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John Eddie proves just who the hell he is

By Brian baker, June 2003

Page 2...

With his label support gone and his prospects fairly dim, Eddie kept a low profile for a while and then slowly began doing enough gigs to keep himself alive.

As he found himself further from the constraints of labels trying to direct and manipulate every aspect of his sound, Eddie began to notice that he was drifting away from the epic rock feel of his early work and toward a sound that was an amalgam of everything he did, including soul, country and electric folk.

Eventually, Eddie started his own label which he christened Thrill Show and worked up a couple of albums to sell at shows ("Happily Never After" and the live album "Guy Walks Into a Bar") with an ear toward doing things differently on his own.

"When I went into it, I said, 'You know, I'm gonna let the songs speak for themselves and not try to have a hit record,'" says Eddie. "I'd gotten to the age where I knew I wasn't going to get on MTV, and I probably wasn't going to be a big rock star. I started looking at the songwriters who influenced me and how I could more emulate them as opposed to trying to be the next big thing. I said, 'I sit in my bedroom, and I write songs on an acoustic guitar. Try to keep it as close to that as possible.'

"It also helped me find my voice as a singer. Before I used to way oversing, and I had it in my head that I was singing to a stadium full of people instead of the person I was singing about. It helped me find my true voice, which I think is more conversational than histrionic. I learned that word from my reviews."

After securing new management, Eddie approached Luke Lewis with the thought that "Happily Never After" might come out through a licensing deal with Mercury Nashville.

In the middle of the negotiations, Lewis informed Eddie that Lost Highway was going to be formed and offered him an opportunity with the new venture. Eddie sees a strong correlation between himself and Lost Highway, something he hasn't felt with a label for a very long time.

"I hope they dig it as much as I do," says Eddie. "Everyone on their roster, I'm a fan of, which you can't say about everyone. They're the first label in a long time with a face and an image. We've had a number of people come up to us on the road to say they just came to check us out because we're on Lost Highway. It's like a name brand so you kinda know what you're gonna get when you're on that label. I hope I fit in as much as I think I do."

Rather than use Lost Highway as a licensing tool for either of his homemade albums, Eddie wanted to document some of the songs he'd been writing as a brand new album.

At the top of his wish list for producers, Eddie had jotted down legendary performer/producer Jim Dickinson's name as a possibility since his friend and producer of his independent albums T Bone Wolk was unavailable because of a scheduling conflict.

"Jim Dickinson was the first name I threw out," says Eddie. "Frank Callari at Lost Highway was like, 'Absolutely. I love him.' They were all for it. Then it was just a question of sending him some songs to see if he was interested. We sent him some demos, and he said, 'Come on down.'"

Before heading down to Memphis's Ardent Studios to begin work with Dickinson, Eddie had one hour-long phone conversation with the producer, who wanted to bypass the pre-production process and approach the material in the rawest possible setting.

"After an hour on the phone, I just knew he was the guy," says Eddie. "He's just a magical individual. Whether or not I'd made a record with him, I would have paid to hang out with him. If you can get a sliver of whatever comes off of him and keep it for yourself, you're a lucky person."

With Dickinson's wealth of experience, the soulful vibe at Ardent, and a crack band to capture it all (P.K. Lavengood and Kenny Vaughan on guitars, Kenny Aaronson on bass and Kenny Aronoff on drums), Eddie watched in amazement as his songs bridged the gap between the R&B feel of early Bruce Springsteen ("Let Me Down Hard," "Nobody's Happy") and the electric roadhouse stomp of Steve Earle ("Shithole Bar," "Jesus is Coming").

One of the highlights of "Who the Hell is John Eddie?" is "Play Some Skynyrd," the track that gives the album its name.

As Eddie details the emotional wirewalk that accompanies his kind of confessional songwriting, he's brought back to reality by a drunken bar patron who wants to be entertained not by a flesh and blood singer of real songs but by a human jukebox that will spit out the Skynyrd, Tom Petty, Bob Seger and Grateful Dead material that is comforting and familiar to him.

As he implores the singer to "play some Skynyrd," he wonders in the next breath, "Who the hell is John Eddie?" It's a moment that is too real to have been simply dreamed up in Eddie's mind for the purpose of the song.

This album also stands out for Eddie as one of the rare times when he's written almost everything on an album specifically for the album without having road-tested it first. Except for the show-crafted "Play Some Skynyrd" and the profanely funny "Forty," everything on was relatively new and untested.

Although "Who the Hell is John Eddie?" may seem like a departure to some fans, it feels like coming home to Eddie. And in fact, the material that Eddie is coming up with these days isn't so different than anything he's ever done before; it just gets filtered through Eddie's new sensibilities.

"The older I get, I'm just becoming more honest with myself," says Eddie. "It's back to the whole thing that I'm not trying to get on the radio anymore. I have very realistic expectations about that. It's rare for big stars to get on the radio. You don't hear Dylan on the radio. When he puts out a new album and doesn't get played 25 times a day, my chances are a little bit lower. I've just trying to be more honest with myself. And I write about what I know, and that's why a lot of it's about being in a band and playing in a bar. I don't know how universal a theme that is, but it's what I know."

And with his album positioned somewhere between rock and country camps, Eddie knows that the sell is even tougher, but that hasn't tempted him to compromise how he presents his new material or himself.

"If there's a marketing plan for the record, it's that people have to see us live," says Eddie with a laugh. "That's our thing. Hopefully we'll get some airplay here and there, but there's enough 'fuck's on here that it's not going anywhere. I've decided not to edit myself and that can be either good or bad. Like 'Shithole Bar.' Everyone was like, 'That's a great song, can't you come up with another title?' Everything I came up with sounded fake and stupid, and it didn't describe a shithole bar. If it doesn't get played, fine. I rather that it live or die on that. I'm not making a political statement, I'm just making my little statement."

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