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December 7, 2006

Heading: Late Bloomer, The Hum by Bob Doran, photo of Kenny Edwards

While his is not exactly a household name, record producer/sideman/singer/songwriter Kenny Edwards has played an important part in the Southern California music scene for over 40 years. In the mid-'60s he was a founding member of a Los Angeles-based band called The Stone Poneys that was perhaps best remembered for launching the career of Linda Ronstadt. He would eventually become a member of her very successful post-Poneys band, but before that he formed another seminal SoCal folk-rock outfit, Bryndle, which included Karla Bonoff and Wendy Waldman among others. Edwards went on the produce records for Bonoff and Waldman and worked as a sideman or backup singer on a myriad of classic records by the likes of Rita Coolidge, Warren Zevon, Don Henley, J. D. Souther, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks and even Ringo Starr. Bryndle re-formed in 1995 and tours occasionally.

Now 60, Edwards has left L.A. for the relatively calmer Santa Barbara. "I've been doing music of one sort or another all of my life," he told me. "I produce some folks around Southern California, I do studio work, and I play. I'm really enjoying doing live shows playing the music I've written. I'm sort of a late bloomer in that area. I made my first solo CD a few years ago."

Aside from the classic "Statesboro Blues" borrowed from Blind Willie McTell, the songs on his eponymous CD were all written or co-written by Edwards, although some have the feel of old folk songs. In particular, one called "Misery and Happiness" exudes an air of Appalachian mountain music.

"I love American roots music. Before I got involved in pop music my first love was bluegrass and early blues. In fact when The Stone Poneys got together we named the band for a Charlie Patton song."

Growing up in Santa Monica, Edwards haunted places like the Ash Grove. "Son House used to play there," he recalled, "and Fred McDowell and serious bluegrassers like Bill Monroe, along with the up and coming young folk people like Ry Cooder and David Lindley."

Lately he's been working with a new generation of up and coming folkies, among them Arcata's own Lila Nelson, who has enlisted Edwards as producer of her next album. "Associating with younger musicians through touring and producing I'm able to find new ways to look at the music business and reinvent things," he said. "It's really become a cottage industry again. During the '70s when I was working with Linda Ronstadt in her pop band, it was kind of a soul-killing thing -- even though we made some good music; it was all about the money."

Even before that, with The Stone Poneys, he was working for Capital Records, the epitome of corporate music. "There was a little more personality in the business then, but by the '70s it became this vicious showbiz thing. A lot of the folky, heart-and-soul feel was sucked out of things; it got co-opted because it had such a powerful cultural influence. There was an underground grassroots folk scene with people like Kate Wolf, but I wasn't really aware of it because I was part of the national pop scene.

"Now it's about making a living while keeping my sanity and my soul and having it still be fun. I'm single and don't have a lot of responsibility and can indulge my impulse to make this music and cruise around playing little festivals and clubs where you actually meet people and create at least a temporary relationship with the people you're playing for and with. That wasn't really in the cards when I was doing the big shows where you'd get in your limo and drive away after your set. Now it's getting in the Volkswagen van and driving yourself to the next town."

Kenny Edwards' van rolls into Arcata next Wednesday, Dec. 13, so that Kenny can play his songs at Muddy's Hot Cup. It's a safe bet that Lila Nelson might sing a few of hers too.

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Thursday, Dec. 7 ("a day that will live in infamy") catch B. Swizlo's Acid Jazz Experiment at Muddy's Hot Cup. Says keysman Swiz, "It'll be the usual suspects: members of Nucleus, members of Bump, a couple of jazz cats. It'll be a show based on the groove. I don't know what'll happen. We're going to stay away from jazz standards, stay away from rock and blues jams, try to get a '70s acid jazz vibe going and try to rekindle the old Muddy's jazz funk scene the way it used to be."

Same night up at Six Rivers, it's a make-up engagement by Texas honky tonk king Wayne "the Train" Hancock, who was supposed to be there back in August but called in sick. (See The Hum Aug. 31.) The local alt. country act Donny Barnyard & the Dustdevils opens.

Thursday is also the first night in a two-show run at the Red Fox by the Avalon Allstars, a jamband full of journeymen including Melvin Seals (from JGB), Bobby Vega and Ray White (from KVHW etc.), Mark Karan (from Ratdog) and John Mollo (from Phil Lesh & Friends etc.).

Around the corner at the Placebo Thursday alt. rockers Laden Swallow are "debuting all sorts of new music before disappearing into the studio for a month or so to record our debut album." Also on the bill, local hardcore band Mega Total Violence, Humboldt's last remaining ska band Tsu Tain Guu Faita, and from S.F. And a Few To Break.

Friday, Dec. 8, at the Pearl it's the wild and crazy performance artist Pleeseasaur with his trunk full of costumes and bizarro skits accompanied by insipid commercial lounge music. J.P. Hasson (aka Pleeseasaur) has been moving up the entertainment ladder of late. His latest CD/DVD set, The Amazing Adventures of Pleeseasaur, is on the Comedy Central imprinteur with cartoon interludes by the folks from Adult Swim's ClunkyRobot. Joining him at the Pearl are a pair of unusual Humboldt acts: Eureka's The Buffy Swayze playing "'80s retro for the sexually ambiguous," and from Blue Lake, The Jade Stems, who I have in the past somewhat erroneously identified as a variation on The Rubberneckers, thus inspiring an exchange with J. Stems leader, Kyle, who informed me, "I was an original member of The Rubberneckers back when it first started as an acoustic set. I played the singing saw, jaw harp, spoons, etc. I have lived at the infamous `Farmhouse' for six years now." He went on to explain (with much detail) that Clay Smith is the last of the `Neckers still living on(in) the farm(house).

"The Jade Stems is a band that I started back in the fall of 2003," Kyle continued. "Whereas The Rubberneckers is fronted by Clay, who writes all of the songs, The Jade Stems is fronted by me, who writes all the songs. The other difference is that we are not country at all but are basically a straight-up rock band, albeit with some pretty kooky lyrical content. I describe The Jade Stems as high-energy songs about weird subject matter. We sing songs about UFOs, Chinese medicine, samurais, etc." He went on to say that "We actually have enjoyed the fact that no one is really quite sure who we are -- it adds a little mystery, and we would like to keep it that way." Sorry dude, everyone knows now. That said, the aforementioned Stems play the following night, Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Logger Bar in Blue Lake along with the aforementioned `Neckers, The Brendas, a band of ladies from Dell'Arte, and Tainted Zucchini with more Dell' Artisans, an ex-Quiet Riot member and some Jade Stems members, all to benefit an upcoming Clowns Without Borders journey to India.

Getting back to Friday night. The Riverwood continues its run of blues etc. Dec. 8, with an evening of raunchy blues by the amazing Candye Kane.

Friday is Arts Arcata night and in connection with that, the sweet steel drummers of Pan Dulce play their last show of the year at their digs on Samoa Blvd. (Expect other music all over town.)

Meanwhile at the Bayside Grange it's wild river folk by Joanne Rand performing for the Redwood Peace and Justice Center's annual benefit and auction. The next night Joanne is down SoHum way at Beginnings Octagon for an Eyak Preservation Council benefit and auction that also includes an optional wild Alaskan salmon dinner.

Watch out! The psychofunkadelic madness known as Fishbone is back in Humboldt Saturday, Dec. 9 for a bash at Six Rivers. It's reggae time Saturday at the Red Fox Tavern with Sister Carol, the Jamaica-born NYC transplant aka "Mother Culture."

More great music Sunday at the Red Fox: those psychedelic cowboys, New Riders of the Purple Sage featuring David Nelson and Buddy Cage. (Note: This show was once set for Six Rivers but moved to the Red Fox.)

Dec. 10 also marks Humboldt Folklife's "Second Sunday Celtic music session" at Muddy's Hot Cup with host Seabury Gould and Scatter the Mud as the core group. Says Seabury, "It's an open session so bring your instruments and voices for the sharing of `mostly tunes and some songs,'" or just come and listen.

Just to keep the streak running, I must mention another evening of music by the wha' th' fuckin' "culturally inappropriate" Que La Chinga, who play their grassy rock late Saturday at the Alibi, with alt. country rockers Yer Dog. Pete Ciotti from Yer Dog returns the next night (Sunday) for a solo set exorcising his singer/songwriter demons, and opening for local stoner rock band High Grade. Unfamiliar with stoner rock? Well. As they say about diddy wah diddy, "If you don't know what it is by now, don't mess wid it."

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