Ed Ward tribute
Ed and Bill at Sun Studios; courtesy of Bill Holdship
by Bill Holdship
(NOTE: this was originally a Facebook posting on May 3, 2001; reprinted with permission of the author)
I was absolutely stunned and shattered to wake up to the awful news this morning that my dear friend Ed Ward has left the building.
I didn't know him as long as some of my older Facebook friends. But our friendship did span almost four decades.
I met Ed in August 1982 at the very first Elvis Presley Week in Memphis, Tennessee, which was partly an academic symposium back then. Dave Marsh introduced me to him in the hallway of the conference center. Ed was there covering it for Austin's American-Statesman, where he was employed as the music writer (he detested the term "rock critic") at the time. I remember he had just finished his great Michael Bloomfield book, which was soon to be published, at a time when Bloomfield had largely become a forgotten figure. My brother Barry and I hung out with Marsh, Greil Marcus and Ed for those four wonderful days. But Ed was, truthfully, the most fun of the bunch by far. Plus, he had a car and an expense account - so he became our chauffeur in Memphis that week.
We went to Graceland with Ed. We went to Sun Studios with Ed; that's me and him holding guitars in Sam Phillips' recording mecca. Later during the conference, we saw Sam himself give an extraordinary speech to the assembled throng - all hilarious fire 'n' brimstone during which Sam claimed Elvis as the greatest American to live "since Jesus Christ." Ed was still laughing about that in a Facebook comment to me last year.
We went to restaurants with Ed. We actually met and had a conversation with Otis Blackwell at one of them! We met Marion Keisker (without whom...) with Ed.
And then there was that Saturday night excursion when Stanley Booth took the five of us to Brady & Lil's barbecue in some remote area of Memphis - suffice it to say we were the only white faces in the neighborhood - for some great barbecue and so many great laughs that I believe my mouth still aches a little bit all these decades later.
And then there were those late-night toking sessions in Ed's hotel room where he educated and entertained us with so much rock music and rock critic history. It was great to visit Elvis's Memphis for the first time. But it was especially magical to do it with Ed Ward.
I remember after Dave Marsh delivered his talk at the symposium - which was, of course, very political and received an at-first hesitant and then thunderous applause - Ed looked at me and said: "You know, I do believe this may be the first time that many of these Elvis fans realized that they voted for the wrong man for president" (this, of course, was still the Reagan era). And I remember that quote meant the world to Marsh when I featured it my CREEM report on the event.
After that, Ed and I became frequent pen pals -- remember when people used to actually write letters and correspond via the U.S. Postal Service? He was always quick with advice, career or otherwise. You could say that, much like the late great John Morthland, he became a bit of a mentor to me. The letters were also frequently hilarious. Yes, he was cantankerous and ornery. A [Facebook] post by Charles Shaar Murray just reminded me that Ed once famously chased Jann Wenner around the original Rolling Stone offices with a broom, threatening serious bodily harm
But the man also had a heart of gold.
I remember when I was considering the move to Los Angeles with CREEM and wrote to him about it, he wrote back: "Well, there IS money to be made there. And you can spot the sleazy hustlers across a crowded room."
During this correspondence, a trip was planned to visit Ed during the winter of 1983. Yes, my first trip to Austin was years before SXSW and Ed was our host, escort and tour guide. My brother Barry and our long-lost great friend Rick Farris (aka "Fly") made the journey. Ed took us to see so much good music that week - Clifton Chenier and the still very-young Charlie Sexton, among them - and he introduced us to Arthur Brown (as in "The Crazy World of...") and a whole cast of Austin characters, among so many other treats. And then there was the food! Oh, my God. My first trip to the legendary Salt Lick Barbecue was with Mr. Ward on that trip. Threadgill's as well. Austin was a significantly much different and smaller place in those days.
And then Ed asked us what we wanted to do that Saturday. Off the cuff, Barry said, "I'd like to see the Alamo." Ed said, "You want to see the Alamo? OK, that can be done." So Saturday morning, after we all pitched in to fill the car with gas (Ed was driving this great old Mercedes back in those days), we headed off to the building where Davy Crockett made his last stand. I will never forget as we drove into San Antonio that morning, Ed fired up a joint and put this great Mexican music in the stereo system. It was one of those magical moments. Let's just say that you never really got to experience the magic of San Antonio and the Alamo (which was so much smaller than I ever imagined) unless you initially experienced it stoned on some killer weed with Mexican music blasting from a stereo in the company of Ed Ward.
Several years later, in January 1987, Ed, who'd left the American-Statesman a few years before, phoned me at CREEM to tell me that his former editor there had asked him for a recommendation to replace his replacement at the paper and Ed had recommended me. I sent a resume and clips to the editor. But this was only a few weeks after we had moved to Los Angeles and had started spotting the sleazy hustlers across crowded rooms. So it suddenly became too much for me to even consider the job at that point, which I told the editor when she phoned me (I remember she was grateful and thanked me for my honesty and not wasting her time).
I have never regretted moving to Los Angeles. I would have probably never met the Beatles if I hadn't, for one thing. And I made and still have many wonderful friends in that city. But I surely have often wondered how different my life and my career might have been if I had pursued that opportunity, which was offered the same year that SXSW debuted instead.
After that, I would see and hang out with Ed every time I went to SXSW, the final time in 2011. He was always the same - again, cantankerous but so damn funny. And such an amazing voice he had. Many of you may have heard it on his NPR rock 'n' roll reports. At that last festival, I knew that Ed was in the room before I saw him because I heard his voice coming from the back of the room. I think it was during Chris Morris' great panel that year. I remember Ed laughed when I told him that.
Somewhere, on one of Art Fein's old cell phones, there is a photo of John Morthland, Ed, Dave DiMartino, Billy Altman and me that Art took when we all ran into each other on a bridge in Austin, following a Roky Erikson performance the final night of the festival. Art was never able to find that darn photo - several generations of CREEM editors and writers together - but I would sure give anything to have that photo today.
I was really happy to remain in touch with Ed these last several years via Facebook. This place isn't all bad.
As sad as I am today, I am gladdened to recall that for all his cantankerousness, Ed always seemed to enjoy life. He moved to Berlin for all those years when Austin was no longer the place it once was. And then despite his sad financial (it shouldn't have been that way) and health issues, he would still hop on a plane to fly to Europe after he returned to Austin several years ago.
And he continued to delight in a great meal. I remember he told me that first time I visited Austin: "If you can read, Bill, you can cook!" But I do think that is one of the few things he was wrong about. Ed Ward was a great cook. My late great friend Don Waller was a great cook. Bill Holdship has never been a great cook. When it came to cooking, most of my knowledge and expertise came from George Foreman...
What a wealth of musical history knowledge the world lost today.
Godspeed, Ed. You mattered and you will be deeply missed by a great many people. ♥
I'm getting real sick of this death shit...
See the rest of our tribute to Ed Ward
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