Sign up for newsletter
 

John Eddie proves just who the hell he is

By Brian baker, June 2003

When John Eddie is made aware of the presence of a vinyl copy of his first album in a journalist's record collection, he immediately makes an offer.

"I'll buy it from you," he says with a laugh. "Just don't play it for anybody."

Of course, he's making a thin joke at his own expense. Eddie regained the rights to his first two albums for Columbia - "John Eddie" and "The Hard Cold Truth" - and has repackaged them as a twofer that he's peddling to the faithful at his shows and through his web site at johneddie.com.

"Actually, it's okay," he admits. "I'm still proud of the lyrics. It's just that the production values are so '80s, it's hard for me to hear it. We played a show last night, and I did that song 'Buster,' and that still rings true when I play it stripped down. Even with artists I respect, when I hear their records from the '80s, I don't dig the way the production sounds. Even Dylan records from then were using those big cannon drums that didn't match the songs he was singing. It was a time when we found machines and thought they could make good records."

It was also a time when heartland rock made kings of Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp and Tom Petty, and there were any number of princes ready to ascend to a higher position in the court. John Eddie was certainly among them. The story of how the crown eluded him is studded with standard subplots of bad luck, industry chicanery and ill-fated timing.

And while Eddie doesn't shy away from the topic, he knows that his story isn't substantially different than anyone else who's been shanghaied by the music business.

For that reason, he's much more interested in detailing his most recent efforts and his shift from angst-ridden rocker to dusty Americana roots purveyor and the resultant new album, "Who the Hell is John Eddie?" on Lost Highway.

"I'm really proud of it," says Eddie. "It's definitely the best record I've ever made. At least I think so. And I'm happy to be on Lost Highway. They're very generous in their support of their artists. They give them enough rope to hang themselves."

Eddie laughs when he mentions Lost Highway's long leash and low involvement policy.

Under their care (or lack thereof), he's produced arguably his most powerful album to date, certainly an avowed personal best and perhaps even an album that will worm its way onto a few Top 10 lists by year's end.

The laugh comes from the knowledge that a great deal of label "assistance" and "guidance" doesn't always result in a great album. Sometimes it results in no album at all.

Eddie began his rock and roll ride back in the mid-'80s. The native Virginian parlayed his garage band roots into regular gigs around his adopted home of Asbury Park, N.J. and ultimately scored a showcase gig in New York.

After a ferocious set, Eddie found himself the subject of an infamous major label bidding war, with Columbia coming away with Eddie's signature.

Unfortunately, Eddie's dramatic rock posture and Asbury Park connections gave him the leather worn look of a Springsteen-come-lately. Ironically, Springsteen himself counted Eddie among his favorite local performers, and it wasn't unusual for the Boss to join Eddie onstage at his weekly gig at the Stone Pony, the club where Springsteen honed his craft.

After his first two albums did decent but not blockbuster business, CBS and Eddie parted company, and he was quickly approached by Elektra.

His first recorded effort for the label was a heartfelt and moving cover of the Cure's "In Between Days" for the Elektra 40th Anniversary Tribute album. The track was considered a highlight of the tribute - it was tagged as one of the singles from the set - and everyone had high hopes for the album that Eddie was in the midst of recording for his new label.

"I made the record on Elektra using David Briggs, who was Neil Young's producer," says Eddie. "We just used my road band, and we went into Bearsville (Studios in New York), and we made the record. I learned a lot from David about trying to capture whatever's honest. He did all the Crazy Horse records and all the good Neil Young records. He was a real good teacher."

With constant label supervision and approval, Eddie kept plugging away at what was considered by many at Elektra to be an album with the potential to break Eddie as wide as his angst rock contemporaries. '

But the album's completion brought the confusing and startling news that the label was dropping Eddie, and the album would not be released.

"Bob Krasnow was the president of Elektra and he oversaw our whole record," says Eddie. "Every week, he'd have to be given tapes and okay what was going on. He would come down and say, 'This is exactly what I want you to be doing,' and then out of the blue...Someone at Elektra actually asked if I slept with this wife or something. It was that abrupt."

1   |   2 NEXT PAGE »