Sounds Local: Jonathan Edwards bringing ‘Sunshine’ to Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center

  • Jonathan Edwards Contributed photo

  • Sheryl Hunter

For The Recorder
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sunshine go away today, I don’t feel much like dancing

Some man’s come he’s trying to run my life, don’t know what he’s asking

When he tells me I better get in line, can’t hear what he’s saying

When I grow up, I’m gonna make him mine, these ain’t dues I been paying — Jonathan Edwards

You can’t read the lyrics to the song “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” without hearing the bouncing melody and catchy chorus playing in your head. Chances are you’ve heard the song many times, even if you were born years after its 1971 release and radio saturation. “Sunshine” is one of those tunes that has remained in the fabric of our popular culture, and for it’s singer-songwriter, Jonathan Edwards, it propelled a career that spans four decades and 18 albums. While he continues to record, Edwards is most at home onstage, where connects with his devoted audience of many years.

During the heyday of his career in the 1970s, Edwards played more than 2,000 shows a year, but now the singer-songwriter, who resides in Maine, maintains more of a life-work balance and keeps his touring down to 60 to 80 shows a year. That is still a lot of time out on the road, but even at age 70, Edwards has no plans to slow down.

“This is really what I do,” said Edwards in a phone interview from his home in Maine. “The traveling is a joke, but once you get there and the lights come up and you walk onstage, it is heaven.”

Edwards will perform at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield on Thursday, June 22, at 8:30 p.m.

After spending time in the 1960s working in a band, Edwards, who was living in Boston at the time, released his self-titled debut album in 1971. He had no idea it would reach an audience, and certainly never dreamed that “Sunshine,” which was a last-minute addition to the disc, would sell more than one million copies and reach the No. 4 spot on the national charts. The song is musically upbeat, but the lyrics are full of anger and frustration as Edwards vents his feelings about the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War. The country was going through a period of great unrest at this time, and Edwards’ words resonated with many listeners who shared his views.

“I had no idea that song would be a hit,” Edwards said. “I didn’t go into the studio thinking about radio. I still don’t — that is how I have managed to get this far,” he added with a laugh.

Edwards has said that if he had never done another song in his life, he would have been happy to have come and gone with that one, as it was an anthem that helped people deal with Vietnam. But he did not come and go with that one song. Instead, it paved the way for a successful career. Seventeen albums have followed, including five live albums and a record for children. Edwards has also had success with songs like “Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy,” “Don’t Cry Blue” and the ode to getting a good buzz on, “Shanty.” He has also done some acting and has produced other musicians.

Edward’s most recent release, “Nobody’s Child,” which came out in 2015, was produced by Grammy nominee Darrell Scott and features guest artists Shawn Colvin, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss. The album, which features some lovely ballads and country-tinged tunes, won critical acclaim, but did not receive mainstream radio play. That doesn’t concern Edwards as, like most musicians today, he works outside of the established music business, releasing his own music and simply focusing on writing good songs and delivering the kind of great live shows that his audience appreciates.

Even in today’s world of corporate radio programming, “Sunshine” still appears on the airwaves and remains an audience favorite.

“It’s awesome! I joke about it onstage, that I never dreamed when I sat down to write this song that it would have any relevance in 2017,” Edwards said. “But I also joke that it’s bad news for us, but really good news for the song.”

“When I wrote ‘Sunshine’ it was written at the height of the Vietnam adventure,” he added. “That was the impetus for that song, and here we are, still at war.”

It is almost uncanny the way the lyrics of this 1971 protest song sound like they could have been written in 2017. The message of “Sunshine” and its relevancy to our current time has not been lost on Edwards, who plans to re-record a slower, more bluesy and more thoughtful version of the song. He also has plans to make an accompanying video that will reflect our current times.

As a singer-songwriter, does Edwards feel obligated to incorporate what is happening in the United States of today in his work?

“Absolutely. I don’t think Justin Bieber is going to get to that very soon,” Edwards said. “It’s folk, and while I am disappointed with that word and its connotations, it is kind of the folk tradition to speak out against social injustice and political lunacy. It is a responsibility that many of us feel, and are doing something about it.”

Edwards added that he is finding it increasingly difficult to find something that is sunny, not tragic, to write about considering all that is happening on this planet.

In addition to his songwriting, the veteran singer-songwriter started writing a memoir that focuses on the struggles that his generation has seen and continues to experience. He has no publication plans at this date.

Writing is something Edwards would like to devote more time to, but his is having too good of a time to give up life on the road right now. For this show, Edwards will play the songs people want to hear — some deep cuts from his many albums, and he is also known for his choice of cover songs.(He transforms The Beatles “She Loves You,” into a languid ballad.) For this show, he will be accompanied by pianist Tom Snow.

“Tom is an amazing piano player who travels with me whenever he possibly can,” Edwards said. “He sets up my music so perfectly and so soulfully. I love coming out to Western Massachusetts, because I always draw terrific crowds out there. We are looking forward to a great show.”

Visit: www.jonathanedwards.net

Roomful of Blues at
Hawks & Reed

Jonathan Edwards isn’t the only nationally known act playing at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center. On Friday, June 23, Roomful of Blues will take the stage at the newly named venue. The popular Rhode Island outfit has been making music for more than 40 years, and while going through numerous personnel changes over the years, the group has never lost its passion for horn-heavy swing, rock, jump blues, boogie-woogie and soul. Currently led by guitarist Chris Vachon, the group has earned five Grammy award nominations and seven blues music awards. A Roomful of Blues show is a great time, and one you won’t want to miss.

Tickets for Jonathan Edwards are $30 to $35. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and music begins at 8:30.

Tickets for Roomful of Blues are $25 to $30 Doors open at 7 p.m. and music begins at 8.

The Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center (formerly the Arts Block) is at 289 Main St. in Greenfield.

Sheryl Hunter is a music
writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in
various regional and national
magazines. You can contact her
at soundslocal@yahoo.com