Ed Ward tribute
Jon Dee Graham with Ward at SXSW; photo by David C. Fox
interviewed by Jason Gross
PSF: How did you first meet Ed?
PB: I first started reading Ed's columns in the Statesman when I was in high school. The first arena concert I attended was Dan Fogelberg, maybe my favorite artist at that time. Ed totally panned the show. I was not inclined to like him as a result. He seemed to spend way too much of his time writing about local music, which I knew nothing about. Needless to say, in a couple of years, my perspective on all this, and on him, totally changed.
We worked together at the Statesman for about a year, around 1983 (I started there when I was in high school), but I never met him during that time (I worked in the sports department then). He left in 1984 and ended up at the Austin Chronicle. We probably met in Austin sometime after that, but my first memory of actually speaking with him was at the New Music Seminar in summer 1988. I was an intern at Newsday but had arranged to cover NMS for the Statesman. Ed was covering it for the Chronicle. He saw me sitting in a chair in the lobby, studiously going thru the swag bag, and scoffed. "Do that in your room, Blackstock!" he chided. I guess he thought the Statesman had paid for a hotel room for me. They did not. I was driving in from Long Island to attend the event. Yet another reason not to like Ed.
Things finally changed over the next couple of years. We essentially sparred for competing papers once I started covering music for the Statesman in '87-'88, and by '89, I think he'd begun to have some grudging respect for me. He quit the Chronicle shortly thereafter, and for a couple of years, we both worked seasonally for SXSW (him as panels coordinator, I think; me as archivist, writing all the band blurbs in the program guide). Not long after, I moved to Seattle, Ed and two other SXSW staffers came to the NW for a conference called Music West in Vancouver. That's probably the first time I ever really "hung out" with him. We walked around the city, found a good restaurant in Chinatown based on Ed's inside knowledge, and had a fine time. That set the stage for my staying in touch with him after he moved to Berlin. After I started No Depression in 1995, I made trips to Germany in 1996 and 1998, staying with Ed both times. His guidance around the city was invaluable. I remember picking up a Berlin guidebook in his house, reading an account of a tour of the city, and realizing it was the exact tour he'd just given me. He'd written the text for the guidebook.
PSF: How would you describe him on a personal level?
PB: I liked Ed a lot. Straight shooter, and a critic in the sense that it's kind of a lost art now: willing to criticize, but almost always with a good deal of thought and historical perspective behind his words. Once you got to know him, he was very generous with his time and his knowledge. It helped that I had something to offer in return - bylines in No Depression and occasional paychecks. We didn't pay a lot but we always paid on time, and he very much appreciated this, as he dealt with many freelance outlets that were not nearly as reliable.
PSF: Do you have a favorite piece of writing that he did?
PB: I wish I could point to one that really stood out, but can't say that there was. I know I very much valued his championing of the "5" Royales, a group I learned about from Ed. His last column in the Statesman when he left the paper in 1984 was also very smart and sharp. That might have been the first time I realized how valuable he'd been to the Statesman in his tenure there. I believe he wrote a political piece for No Depression before the 2004 election, in which he drew on his experiences living in Europe to provide contrast to what Americans prioritized (or mis-prioritized, in his opinion). I was glad we gave him a forum for that.
PSF: Ed had a lot of great stories about musicians he knew, interviewed and met- can you share any of those?
PB: He probably did share some of those with me over the years, but there's not any that I remember offhand.
PSF: What went through your head when you heard that he passed away?
PB: I was sad, and not entirely surprised. Ed lived close to the bone far too often, which was hard to accept by those of us who knew what a historically important music writer he was. Much of this was by his own choice - he seemed to prefer freelance to any kind of staff gig that might have better provided for his income and his health - but his friends often worried about him.
PSF: What do you think his legacy is?
PB: He was among the great first wave of American rock & roll writers. That whole concept was only just coming into being when Ed started at Rolling Stone. He helped define the entire profession. I hope that he understood that. I think he did.
See Peter's work at Austin American-Statesman
See the rest of our tribute to Ed Ward
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