How Mr. “Sunshine” found an audience without the help of the music business

“Sunshine,” the Top 5 hit from Jonathan Edwards’ self-titled 1971 debut album, announced his arrival with a bang. But the Minnesota-born singer and songwriter proved unable to follow that now-classic tune with another big pop hit—a quandary that he ascribes in part to troubles with his management. “Suddenly I had some street cred and respect in the business,” Edwards recalls. “But I was getting lousy advice and lousy decisions were made on my behalf. And because I hired those people and they worked for me, I took the heat.”

He may not have returned to the upper regions of the charts, but Edwards was determined and talented enough to build a sizable audience that has kept him going for 40 years now. His diehard listeners have hung in through some protracted absences—in fact, the new My Love Will Keep is his first studio album in more than a decade. “I’ve been working on the live show, and the studio has been on the back burner,” he explains, speaking from his home on the coast of Maine. “I really don’t have any excuse. I was just waiting for exactly the right time.” He spent more than a year recording the new album before the time felt right for a release.

Edwards has always followed his instincts, through forays into country music, kids’ songs and other stylistic wanderings. “I depend on the situation and how I’m feeling,” he says. Half originals, half covers, the new album is filled with Edwards’ blend of freewheeling folk and casual country. “I like to do music with a little intelligence now and then,” Edwards says. “To me, it’s always about the song. I don’t care who wrote it. I love to write and it’s the greatest thing in life. But if I find a song that fits what I want to say and feel I can do it justice I will.”

Consequently, My Love Will Keep takes several unexpected twists and turns. An ambitious cover of the Beatles’ “She Loves You” turns the once-raucous number into a dreamy ballad. “I think it works. People stand up after we play it in concert. Maybe they’re ready to leave, I don’t know,” he says with a laugh. “I wasn’t trying to disguise it. I just wanted to do an outside-

the-box arrangement that went a little deeper.” Other tracks include “Johnny Blue Horizon,” a tribute to his late friend and fellow troubadour John Denver; “Surrounded,” which Edwards penned several years ago but hadn’t quite yet found the right album to include it on; versions of Jesse Winchester’s “Freewheeler” and Henry Gross’ “Everybody Works in China”; and his own “Crazy Texas Woman,” inspired by the time Edwards spent in the Lone Star State.

Edwards has attempted on occasion to retire, but always finds himself engaged in some creative pursuit before long. He’s worked on documentaries and film soundtracks and as an actor, but these days he prefers to focus on his own music. “I’ve mostly been on my own,” he reflects. “I’ve never really had anyone in charge of the business end of what I do. I just do what I know well, which is to play music. I knew I never wanted to be a record company executive. I’m all about the music, but I’m not so much about the music business.”

–Lee Zimmerman

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