Friday, November 5, 2010

Remembering Kenny Edwards

August 22, 2010

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.
Bryndle with Peter Rodman, circa 1995.
(l to r) Wendy Waldman, Kenny Edwards,
Karla Bonoff, Andrew Gold, 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 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,

Peter Rodman
Nashville, Tennessee

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