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Dave Edmunds: A Subtle And Gritty Rockabilly

Describing Dave Edmunds’ work would be like describing a painting. It’s unchanging but it’s always great to behold. An artist who’s stayed true to himself for decades, Edmunds held onto the music of his youth. Blasting out rock music of the 50s and 60s, this roots artist brought new meaning to the word purist. The Welsh singer became identifiable for his rockabilly passion and unwavering vocals with hits bringing back a forgotten style. But his growth as a revivalist wouldn’t take place until he made his first start as a fiery lead guitarist.

Edmunds natural leanings to rock ‘n’ roll began when he discovered the genre during his teenage years. Hit songs from the Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley made their way to Wales and inspired Edmunds to pick up a guitar. Blues and country soon took over the young musician’s stereo with a new influence of joining a band. Edmunds played in various groups throughout the early 60s before establishing himself in the British blues band Love Sculpture. Bassist John Williams and drummer Bob Jones were impressive musicians who led the UK with the chart-topping single, “Sabre Dance”. But Edmunds uncanny ability to perform on the guitar in front of a live audience outshined his fellow members. The group made the most of their newfound success by riding out their single. But after a lineup change and each member wanting to go a different direction, the group disbanded. Leaving Edmunds with the perfect opportunity to reinvent music that he grew up idolizing.

The return to his hometown in Wales brought flashbacks to the music that inspired him to pursue his passion. Edmunds began recreating the sound in what would be a standout debut in his solo career with the album Rockpile. Its sheer happenstance that the album became as successful as it was. The lead single “I Hear You Knockin’” was a hit that had been a mere interpretation of Smiley Lewis’ original recording. But Edmunds’ statically charged vocals powered the track to being a top 10 knockout worldwide. The album’s overall driving rush of Edmunds’ guitar and riveting talent on the mic became a retrospect inkling of his talent. Its moderate success on the charts edified the singer’s presence in the mainstream. But his next stance created an evocative impression of his style.

1975 had hits from a multitude of artists that still find airplay to this day. But very few of them made an album where a soloist played every single instrument for the recording. Edmunds’ accomplishment in a multi-faceted rotation of instruments led to a true solo effort in Subtle as a Flying Mallet. Each track served as a tribute to artists he’s admired for years with noted hit covers of Phil Spector’s “Baby, I Love You” and The Chordettes “Born to Be With You”. But his next venture as a producer landed him a key contact in Nick Lowe who became a major partner for his music career. With Lowe’s contributions, Edmunds began departing from cover material and started producing original music in the style of his heroes. The pairing became fruitful for both artists with Edmunds being herald for his next project effort.

The pair’s first record together was a successful outing with 1977’s Get It. The warm reception of Edmunds burgeoning style of a past sound coincided with him creating a backing band, Rockpile, which included members from his past bands. The group effort measured Lowe’s talents at songwriting alongside Edmunds’ encapsulating live work to create standout albums. The partnership between all parties coalesced with Lowe producing a successful record with Edmunds in Repeat When Necessary. Hit single, “Girls Talk”, became the UK’s major staple of British rock music which captured the country’s spirited past in the historical genre. But not all good things last as creative minds began to compete and succumb to differences of personal opinions.

Lowe’s partnership with Edmunds dissolved completely along with his backing band breaking up after the release of Seconds of Pleasure. Its modest success and sold-out tour weren’t enough to convince everyone in the party to stick together with Edmunds. But the rocker wouldn’t stay fazed by this predicament as he entered the 80s with his first post-breakup record, Twangin’. While it didn’t stand atop the charts as his previous projects, the album still produced a noted take on John Fogerty’s classic “Almost Saturday Night”. The emerging new wave sound of the 80s took hold on Edmunds’ music and influenced a new undertaking on his traditional sound. The inclusion of synthesizers and drum machines brought further establishment for his career in a new genre. The result of his direction produced his US hit single “Slipping Away” and solidified his status as a respected songwriter. But his similar follow-up record wouldn’t see any success as it bombed. Hard. Forcing the artist to take a step back in his career.

Edmunds returned to producing for other artists which include his comrades in rockabilly revivals, The Stray Cats. The next several years saw Edmunds trying to return to his successful times as a solo artist. But each effort ended in disappointment as his career began to fizzle out. Until a reunion with Lowe on a new record that he produced sparked a fresh start for Edmunds that saw him return to what made him great. 1994’s Plugged In returned to his one man set recording with reviewers being as impressed as they were 20 years prior. The success brought Edmunds into the limelight once again with a tour that followed his ride into relevance. Edmunds would become a recluse following his reemergence but still popped up for random gigs. To this day, Edmunds continues making sporadic appearances whether a guest star or with new cuts of past material. Either way, the longtime rocker showcases how his early wake was no fluke as he personifies how an unwavering personality can lead to success.

Written by Trenton Luber


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