Dave Edmunds: Subtle as a Flying Mallet
By: Paula M. Sherman
Now there's an expression! It's the title of an album released by Dave Edmunds back in 1975. There's nothing subtle about Edmunds, except for maybe his career. But his musical prowess is solidly brilliant, and he has given us thirty years of the best rock and roll that only he can deliver. "Subtle as a Flying Mallet" originally released on Victor RCA has been reissued on One Way on March 24, 1998. And even though this wasn't one of his most note-worthy efforts, this recording is among a string of wondrous albums in Edmunds' legacy. Excuse me while I connect the many little black dots to this man's interesting and lengthy career.....he more than deserves this tribute! And if you're a rock and roll historian or just a junkie like I am, keep reading because there are some notable musical remembrances regarding soundtracks and concerts in this article that hopefully will light some candles of thought. Ending this article, there is also a transcript of an interview with Dave Edmunds from 1978, which I'll talk more about.
Born in Cardiff, Wales, on April 15, 1944, this Welsh rocker/producer showed us rock and roll's many facets. From pop and blues to country and rockabilly, Edmunds took his talent and beamed his favorite influences through his music. His long career is marked with hills and dips, on a road that never had a dead-end. And one would think that a musician whose been rocking for this long would have shown some kind of flamboyant nature somewhere along the way. Not Edmunds! To this day, he has never truly received the fame that he deserves, but that doesn't matter. He's a soft spoken man who just keeps jamming.
Anyone who is a fan of Dave Edmunds knows that this dude just really digs the music! This comes out in his stirring vocals and wieldy guitar playing. Edmunds is a notable guru with the strings. The most significant song that more than proves this fact is "Sabre Dance". This is the song that started it all. Edmunds formed a band named "Love Sculpture" back in the mid 60's. They performed "Sabre Dance" on John Peel's Top Gear Show and EMI signed them soon after. Being influenced by blues music, particularly Eric Clapton, they released "Blues Helping" (1968). Then they released "Forms and Feelings" (1969) with a more psychedelic feel, featuring the anticipated "Sabre Dance" that hopped to #6 position on the charts by the end of the year. Both these are albums are incredible! It was once thought that "Sabre Dance" was accelerated and dubbed in sections due to the intensity of the recording. Terry Williams, drummer for Man and close friend of Edmunds who played on his first solo album, assured doubters that there were no tricks at all, "and that the version we all know was the *first* take!"
Love Sculpture broke up in 1970, and Edmunds went on to record his solo album "Rockpile" in 1971. This release featured "I Hear You Knocking" (originally released in 1955 by Smiley Lewis who is mentioned in the song by Edmunds) that went to #1 position and stayed there for 8 weeks. In the states, this song hit #4 on the charts. This is a song that Edmunds is best know for and he would later bring it back to rock our socks off. This amazing piece of rock and roll shines a magnificent cover of Berry's "Promise Land", and one of Neil Young's "Dance, Dance, Dance". These two songs in my opinion make this album sky-rocket.
This period of his career is where I believe he had the most fun with the music. It was lively and exciting, and it's well documented in a French released entitled "Dave Edmunds, Rocker - Early Works 1968/1972" that came out in 1978, where it is very clear that this man was idolized in his area of the world. I have this double album release and it's where I got most of this wonderful information! After the release of "Rockpile", Edmunds formed a band named Rockpile.
Edmunds went on to produce groups like Foghat and many other artists, and continued to jam with his friends. Amidst doing his own thing for some years, he contributed to the "Stardust" soundtrack (Arista) and even acted in this film, along with talents as David Essex and Keith Moon. Then after collecting songs to form another album in 1975, Edmunds released "Subtle as a Flying Mallet" where he literally orchestrated the whole thing himself with a little help from his friends from Rockpile. Like I said, this wasn't his best effort, and later Edmunds mentions that this release lacked continuity, but he's not embarrassed by it. Even with the Everly Brother's, Spector and Berry tunes; it does unfortunately, leaves one yawning. But the music isn't poorly done, not at all, you just need to be in the mood to listen to it.
This incredible group, Rockpile, consisted towards the end with Edmunds on guitar and vocals, Nick Lowe on bass, Billy Bremner on guitar and Terry Williams on drums. Moving to Swan Song (Atlantic), they released a strong rocking album "Get It" in 1977, which again paid tribute to the founding fathers of rock and roll. But finally in the next year, Edmunds stands apart from his heroes that influenced him in the beginning and he releases "Tracks on Wax 4"; an amazingly powerful album with contributions from Edmunds, Lowe and Bremner. This release steers Edmunds close to the fame that he deserves. Nick Lowe would also release solo albums along with Edmunds during this time.
And during this time, the College Radio Network released an album that wasn't for sale, but I acquired it from a friend who was selling his album collection many years ago. The interview with Dave Edmunds on it is one of a kind, and he talks about some very interesting aspects of the music industry back then as well as Rockpile. I typed a transcript for those are die-hard Edmunds fans, and I'll include it at the end of this article. This guy has a great sense of humor and a wonderful speaking voice with a fine accent :)
Edmunds isn't to the top of this hill yet. In 1979, "Repeat When Necessary" is a perfect follow-up to the last release and proves Edmunds' talent tremendously. It offers a perfect cover of Elvis Costello's "Girl's Talk". This release astoundingly incorporates rock, rockabilly, country and blues; and the man makes it look easy! Rockpile tours the states the following year and released a very cool "Second of Pleasure" (Columbia). Alas, all hills must have a down slope. Due to disagreements and tempers, Rockpile broke up after this tremendous release. Go fig! In my opinion, I could see where this breakup was inevitable, simply because of the way Rockpile was running with two very talented musicians running first and second in alternation all the time. Although Edmunds states that there were no ego trips going on, I believe that egos did strain the music to a point of separation. Edmunds and Lowe were an incredible team. This group's breakup would be a terrible lose to the music world, because together they were just as powerful as they were in their solo environments.
After the breakout, Edmunds quickly released "Twangin...". Let's just say, he shouldn't have done that. As much as I like when talented musicians try to do what they do best, this release is another yawner, and is a weak retreat to "Subtle as a Flying Mallet". A "Best of Dave Edmunds" came out in 1981 revealing no order in terms of a musical timetable, but it truly is "The Best Of" this man's work to that point.
Also released in 1981 was a Music for UNICEF album entitled "Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea"; featuring not only Rockpile and Robert Plant, but The Who, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Queen, The Clash, Ian Dury and The Blockheads, The Specials, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Rockestra. Go out and get this one if you can find it. It will blow your head off! Every band on this 2 record release gave everything they had and it is one of the jewels of my collection.
Settling down the following year, "D.E.7th" gets us all in the groove again. An amazing cover of Springsteen's "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" starts the album off and let me tell you, it almost brings tears to your eyes. Edmunds' new band is solid and the music insists that you get up and dance! It's an absolute breath of fresh rocking air. I remember buying this album when it came out and seeing one of the songs "Paula Meet Jeanne" (Cole), a very cool song for a girl who has one of those names :) And it's nicely topped off with a Berry cover, "Dear Dad". Amazing piano playing going on in this one. Also in 1982, Edmunds contributed "Run Rudolph Run" for the soundtrack "Party Party".
Now we come of to a point in Edmunds' career where he seems to be influenced by the overly-synthesized feel of ELO's Jeff Lynne. Luckily Edmunds weathers this period with grace. Please don't take offense if you're a Jeff Lynne/ELO fan, but I feel this sound can be overdone to the point of insanity. But Edmunds rocks with it and makes it sound pretty good, with releases like "Information" and "Riff Raff". And if you're into album art, these two albums had separate art for this Canadian/USA and UK releases.
"Information" still contains the basic rich riffs that are so instilled in Edmunds. And through the years, his voice has become warmer and more loose. "Slippin' Away" is a great tune that will always be a keeper. And songs like "Wait" (Wolf) and "Have A Heart" (David) give this album some redemption.
"Riff Raff" is another album that did survive the trauma of being over-synthesized. And the only reason this artificial sound can be overlooked is due to the fact that Edmunds' guitar playing and strong voice pulls it out and makes it rock regardless. "Rules of the Game" is one of the best songs on this record, although I'd love to hear it with more piano and drum stomping [and NO synthesizers!] "Can't Get Enough" thankfully hits the blues mark perfectly on this album and saves it from the vinyl meltdown pile.
Never sounding ostentatious during this 80's period, Edmunds goes on to prove that good old rock and roll can survive no matter what decade you're living in. His four song contribution and production of the "Porky's Revenge" soundtrack really stands as reverent flag waving to salute rock and roll roots. Matched with the amazing contributions from Jeff Beck, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Clareance Clemons, Willie Nelson, George Harrison, Carl Perkins and last but not least....The Crawling King Snakes. What a name for a group! This group consisted of Robert Plant, Paul Martinez, Phil Collin and Dave Edmunds.
Other soundtracks contributions atributed to Edmunds later on would include the following: "Gonna Move" from the film "Trains Planes and Automobiles", "Stay With Me Tonight" from the film "Light Of Day" starring Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox, and a spectacular "Wooly Bully" from the film "Back To The Beach". And somewhere out there in bootleg land, there is a release entitled "Hello From Hollywood".
After 1984, Edmunds superbly produced some greats such as The Stray Cats, K.D. Lang and Dion. But I think the most important work to Edmunds was producing the 1984 comeback album for The Everly Brothers. Symbolically, Edmunds and Lowe came together again in this period to produce "Basher's Party Of One."
But in 1987, the best was yet to come! Edmunds released, "I Hear You Rockin' ", and this is the pentacle of his genius as far as I'm concerned! This album was recorded live from London, New York and New Jersey (at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ to be exact!) with pianist Geraint Watkins, guitarist Mickey Gee, bassist John David and drummer Dave Charles. Including all the best songs from years past; such as "Here Comes The Weekend", "The Wanderer", "I Knew The Bride", and the most incredible live performance of "Paralyzed"! Edmunds and his band cranked it up and rocked the damn venues apart! This album is priceless! And the only album or collection of music that equals this triumph is Robert Plant's efforts with the Honeydrippers. There's nothing like the elegance and hard-edge nostralgia of rock and roll music when it's presented with such enthusiasm and talent!
I always wondered in the early 90's why Edmunds wasn't asked to be a part of "The Traveling Wilburys" because he sure played with the likes of these incredible talents many of times. In 1990, Edmunds came back with "Closer To The Flame" (Capitol) which is a pumped up recording thankfully showing more of his rockabillity and blues roots with "King Of Love" (with Brian Setzer) and "Test of Love". Plugged In (Rhino) was released in 1994 with a new "Sabre Dance", in a one-man band setting done up much better than "Subtle as a Flying Mallet". All of this reattests that Dave Edmunds is a TRUE ROCKER! Like I said, this man just keeps on jamming. To the present, there is still more that this rocker has contributed to; "Not Fade Away (Remembering Buddy Holly)" (Various Artists) (MCA), and "Rock the First, Vol.9" (Various Artists) (DCC Records).....just to name a few.
If you love rock and roll, go out and find these albums and play them LOUD...rattle the neighbors! I'm proud to say that I have 99% of Dave Edmunds recordings. I'm still looking for that bootleg. There's one awesome thing about rock and roll, dancing to this great music is better than doing aerobics!
Thanks for reading.
Transcript from the College Radio Network presenting Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, 1978, a 30 minute radio program featuring a conversation with Dave Edmunds and music from his album, Tracks On Wax 4. (Atlantic/Swan Song)
Int: The College Radio Network and this station present an in-depth interview with Dave Edmunds. For the next 30 minutes, we'll be talking to Dave about his group and his work, and we'll be listening to some music from Dave Edmunds and Rockpile.
Edmunds: The 24 Hour club was, to be a member, you had to be available, at any hour, day or night, ah, for a drinking session. Alright, you could be knocked over at 5 o'clock in the morning, and you'd have to keep on going till the last one dropped. Alright? And then it got even worse, I mean, a few people fell by the wayside within hours. Nick Lowe was in it for about 5 hours I think, he was expelled for going to bed. And then even worse, an off-shoot was the Pound-A-Minute club, where you had to go to the bar, and for every minute you were there you had to spend a pound on drink. The 24 Hour club was outlawed...with all the secret meetings. The rock and roll at the end it seems, in one form or another, it will go a bit this way and bit that way. You always seem to end up with good pop records and something based loosely on rock and roll. I think it's quite healthy what happened, but I don't know what the press did with it, in Britain anyway, I don't know about over here. But they jumped on the band-wagon as if they were paranoid about missing it. And it's strange, because America invented rock and roll and yet it's bigger in England now, I think. The young kids can't...they don't have a chance to develop their roots. Now, if you see what I mean, you're right, you say they can get a group together and come in and make a record. They gotta make a record, you know, they got to have a recording company and then they got to spend a lot of money on equipment, and ah, before you know it, they're out of their depth, and they have not much in the way of musical roots to fall back on. So a lot of bands are coming and going. The Beatles were around for years just developing before they ever made their first record. I had a big hit with "I Hear You Knocking". I got a bit lazy, there, spent a little money. And then thanks to Nick and especially Jake Riveria, we just got around together. I'm getting away from that...my "Subtle as a Flying Mallet" where I played everything myself and it sounds like a compilation album of various artists, but there's no continuity or flow to it at all. And I tried to correct that a bit with "Get It", which I think there is a bit more continuity to, and some original songs. And this one, it's all original except for two songs. And there's a lot more continuity and it sounds like a band, ya know, cuz it is for the first time, ya know, got that Rockpile thing together. I just thought of the name Rockpile for the album. And years later the band, ya know, we needed a name..so we called it Rockpile.
Song - It's My Own Business
Int: In the past, you have written, produced and performed. Of the three, which do you prefer?
Edmunds: At the moment, performing.
Int: Oh, it changes from day to day, huh?
Edmunds: No, no. It took a long time. I started with a band called...ummm...well at first I had some record success with a band called Love Sculpture, which was just a local band from around my home town, Cariff, in Wales England...and ahh..we got lucky and had a hit, with a thing called "Sabre Dance" catchaturian classical thing, instrumental...and ah...I didn't enjoy then what happened after that. We were gigging all around England, and I didn't enjoy it so I decided not to do it, and concentrate on studio work which I did...and ah...that resulted in "I Hear You Knocking" and a few things, Spector rip-offs....and ah......and some production work. And then that kinda got dull because having done it, you want to move on to something different or I did anyway, ya know? And I got together with Nick a few years ago when I moved from Wales up to London...and umm...we got the band together, and with the help of Jake Riveria, and Terry Williams on drums and Billy Bremner on guitar and Nick Lowe on bass...ahh...it's a lot more fun than it ever used to be.
Int: You mentioned Phil Spector. Do you...do you find that he is one of the producers you admire more than.....
Edmunds: YEAH! Oh yeah! I mean, he is phenomenal.
Int: Who else's production do you like?
Edmunds: I wouldn't like to have to choose between Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. Especially the earily Brian Wilson stuff.
Int: What production have you done besides your own?
Edmunds: I did the first Foghat album. Ummm...and some English bands that I produced because they are friends...ahhh...I never considered myself a producer as such...um.....I mean someone who...ahhh....tells the band...you know...chooses the material, tells the band how to do it and what key to do it in or tells them not to do it or whatever...ya know...I never did that. It's just that if some friends of my in bands like Dusty Lux , Brinsley Schwarz, Man...umm...that's the band that Terry Williams used to play with...I'd just help them out and do the engineering and throw in a few suggestions.
Int: You mentioned Nick Lowe before. It seems to me that you have a rather unusual relationship in that you are both rising stars, if you will, at least here in the states, and you both produce, you both write, and yet you've managed to co-exist in the same group for I guess a few years now and you seem to be both working out rather well. How do you explain that? Are you good friends? Just working partners?
Edmunds: Very good friends. Very good friends indeed, but we don't live in each other's pockets, you know, none of us do actually. Ummm...not because we don't want to, it's just wiser not to. We work, rehearse, record...and it's great, I mean....Nick is the writer. I never considered myself a songwriter, but now since I've been working with him, I am contributing to an extent. But I'm the guitarist and he's not, so we compliment each other in a way.
Int: On his album, a lot of the material was co-written. On your album, a lot of the material is co-written...
Int: ....yet, how do you decide which songs are going to go to whose record...ummm.
Int: It seems like a rather unusual arrangement.
Edmunds: It seems like a fore-gone conclusion in a way...one song will be naturally more suited to him and another that...ya see....what he does, he'll write...he'll come up with a verse a week...ya know...two verses a week...the first verse is on a premise and he forgets the and I always remember them. And then maybe a year or two later, I'll say, "Nick, remember that song?", and he'll say, "No", and then I'll remind him and we both work on it from there.
Int: Does the rest of the group contribute to the writing process?
Edmunds: Umm, it's getting that way..yeah...yeah...
Int: So you feel you're still growing, kind of becoming more cohesive as time goes on?
Edmunds: Oh yeah, yeah....there's still a long way to go...
Song - Deborah
Int: Is there a class that you would apply to your kind of writing? What kind of music do you enjoy putting out? I've noticed descriptions and reviews of your music, ah, and to a lesser extent, the music that came out on Nick's album, as anyway from power-pop to rockabilly, or that sort of thing. Where would you like to be classified if at all?
Edmunds: Well...umm..I've done a few things, rockabilly things...ahh...rock and roll, Phil Spector, and all that, but....when we got the band together, the idea was to do rock and roll stuff, sort of 3 minute songs, exciting stuff, you know...but not just...ahhh...I don't want to slag anyone off...not just mindless noise, but something with a bit of class in it...like...we were thinking about...like...old Everly Brothers records and things like that where we'd hear the most incredible guitar solos...ya know...really....something with a bit of class and a bit of taste in it...but still with balls in it...ya know...that was the idea with the band.
Int: Rockpile has been associated with another fast rising star, Elvis Costello.
Edmunds: Oh yeah, well we have the same manager, Jake Riveria.
Int: Do you agree with him that if a song is longer than 3 minutes it starts to get boring?
Edmunds: Yeah, Elvis didn't invent that....actually......me and Nick, we've been...ahh...we've held that view for a long long time.
Int: What's your favorite song on the new album?
Edmunds: It's a song called, "Never Been In Love", which is quite poppy actually. It started when I was doing the last tour with Brinsley's....ahhh...I did a spot with them and we were listening to a Sam Cooke tape...what was that song...."Bring it on Home to Me".
Int: Right! A fine song...been done by a lot of people.
Edmunds: Yeah, and Nick, like I was saying just came up with a verse...ahhh......"You oughta see the way my friends stare whenever we're out in a pair" Real Sam Cooke style. I reminded him about it 3 years later and we went in to do it like that and it was so bloody boring we just knew that wasn't going to do it, so we tarted it up and speeded it up a bit, put a bit of life into it, and I like it. I think that's my favorite.
Int: So that was another collaboration effort?
Edmunds: Yeah, and I think it's my favorite guitar solo that I've done.
Edmunds: I think so.
Song - Never Been In Love
Int: What's the next project that the group's working on?
Edmunds: After this tour, we get back in mid December, I have to start on a new album. Nick has to start on a new album.
Int: At the same time?
Edmunds: Umm, we've got the same studio booked and we'll just play it by ear, ya know, when I've got something to do....
Int: So you'll do a few songs a day and then split 'em up?
Edmunds: I think it'll work like that this time yeah.
Int: Do you find your record labels particularly cooperative to that kind of thought, or they don't have much to do with it until you've finished up?
Edmunds: No they don't. Nick has to deliver an album, I have to deliver an album.
Int: You both produce your own?
Edmunds: Yeah...and...ahhhh....the fact that we may use Terry and Billy on drums and guitar respectively....you know....has nothing to do with the record company. We can use whichever musicians we want.
Int: Has there been any philosophy changes between albums or do you see it all as pretty much a similar line of work?
Edmunds: Yeah, there are changes. My first album....ahh......I can't remember what was one it...it was so long ago....but it was things recorded over a period of time and then slapped together to make an album. The second album I did was "Subtle as a Flying Mallet" on RCA, and that was really like a compilation of various artists...you know....there's the two Phil Spector look-a-likes on there, some Everly Brothers and a few live tracks that I did with Brinsley Schwarz. Not the way to put an album together, although each track individually....I'm not embarrassed about at all...you know. And then the last album, "Get It", was done over a shorter period of time and I started using other musicians, as opposed to playing all the instruments myself like I did on the other two. And this new album, "Track on Wax", it's just Rockpile, and we did it...I think it was 12 five hour sessions. It was all recorded and mixed...and there's more continuity in it...more direction.
Int: And is that the way things are going to stay...do you see Rockpile as a lasting group?
Edmunds: Yes...yes....like I said, when we get back, I have to do an album solo. Nick has to do his album....we have to do a Rockpile album after that.
Int: Is there a Rockpile album at all?
Edmunds: No except Track On Wax, is the band, it's just that I'm singing all the songs and not any of the others.
Song: A1 on the Jukebox
Int: So you'd like to do an album that you can call a Rockpile album with everyone doing the work?
Edmunds: Yeah, so we can stop doing this thing. It worked great. On the Elvis tour, it was Nick Lowe with Rockpile simply because he had a record out and I didn't, so he stood in the middle ...middle microphone...and ahh....and this time it's Dave Edmunds Rockpile....what started as Dave Edmunds Rockpile...now it's gone...you know....Nick...and now it's back to me again...which is....it serves it purpose....but eventually I'd like just to be known as Rockpile...and hopefully everyone whose interested to know exactly what it's all about...without putting a name in front of it.
Int: Are there other members of the group who are writing and could conceivably come out with a solo album as you and Nick have?
Edmunds: Yeah, Billy could. Billy.....Billy Bremner, is an amazing guitarist. He sings like a bird...and ah...he's written two of the songs on the album.
Int: Does he do any of the vocals on the tour at all?
Edmunds: No he doesn't...but ahh...he's had a few records out...and ah...
Int: That's what I meant before about your fascinating relationship, to see a group, that well who has the album out this time, we'll put him in the middle. That's very unusual...and something very much to be admired.
Edmunds: I'm proud of it actually. The band is...I mean....we're not youngsters. We've been around some time. Billy has played....you wouldn't believe.......there's a list...it's endless....with the people he's played with....Don Everly, Dwanye Eddie, The Walker Brothers, it goes on and on. So there's no ego problems at all. It's all very boring to say that we get along great and all that...and sometimes we mock up come aggravation...yes well...to make it interesting...but the truth of it is that we get along so well we've never had an argument...this band has never had an argument. It's just amazing.
Int: How do you feel you've been accepted now...I know that the Nick Lowe album did pretty well for virtually a debut artist. Do you think Rockpile will capture the hearts of America?
Edmunds: We're working on it. Nick is actually a very very good bass player, better than he thinks. And Terry is the most amazing drummer. Billy on guitar is frightening, and the potential there is just....once we just the legalities to do it...it'll be great.
Song: I Hear You Knocking (Live) <----great cut!