night, so long ago.
I've known Karla and Kenny ever since.
Seen 'em dozens of times, in several different cities--and never was there a doubt, watching them, that this was a lifelong team. I cannot say that about almost any other act, in the 40 years I've been around music. But with them, you just knew this was forever. As though they'd grown up in the same house, almost.
Rarely would she venture out to perform without him. (And don't get me wrong: Karla Bonoff is a tough-as-nails, World Class solo performer. It's just that Kenny's presence seemed to allow her to 'exhale'...i.e., plumb deeper emotions onstage, something essential to all great singers.) His rock-solid bass playing, superb sense of harmony and dynamics, and most of all, his sense of safety and reason, helped her to not only navigate the records, and the road--but even to filter through some of the oddball adulation a female singer can sometimes encounter out there, with some sense of sanity, if not surety.
You always got the sense that if there was any 'heavy lifting' to be done, Kenny Edwards would be happy to do it for you.
The only time I ever saw her do a week of shows alone was at The Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, around 1990 or so. Since I was living there at the time, Karla invited me to come 'sit in on a few shows' for the week (not playing... just to sort of be there) with her. I decided I'd go to them all. Clearly, not having Kenny Edwards there was somewhat disconcerting--even for such a pro, as this--because she was just so used to the 'comfort zone' he provided, both onstage and off. And after that week, I never saw her perform without him again.
By 1992, I was living in Santa Barbara, and had kept in touch with Karla from there. I remember her telling me on the phone that I really should come down to L.A., to meet this guy named "Billy Block," whom she said was almost single-handedly assembling a very casual (but elite) music scene, at a small place called Highland Grounds, on Santa Monica. "We're all going down to play this week. Why don't you come down?" So I did. And so did Andrew Gold, Wendy Waldman, and of course a very happy Kenny Edwards--'Bryndle Rekindled', if you will. I remember Alannah Myles ("Black Velvet") was there, too...and a very young Kevin Montgomery!
"For the first time in a long while," Karla had told me, "there's a scene developing, here." She was right--and Billy Block was the catalyst for that scene--just as he would be later on, here in Nashville.
As it turned out, the night I was there was their very first night back together, (onstage, as Bryndle) in 20 years. And there--again--right by her side (and Andrew's and Wendy's and a few others, during the evening), stood the gentle bassman, Kenny Edwards--serving up support, with chops to spare.
A couple years later, I landed here in Nashville on Lightning 100, and a more polished 'Bryndle' came to town.
Above Photo: Bryndle with Peter Rodman, circa 1995.
(left to right) Wendy Waldman, Kenny Edwards, Karla Bonoff, Andrew Gold and Peter Rodman
They played the Ryman, now reviewing each of their solo hits ("Saved the Best For Last," "Lonely Boy", etc.) and brimming with confidence. Our history was deep. (It's scary to think how long ago it was now, but my first radio interview with Wendy Waldman had been way back...in 1975! And I still have the tape.) Anyway, to see the four of them "officially" together onstage, was just an astonishing delight. They played off of each other, that night--Wendy's outgoing and ebullient stage presence; Andrew's versatile pop sensibility; Karla's endearing class; and the 'straight man' for all the patter, pretty much leading the band...Kenny Edwards.
After that, there were shows in Boulder and California, equally fun...and always, as the spotlight shifted from songwriter to songwriter, one thing remained ever-constant: Kenny Edwards. No matter what the style-shift or harmony requirement, he was their "utility infielder" --and in that role, truly deserved a "Golden Glove".
As the years rolled on and I left radio, I'd see them individually here and there (Andrew played on a record project of mine, etc.)...but the group seemed to dissipate.
Still, Karla's shows invariably had Kenny in there, somewhere. But as Bryndle wound down, it seemed Kenny finally turned towards his own music, whenever he wasn't touring with Karla.
Now, finally, he was starting to feel free to create his own brand, his own way.
Kenny did come to Nashville a few times on his own, when trying to launch that fledgling solo career. Over the years his warmth, and his quiet, dependable talent had generated many lasting, collaborative friendships. Sometimes, he looked a little tired on those trips--understandable, for a guy who'd been preoccupied by other projects for years, before ever getting around to his own! It was almost as if he thought of his own career as "moonlighting".
On one such solo visit by Kenny, I vaguely remember being upset about something a mutual friend had done, and he patiently listened to my tale of woe, as we drank our beers. When I was finished relaying the story, I said, "Gee, you know what? I think just sitting here with you, literally drained all the hostility right outta me, Kenny! How'd you DO that?"
He smiled a knowing smile, as if to say, "You're not the only one I do this for. This is me. I do it all the time. Don't worry about it; this is what I do." What he did say was, "I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to share it with me. I understand. And I'm happy it helped you to let it go!"
And it was true: I had let it go! (In fact, I can't even remember what it was that was bothering me, now!)
THAT was Kenny Edwards, to me.
I thanked him profusely--now flustered and embarrassed at the silliness, of my tirade--and then swore him to secrecy about it. That was another thing he did well. (I never had any worry in my head, about it leaving his lips.)
The BIG 'secret' about Kenny Edwards was how unflinchingly supportive he could be offstage. Receptive, fair minded, conscientious, and positive. These priorities pre-empted personal grandeur, for Kenny Edwards--the ultimate "team player", and the bestest confidante a person could ever ask for.
That nobody ever knew he'd kept my confidence--that one night in Nashville--is kind of the whole point, about Kenny.
You could almost forget his production credit (on the Karla Bonoff albums), as finely polished and handcrafted as the work was; you could nearly miss the stellar co-writing efforts ("Trouble Again"), or the effortless mandolin work. He just plain did not CARE about taking credit, even if people might forget all about him. To say his contributions were 'understated' is an understatement, all its own!
Kenny was all about helping everyone around him to be their best. Their best songwriter. Their best performer. Their best singer. And yes...their best person. And in that-- for so many he touched-- it turns out that Kenny Edwards was that rarest of birds, in the music business...their best friend. God bless Kenny Edwards. I've never met his Mom, but I hope somebody tells her, she really raised a good one.
My heart goes out to her, as well as of course Karla, Wendy, Andrew, Linda Ronstadt, Val Garay, and everyone else who knew and loved this fine, gentle man.
I'm happy our paths crossed.
Love to All Always,
Above photography of Kenny Edwards taken by Gabriel Judet-Weinshel
Below Photo: Bryndle in 1970
Above Photos: Kenny Edwards with Wendy Waldman, Karla Bonoff and Andrew Gold
Below Photo: Dan Dugmore, Andrew Gold, Waddy Wachtell, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Edwards and Rick Moratta
Co-founding member of The Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt, shared her memories with Randy Lewis of the L.A. Times Music Blog:
Above Photo: Linda Ronstadt, Bob Kimmel and Kenny Edwards as The Stone Poneys
I met Kenny when I was about to turn 18 and he was 17. I had just come from Tucson, and I was immediately drawn to him because we both had very eclectic tastes. He was incredibly sophisticated. He knew how to play the sitar, he had seen Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan and knew about people like Inez Foxx and the Staple Singers, and he could play all of it.
I knew him as a blues guitar player; we had both gone to see a show by the band Ry Cooder was in, the Rising Sons. Kenny introduced me to a lot of stuff. He was always beautifully dressed, kind of like a cross between working class and a college professor — tweed jackets — it was a very interesting look…. He was also really smart. He always read good stuff. I remember he was reading Thomas Mann when he was 17.
When the Stone Poneys were going, we’d get together and he’d cook Indian food. He loved to cook — he’d cook for days. He would also go to Pink’s — he always knew where to get the best burger in town — or he’d go down for a night at the Apple Pan. He was the male version of [Leonard Cohen’s] “Suzanne”: "He shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers."
We had a little house on Hart [Avenue in Santa Monica], and in one block, the Doors lived across the street, Pete Seeger’s dad lived in another house and the whole Seeger family thing was going there, [actor] Ron Perlman lived in another. There was a soul food restaurant in the neighborhood and you could walk to the Nuart [Theatre]. I got exposed to a cultural world I never knew about. It was a hippie crash pad, but it cost $60 a month, which was split about 15 ways. I could make $30 last for a month.
When the Stone Poneys started, Kenny had never sung, we [Tucson transplants Ronstadt and Bobby Kimmel] drafted him and kind of forced him to sing harmony. Later, when he started singing harmony with Andrew [Gold on her early ‘70s solo records], that became an important part of my sound. Having those strong male voices behind me gave me a chance to sing the high leads.
He had excellent creative ideas, and didn’t always get the credit that others did. When we recorded “You’re No Good,” Andrew gets the obvious credits, but Kenny supplied the skeleton, the basic framework of that low guitar and bass part that gave it a completely different sound. That gave Peter [Asher] and Andrew something to build on.
Kenny’s voice was like a laser beam. He was really strong. He was always a good singer, but back then it was always kind of a festival-seating approach. He’d move around to place a note wherever it would fit. His later stuff became so refined. His singing got so accurate and precise. He didn’t really have an arc in his career, he just kept getting better and better.
He was always a beacon to me, and his opinion always counted a lot for me. The great thing about watching what he’d been doing in recent years is how much he enjoyed it. He dreamed good dreams and he lived them out.
- Linda Ronstadt
Below Video: Bryndle featured on "Live At The Ryman"
Below Video: Bryndle performing "When Will I Be Loved" on "Live At The Ryman"
Below Video: Kenny Edwards performing "Fever" on Santa Barbara Songwriter TV Show hosted and produced by Christina Grimm that aired in December 2007
Below Video: Kenny Edwards performing "No Tears" on Santa Barbara Songwriter TV Show hosted and produced by Christina Grimm that aired in December 2007
Below Video: Kenny Edwards performing "Letter Home" with Wendy Waldman at the Thousand Oaks Library
Below Video: Kenny Edwards performing the title track from his second solo album "Resurrection Road". Freddy Koella who also produced Kenny's final album also performs at the Thousand Oaks Library