Q&A with Joe Edwards - blending traditional storytelling songwriting with the honesty and roots of Folk, Blues and Americana

"Hopefully to share in empathy and compassion, acceptance of each other. If it could bring any amount of help to any of those, that’s surely a good thing and there’s plenty of muso’s in this genre fighting the good cause!"

Joe Edwards: Keep on Running

The small town of Devizes in rural Wiltshire might not resonate as a place for many on the map of music, but for a young aspiring guitarist, the town’s local blues/cellar bar, hosting some of the country’s best regarded players on the touring circuit, offered a great education in the art of intimate and stripped back acoustic roots music. When just 16, Joe Edwards left his weekend job waiting tables at a coffee shop to play covers of his favourite Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B King songs at local bars, before going to study music at the renowned Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and having his degree presented to him by Paul McCartney. It was there that his musical interests broadened to encompass some of the great American songwriters such as Dylan, Petty, Taylor and Simon. While touring Europe as drummer for Australian folk-rock band The Wishing Well, he began scribbling down stories of travel, love, loss and human sorrow paving the gateway to what would become his debut album Keep on Running. When the time came to find someone to record with, perusing the back covers of some of his favourite albums, it soon became apparent many of them were recorded in Nashville, with one album in particular, by Canadian songsmiths, The Deep Dark Woods, leading Joe and brother Alex to head to Nashville, to meet up with award-winning producer and musician Steve Dawson (Kelly Joe Phelps, John Hammond).

The resulting album, tracked over just 10 days, live in one room and with no headphones, brings an honesty and warmth to the recordings. Featuring guitar and vocals from Joe, Keep on Running also features his brother Alex Edwards on drums, a collaboration that dates back to their school assembly hall days, alongside renowned regular Steve Dawson cohorts, Jeremy Holmes on double bass, Chris Gestrin on keys as well as Steve on a variety of traditional slide instruments, from dobro to pedal steel. The album was mixed in Nashville and mastered in New Jersey with Grammy nominee Kim Rosen. Having spent the best part of 4 years traversing anywhere from Asia to Alaska, a passion for travelling and adventure permeate Keep on Running. Twisted by the genres of folk, blues and Americana, Keep on Running is due for release on May 22 on Joe’s own Tiny Mountain Records imprint and as with the songs, Joe took a hands-on personal approach to the creation of the album and all its contents, having also designed and illustrated the artwork, and filmed and directed the music videos, alongside his wife Beth Edwards.

Interview by Michael Limnios                   Photos by Colin Hawkins

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Well it encourages you to feel something, much in the same way people are encouraged to be compassionate in day to day life, the blues do the same. I think a lot of the rootsy songwriters are great at relating to your fears, to your uncertainties and sometimes you need to hear that to remind you you’re not alone in it. I remember watching Amos Lee live, playing ‘Black River’ and it was such an important time to hear that simple message and to carry forward this visual and use it.

Oh, Black River

Gonna take my cares away

Gonna take my cares gonna carry my cares

Gonna take my cares away

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I love straight-up blues but especially love the guys that are bringing something new to it, such as the songwriting elements Eric Bibb introduces or the cross of playing styles from the likes of Kelly Joe Phelps, it’s great to respect the history of it but also to see it moving forward simultaneously. So long as it’s honest, whether that’s a blues guitarist tearing it up or a songwriter playing from the heart, it’s fine by me. Lately it’s gone beyond just the music now and find it difficult to give time and listen to artists that can’t show respect to an audience, for those that do it just seems to champion the music even further in my mind.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I think one of the best blues gigs I’d ever been to was actually at a local pub (Two Pigs, Corsham) where they had guitarists Jesse Davey and Scott Mckeon joining vocalist Hugh Coltman. I mean there are 3 people who know how to play/sing with feel but to top it off, there were probably only 40 people there, it was hot, sticky and a real energy in the room, everyone dug deep that night.               (Joe Edwards / Photo by Colin Hawkins)

"Well it encourages you to feel something, much in the same way people are encouraged to be compassionate in day to day life, the blues do the same. I think a lot of the rootsy songwriters are great at relating to your fears, to your uncertainties and sometimes you need to hear that to remind you you’re not alone in it. I remember watching Amos Lee live, playing ‘Black River’ and it was such an important time to hear that simple message and to carry forward this visual and use it."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss guitar-based music being present in the mainstream, whether Hendrix’s era or the indie bands of some 10 years ago, the present/future only seems to make room for the elite pop artists, and I guess I would fear that it’ll never return. That being said, there is of course plenty of great music still being made, you just have to know where to find it, which if anything, just makes it more special and exclusive to be a part of.

Make an account of the case of the blues in UK. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

There was a weekly blues/jazz club hosted by a chap called Tony Goldsmith, that for me was the best point for blues in our local area. They used to get tons of great touring acts stopping by in this atmospheric little cellar bar where the acts would be stripped of their band and gave some really interesting and intimate renditions of their songs. Blues in the UK still seems to be thriving though and hopefully the younger generation will mature to it like a fine cheese!

What touched (emotionally) you from Nashville music scene? What is the difference between US and UK?

It’s simply such a great hub for musicians. I’m constantly discovering more and more of my heroes migrating that way which made it such a great place to record real honest roots music. When finding somewhere to record, comparatively to the US, a lot of the producers in the UK leaned more towards the traditional folk side and wanted that blues overtone on the recordings to help shape it, the instrument choices, and those small nuances that define a roots record. I liked Steve’s work for how natural it sounded, for capturing the tonality of the room as well as recording very much in the moment which left my brother and I with an unforgettable experience.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

John Prine at number 1!

"I love straight-up blues but especially love the guys that are bringing something new to it, such as the songwriting elements Eric Bibb introduces or the cross of playing styles from the likes of Kelly Joe Phelps, it’s great to respect the history of it but also to see it moving forward simultaneously." (Joe Edwards / Photo by Colin Hawkins)

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Hopefully to share in empathy and compassion, acceptance of each other. If it could bring any amount of help to any of those, that’s surely a good thing and there’s plenty of muso’s in this genre fighting the good cause!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

It would have to be 20th July 1983 at The El Mocambo watching Stevie Ray. Such a great energy in the room and the small size would have made the event all the more memorable watching such a pioneering guitarist so true to their art.

Joe Edwards - Home

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