Musician Terry Edwards staying on course, despite the occasional wayward shot
LENOIR, N.C. – When Terry Edwards instinctively looks at his left wrist to see what time it is, he is reminded of how important it is to live in the present. That’s because his wife, Annie, weary of Edwards looking at his watch repeatedly, covered the numbers with a simple etching – NOW.
As Edwards jokes, “It’s never wrong.” For a fellow that has more than four decades as a singer-songwriter behind him, and who continues to play in venues dramatically different from when he entered the music business, simply appreciating the moment may be the most important reminder he can offer himself – and his audience.
He has been in the business long enough to see some songwriters catch that spark that leads to celebrity and strings of hits while others go by the wayside, abandoning their musical careers out of frustration or because of life circumstances. Therefore, Edwards clearly appreciates a second chance, as evidenced by the title of his latest album, “Mulligan.” It contains 14 tunes, all of which were written by Edwards, though he did have collaborators on a few of them. He also was joined by local musicians Patrick and Kay Crouch, Brad Edwards, Charlie Smith, and The Edwards Family Singers on vocals and instruments.
Edwards grew up in far western North Carolina. Born in Franklin, his family moved to Tuckasegee when he was two-years-old. He grew up there, went to Cullowhee High School and graduated from Western Carolina University in 1973. He shared, “When we graduated, we decided to get on the entrance ramp of I-40 heading west and see where it would take us. We ended up all the way in New Mexico.”
Since then, he has played venues all over Western North Carolina, in cities throughout the south both large and small, and finally in Lenoir and other nearby towns, after he settled in Oak Hill in 1988.
He started in music at the tender age of six, when he sang on stage for the first time in public at the Mountain Youth Jamboree in Asheville. By the time he was in the eighth grade, he had convinced his dad to buy him a set of drums, but there was a catch. He had to work for his dad all summer to earn those drums, which he did in the summer before ninth grade. Edwards recalled, “We were the first psychedelic band in Jackson County, North Carolina. We were the only band that could play ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ (by Iron Butterfly) – strobe light and all.”
Despite those early hard rock beginnings, Edwards found his inspiration is the late folk singer-songwriter, Harry Chapin. “He told a story. He painted the picture. If you have enough focus to stay with the story he’s telling, it will have a profound effect on you. I saw him in Louisville. I had third row seats. I went to analyze him, to figure out what made him so good. By the second verse of the first song, that was out the window. He took you wherever he wanted you to go.”
After college, he and two other musicians formed a trio, and played at a local bar in Waynesville. They were paid $75 each and all the pizza and beer they wanted. “After the first weekend, they cut us down to one pitcher of beer and no pizza,” remembered Edwards.
Within a month, they had earned a gig in the Red Baron Room of the Beech Tree Inn in Beech Mountain. Edwards recalled, “That was the best gig we ever had. They paid us $300 a week, had hot and cold running waitresses, we got to ski.” He added, “I have worked for 40-some years to get back to that point. It was a dream job. All the money we had we were banking. We had no expenses.”
The next memorable opportunity came from a beneficiary named Bill Shephard, who owned a “listening room” in Banner Elk called the Hub-Pub Club. The club also eventually opened a second location in Winston-Salem for a short time. These two locations provided Edwards with some memorable experiences. For four weeks, Edwards and his buddies opened for different acts. The second week, Edwards recalled, “We opened for this obscure songwriter out of Nashville named Jimmy Buffett. From him we learned how to write songs – the structure of songs, humor in songwriting, how to turn a phrase.”
They also opened for Steve Martin just about six months before he became a household name with his first appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” They also opened for The Kingston Trio. They offered a different lesson shared Edwards. “We learned where we didn’t want to end up.”
You’ve done your job as a songwriter if you have taken the listener somewhere where they are in touch with their inner self, in their soul – if you can remind them of a time when the things in their soul mattered to them.” – Terry Edwards
Edwards shared what he loved most about Shephard – and what he misses in venues today. “He would come in and tell folks, ‘Over there is the bar. If you want to go there and swing on the chandelier you can. But in here, you are going to shut up and listen. Folks have paid a cover charge, so please contain your conversation to between songs.’”
From there, he played in Lexington, Ky. and then Louisville. “We fell in love with Louisville and it fell in love with us. For 10 years we spent about one-third of our time there.” The band expanded to six members and began touring in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and as Edwards put it, “parts of some foreign countries, like Indiana.”
Based on these experiences, Edwards determined to write his own music. The music, though, didn’t fit any of the categories the record industry was promoting. “We didn’t know it at the time, but we were doing Americana. Our timing was really bad. When we moved to Nashville in ’75-’77, we starved because we weren’t country enough for them. They weren’t signing bands. They were signing individual artists. They just couldn’t figure out what kind of music we were playing.”
Then reality struck. Explained Edwards, “Children will jerk you around and cause you do to things you wouldn’t normally do, like get a real job.” He and Annie were living in Atlanta, both with “regular” jobs. “The city kept moving out, and we kept moving. We decided if we were going to move again, it would be to North Carolina. So, we moved to Oak Hill and have been there since.”
Since then, he has played venues around the region. His objective is simple. “You’ve done your job as a songwriter if you have taken the listener somewhere where they are in touch with their inner self, in their soul – if you can remind them of a time when the things in their soul mattered to them.”
Among those songs are “It’s Outta My Hands,” a story about his faith in Jesus. “I’ve had to play that at two funerals because that’s what the deceased requested. How do you measure that as success if a friend had a song you wrote played at their funeral?” Another tune he wrote that is familiar to his Lenoir fans is “There’s A Star.” The song is about the local landmark Hibriten Mountain, and how the lighting of a cross at Easter and a star at Christmas on top of the mountain offers guidance to the prodigal sons and daughters of Caldwell County.
Indeed, today, he prefers small venues. “I’ve played 20,000 seat arenas. It was fun and exciting, but nothing compares to the 60-seat room. To have more nights like that, where people are touched and go away feeling better than when they came in, that’s what I hope for in the future.”
The development of small breweries throughout North Carolina does provide musicians with additional venues to play, but as Edwards notes, it is often difficult to hold the attention of audiences because of bar chatter, television sets and other distractions not common to a venue designed exclusively for music. He said, “There are more places for your music, but less attention span. I would trade background music for a stage where they are engaged and you can hold them for an hour.”
Wherever he plays, and how ever long he is able to hold an audience, you probably won’t catch Edwards looking at his watch. That’s because he’s been around long enough to know, there is only now. So, he’ll tee it up and take a swing. If he’s not satisfied, there’s always the mulligan.
Catch Edwards this Friday
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016
On Twitter: @lenoirvoice