Ed Ward tribute
Photo by Rachel Naomi
Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan band, Asleep at the Wheel)
interviewed by Jason Gross
I went to Austin for Asleep at the Wheel's 50th anniversary, which we were supposed to be last March but it got delayed because of COVID. Ed died while I was there and another guy from Austin also died then- [guitarist] Denny Freeman who also played with Bob [Dylan] and was really kind of a hero. So there were two big deaths in the music scene there then. It was a big thing when Ed died but I was busy in the studio recording so I didn't even see anyone then or read anything about him then.
I joined the band maybe six months after Asleep's first record and Ed was the first guy to write about them nationally. And John Morthland and Nick Tosches and Ed were the guys who also put Asleep in the national press after that. I met Ed then and I think he was living around San Francisco and I think he came to Austin after I left in '78.
He was controversial in Austin. I think he rubbed a few people the wrong way because he was very outspoken and didn't hold anything back. I don't specifically know what people were mad about but I heard that people wanted to basically have him leave. There was a writer for the Austin American-Statesman called Townsend Miller who was there before him. If Ed didn't like something, he let people know. Townsend Miller was more of the kind of person who if he didn't have something good to say about a person, he wouldn't even write about them because the Austin music was just kind of coming up- this was '73, '74. He really helped get Austin get more and more into the national new about the scene.
This was when Willie was there and Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rusty Weir and Jerry Jeff Walker and Asleep at the Wheel. I moved there from the Bay Area and Austin was just starting to feel its oats, becoming the music town that it is now. There were a few bands there- Janis [Joplin] had played at Threadgill's and there were the 13th Floor Elevators. But it really exploded with the Cosmic Cowboy thing with Waylon [Jennings] and Willie and Commander Cody, all with the long hair and smoking pot. There was the 'real' country in Nashville and then you had these 'freaks' taking over the music. Willie brought the old hardcore guys and new country music fans together and that had never happened before. And back then, rednecks did NOT have long hair and beards.
And Willie also did the Drifting Springs thing [Fourth of July picnic show]- I think I did one of his first picnics and all the rest when I was in the band and there would be so many people there. And Willie helped to make Austin this big music capital. It was pretty exciting then- Asleep at the Wheel would play all those hardcore dancehalls like Broken Spoke and they had all these rules like no drinking or profanity on stage and you had to take off your hat when you crossed the dancefloor if you're in the band. People there didn't really clap- they appreciated the music but you were there to play for dancers. But Willie changed that where the musicians became celebrities in Austin. It was pretty cool in its day- you just never heard anything like Waylon and Willie before, it was just so groundbreaking. So Ed was writing about all this great music and helping to make Austin the center of the world.
So people were writing about that and when Ed moved to Austin, people were trying to get him banned. There was actually a 'Get Rid of Ed Ward' movement. He didn't hold back. At some point, he pissed off the wrong people and there was a campaign to get rid of him or try him chase him out of town. I don't know what it was about because I wasn't there at the time [in the 80's] but Ed had his reasons- he really stuck to his guns.
But I always liked Ed. He had this Mike Bloomfield book that was out of print and I think at one time it was the highest selling book on eBay. It was one of the most expensive book there- I think he told me that.
I didn't see Ed that much that for that whole time he was in Austin. I'd see him every once in a while- I had already moved to New York so I would go to Austin every four or five years and see him by chance.
When he moved to Berlin is when I really renewed our friendship. Me and [guitarist] Charlie Sexton visited him there and went to his place and had lunch with him and walked around Berlin. And he was so great and so intelligent. He's walking around in East Berlin and I like the area because I had been there when the Wall was up. So every time I go back there, I always go to Brandenburg Gate and seeing the Wall was just so incredible. So to then go back with the Wall down was really amazing. And he knew so much about World War II and everything that happened.
So I would always walk around there and you could really feel the ghosts and Ed would really know all this stuff. But what he told me about that I didn't know was when we were on our way from Leipzig and he said it was one of the most important places of the Wall coming down. People were having these protests there once a month and eventually that storming the secret police headquarters, the Stasi, where people ratted on everyone. Now it's a museum. So Ed says, "you're going to Leipzig- you gotta go to the Stasi Museum!' And I go there every time I'm in Leipzig now- it's pretty amazing. So Ed hipped me to that and how Bach is buried at the St. Thomas Church there. And every time I go back there, it's more and more of a modern city. He just knew so much there and just being in Germany, he found out stuff.
Ed was my guest at one of the shows that we [Bob Dylan and his Band] did in Berlin and I got him backstage just because I knew him for so long. It was great to have him see me and Charlie, who was another Austin player, play with Bob after he knew that I played with the Wheel. But I never discussed Ed with Bob [Dylan] and I don't know if he knew about Ed. I would never discuss a critic or writer with him.
But it was really great to see Ed in Berlin. He even got me an audience with Gilbert Sheldon who I was a big fan of and who did The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers- he was from Texas. Ed got me his number and I was able to visit him in Paris a couple of weeks later. Ed was such a good guy and that was such a great time. That was the most I got to hang out with him [in the early 2000's].
Ed was so knowledgeable- he just knew so much about so many things that there was never a moment of silence. You could just walk with him and he would be like, "Oh yeah- here's where the jewelry store was on the night of the broken glass [Kristallnacht, 1938]." And he would point out all this other incredible stuff in Berlin. And he knew so much about music- just the fact that he wrote that book about Bloomfield was pretty amazing.
I would read his reviews and columns and he definitely had his own taste in music. For the Austin stuff, I don't know the bad stuff he was writing about that got people mad or maybe it was politics in Austin. He wasn't going to lay any easy lobs wherever he was and maybe in Texas they didn't like that. People there though he was bad, they should read British newspapers- they're brutal! But he was a pioneer in rock journalism for sure.
See the rest of our tribute to Ed Ward
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