October 15, 2009

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John Eddie: Loud? Lowlife? Hardly.
Same band, new gig
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

John Eddie, who performs Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Stone Church in Newmarket, has been a lot of things over a 30-year career. He was a mainstay on the New Jersey shore bar scene in the early ’80s, playing a workingman’s version of three chords and the truth, when Bruce Springsteen dropped by one of his shows on a pal’s recommendation.

For a few years after that he was the Next Big Thing, with a major label deal and MTV video, where the lanky guitarist danced in Converse All-Stars and a leather jacket, looking suspiciously like George Michael. When two Columbia releases failed to make a mark, Eddie jumped labels to work with outsized producer David Briggs (Neil Young) on a project that was eventually shelved.

Eddie ran his own label through most of the ’90s, and in 2003 made a record in Memphis with Jim Dickinson, an industry legend who’d played with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and produced the Replacements, Big Star and others. Eddie remembers the producer, who died in August, as “a spiritual presence.”

“Dickinson would sit behind the control board and you’d almost think he was asleep,” Eddie said. “Then he would go, ‘Right before the second verse you did this.’ — and he’d be right.”

Who the Hell is John Eddie? captured an essence that eluded Eddie on other records, and one track from it led to the latest chapter in his life. After hearing “Low Life,” Kid Rock recorded it for the hugely successful Rock and Roll Jesus. Eddie wrote “Loud” on spec for rocker Sammy Hagar, who included it on 2008’s Cosmic Universal Fashion.

This led to a songwriting deal with Warner/Chappell, and a move from New Jersey to Nashville. These days, Eddie writes during the week (“Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” co-written with James Otto, will be on Otto’s next release) and commutes to weekend shows. The gig has delayed an album with 19 tracks already recorded, but Eddie hopes to complete it by next year.

Despite the many twists and turns on Eddie’s long road (including a stint as executive producer of the Discovery Channel reality show Staffers) there is one constant: “I’ve had the same band pretty much for at least the last 15 years,” he said, “except I suffer from a Spinal Tap drummer situation — my drummers change. But none of them blow up spontaneously.”

John Eddie recently spoke to The Hippo from his new home in Nashville:

Have you been to New Hampshire before?
Oh, yeah. We’ve played the Stone Church quite a bit before they changed owners … I’m glad someone stepped in, because we really dug it as a place to play. We always had good times there. I’m looking forward to seeing it, and hope it’s retained its charm.

How did “Low Life” end up on Rock and Roll Jesus?
A friend of mine who’d built Kid Rock a guitar [called his office]. Before he hung up he went, yo, check this song out, this should be your theme song, and he held the phone up to the CD player … then Kid Rock tracked me down [to say] he dug the music. Maybe like a year and a half later I get a phone call in the middle of the night and I didn’t recognize the number. It was Kid Rock, and he left a message on the machine that said, “John Eddie, you’re rich. Well, you’re not rich yet, but you’re gonna be. I just cut ‘Low Life’ and it’s a mother****er.” It bought me a house in Nashville.

Why did Bruce Springsteen jump on stage with you in the early ’80s?
Bruce had this girl who worked for him named Obie [who] told him you gotta come see this guy play. We were playing in Red Bank on Easter Sunday and, I’m not joking, there was 11 people there, and Bruce was one of them. I was 21 or 22 at the time and he got up and played with us that night. The next week there were 300 people there because they’d heard Bruce played with us …. He’d jump up and play with us a number of times over the years.

When was the last time he popped up?
I guess maybe like two years ago, but recently he had me come up on stage when he was doing the rehearsal shows for this tour that he’s on now … I got to sing “Mustang Sally” with him and the E Street Band, which is ironic because I’m not a fan of that song … it’s almost like “Margaritaville” — it’s done to death by every band, so I never bothered to learn it. It was like a dream come true. He’d been onstage with me but I’d never been on stage with the E Street Band. Then he starts playing … at first I didn’t realize what the song was and he yells “Mustang Sally!” I look at him like I’m happy I’m up there but I’m realizing I don’t know the song. It was pretty comical. So he’s singing the first verse and he goes to me, go on sing the second verse and I just fake it and then I whisper to him, dude, I don’t know this song. He’s laughing, and he whispers, dude, you’re the only musician I know who doesn’t know “Mustang Sally.” It was pretty funny.

What are your memories of working with Jim Dickinson?
I was blessed to work with a lot of good people in my life. Dickinson was the most magical experience I had working in the studio … I’m a huge Replacements fan and a huge Rolling Stones fan. This guy was just so in tune to the music … it was the most organic, coolest month and a half of making music I’ve ever had in my life. We would just go in and, Jim, everybody looked up to him and trusted him. We’d be playing something and when he said that was the take, it was always right. He was just very — he had some kind of voodoo going on. He was the real deal, and he was the sweetest guy. I just loved him.

Voodoo, that’s a good way to describe him. He had it in every pore of his being.
There’s a song on my album called “Jesus Is Coming” — that was another one where I just had two or three lines. We were in the studio and he said to me, do you have any other songs that you want to try? I said well I got this couple of lines for a song that I think is really good. He was like — why are you hiding that? Let’s work on that. By the time we played it through, the song poured out of me … it was because he told me to do it. I’m proud of the lyrics. The lyrics aren’t throwaway lyrics. I wouldn’t have done it, but somehow he knew that song had to be the one that got recorded … same thing with “Play Some Skynyrd.” That’s another song that started out as a joke, and Dickinson [said it] brought tears to his eyes. Because it was a musician’s life, it’s what musicians have to put up with.  You can find humor in it but he said it was one of the saddest songs he’d ever heard.

Will the record you made with David Briggs ever see the light of day?
After a long legal battle I got the rights to [the master tapes]. There are so many dark memories of that point that it’s hard for me to go back and listen to it. I’m proud of the songs, I’m proud of what Briggs did on the record. But at the time, I way over-sang. I used to go in the studio and think my god this is gonna be the best thing ever and if I don’t do it this way it’s never gonna be right, and I’d really over-sing. So if I ever did release it I’d go back in and sing my parts over. Keep everything else the same, but re-sing it just because I’ve learned a lot since then.


John Eddie
When: Saturday, Oct. 24, at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket
Tickets: $17
Info: www.thestonechurch.com