"One of the most important things I have learned playing music to people is that music often has a much greater impact than I have realized. I have received many messages from people who told me how deeply my music has affected them and helped them through difficult times."
Ed Gerhard: The World of Roots Music
Performing on 6-string, 12-string, slide guitar or Acoustic Hawaiian Lap Slide, Gerhard captivates his audiences with virtuosity, generosity and sly humor. Known for his gorgeous tone and compositional depth, Ed Gerhard can move a listener with a single note. He writes songs only a guitar can sing. Gerhard’s relationship with the guitar began at age 10, when he happened upon classical guitar master Andrés Segovia on TV. Ed finally got his first guitar at 14. His initial interest in classical guitar changed dramatically when he heard the music of bluesman Mississippi John Hurt. He quit lessons after the third one. He took some informal lessons with friends and learned by ear, slowing down LPs to half-speed to pick out the tricky parts. At fifteen, Ed was already beginning to perform in local church basement coffeehouses, playing solo and jamming with friends. In 1977 Gerhard moved to New Hampshire where he has resided ever since. Joining a thriving folk and acoustic music scene proved invaluable for the young guitarist. Based truly on the quality of his work, Ed built his considerable reputation, beginning with his debut album “Night Birds” in 1987. Shortly after the album’s release, Windham Hill Records included Ed on its Guitar Sampler (Vol.1). One of the highlights of the three hundred thousand unit selling Sampler, “The Handing Down” introduced the world to the beauty of Ed Gerhard’s music. (Photo: Ed Gerhard)
Ed has released his ninth CD “There and Gone.” He was awarded a GRAMMY® for his inclusion on the CD “Henry Mancini; Pink Guitar.” Warner Brothers, MelBay and Hal Leonard have all released Ed Gerhard’s music in books. His guitar work can be heard on recordings by Arlo Guthrie, Jorma Kaukonen, Bill Morrissey and in the Ken Burns films “Mark Twain” and “ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Along with players like Ben Harper and David Lindley, Gerhard’s unique approach to the Weissenborn is playing a significant role in reinvigorating interest in this somewhat esoteric but beautiful instrument. Ed’s style of Weissenborn playing is unique in that he composes and arranges music for solo Weissenborn with beautiful melodies, complex chords and moving basslines, unusual for an instrument that normally serves an accompaniment role. Ed is featured in the book “Lap Steel Guitar” alongside legendary players like Greg Leisz, David Lindley, Jerry Byrd and more. In a true collaboration of guitarist and guitar maker, Breedlove Guitars released the “Ed Gerhard Signature Model” guitar.
How has the Blues and Roots/Folk music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
All music has grown from roots music. It's like cool, clear water straight from the ground. Music, food and language are some of the things that help to define a culture for me. Everywhere I've been in the world, I enjoy and love these new sounds and flavors. We all experience the same things in different ways. That is beautiful to me.
How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?
I have given up trying to describe my sound. I hope that my listeners can feel my devotion to the message of my music, whether it's one of my own pieces or an arrangement of an old folk song, pop song, etc. I like a rich, expressive and lyrical guitar tone and I think the sound of how I play is important. My creative drive is not constant. Sometimes I have periods when my inspiration is low. But it always comes back. And that return of enthusiasm lights a big fire in me and it is true joy.
"I hope that my listeners can feel my devotion to the message of my music, whether it's one of my own pieces or an arrangement of an old folk song, pop song, etc. I like a rich, expressive and lyrical guitar tone and I think the sound of how I play is important. My creative drive is not constant. Sometimes I have periods when my inspiration is low. But it always comes back. And that return of enthusiasm lights a big fire in me and it is true joy." (Photo: Ed Gerhard)
How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?
I think I've grown in many ways but most important is my devotion and ability to convey the "message" of what I play. I hope my listeners agree! What has remained the same is my crazy love for music and the guitar. The guitar was and is always my angel, my reason to live.
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
That's a hard question to answer. I remember that as a young teenager, the good rock and roll radio stations would play all kinds of music. You could hear Led Zeppelin followed by Joni Mitchell, followed by Jimi Hendrix, followed by Pentangle, etc. To me, it was all rock 'n roll. I feel that way about what I do. It's rock 'n roll, but it would take too long to explain it to anyone. You could hear all of that on one radio station in one broadcast.
Now there is an unlimited amount of stuff available on YouTube and other places online, but it's not curated like it was when I was a teenager. There was always a radio DJ that would assemble a great playlist and there would be great diversity in what he or she chose. Nowadays you have to seek these things out one by one. I don't spend a lot of time online, so if there is someone curating great playlists like that, I hope to learn about them.
You have traveled around the world. Do you find any similarities between the local folk and ethnic musics?
The thing I find in common in all of the local and ethnic folk musics is that they are usually about very common things that the "country" people care about. Life, death, love, a good harvest, etc. We all share those concerns no matter how far we are removed from the process of living close to the earth. That kind of music is beautiful.
"All music has grown from roots music. It's like cool, clear water straight from the ground. Music, food and language are some of the things that help to define a culture for me. Everywhere I've been in the world, I enjoy and love these new sounds and flavors. We all experience the same things in different ways. That is beautiful to me." (Photo: Ed Gerhard)
What touched you from the sound of lap steel guitar and slide? How do you want it to affect people?
I don't know why slide guitar touched me like it did, but it really moved me. I think the first slide guitar I heard was Mississippi John Hurt, "Talking Casey." It just hooked me, and I started playing slide right away. I was fourteen years old and I just knew I needed to find a way to make that sound. Lap steel and Weissenborn came into my life much later but I got hooked again. Lap style is in many ways much different than regular bottleneck style playing but it is so great and so much fun to play.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
One of the most important things I have learned playing music to people is that music often has a much greater impact than I have realized. I have received many messages from people who told me how deeply my music has affected them and helped them through difficult times. I never thought my music would have any impact like that, I only wanted to make some nice guitar noises. But when people responded with those deep emotions, I began to take the work more seriously and I do believe that the consideration of a listener being present, being receptive... I think it helped make me better. It made me care more about the experiencing of music. I am deeply grateful for that.
What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?
I don't have any view on socio-cultural implications where my music is concerned. I am a guitar player, nothing more. I have been encouraged to be more politically activist onstage. But nobody wants me to talk about MY opinions. They want me to speak THEIR opinions. I don't do that, ever. At my shows, everywhere I go, there are people of every color, race, every political and religious type, sitting shoulder to shoulder, peacefully, as I play to them. That is my socio-cultural political statement. It has truly been an honor to travel the world and play my most heartfelt music to people everywhere. I've tried to give my best. And people have shown me their best. It has been an amazing life and it will continue. I send my love to the world and hope to be playing to an audience soon!
(Photo: Ed Gerhard)
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