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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the June 25, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Who the Hell is John Eddie?

Given that John Eddie’s "career" in the record

business has been such a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, it’s

appropriate that he has ended up enjoying the most radio airplay in

his life with a label called Lost Highway Records. Eddie is in good

company at the Nashville-based Lost Highway. One of America’s greatest

songwriters, Lucinda Williams, also records for the label.

"Lost Highway is a true artist-driven label," says Eddie with

enthusiasm in a cell phone call from California, where he was on tour

last week. "They’re very artist oriented, and everybody on the

label has such a great reputation, it’s given me more credibility

than I’ve ever had in my career, with people like Lucinda Williams

and Ryan Adams on the label. I find people are coming out to shows

just because I’m a Lost Highway act," he says.

"It’s almost like a name brand that stands for Americana and roots

music," adds the 43-year old Highlands, New Jersey, resident,

who recently purchased the small house he had rented for the last

seven years.

Eddie’s debut for Lost Highway Records, "Who the Hell is John

Eddie?" was released May 13, but there was a lot of radio promotion

going on in advance of the album’s release to create a palpable buzz.

Tracks from Eddie’s new album have been played on WXPN 88.5 FM in

Philadelphia for months now. There are dozens of other Triple A formatted

[adult album alternative] stations around the country that have also

latched on to Eddie’s Jersey Shore-styled soulful roots-rock sound.

Eddie, who has continued to hone his craft at bars from

Long Branch to Asbury Park to Atlantic City in the last dozen years,

never threw in the towel on his own artistic vision even when his

"career" in the record business delivered some heart-breaking

knocks with major record labels. Born in Virginia but raised in Maple

Shade, Eddie dropped out of high school in the 10th grade in Florida

and ran away from home — back to New Jersey. His father, a civilian

employee in the Department of Defense, died when Eddie was 23. His

mother, still a big supporterand also "very, very funny,"

Eddie says, worked as a waitress.

His "career" in the music business started at CBS/Sony in

1986. "John Eddie" was released by the label at the height

of Bruce Springsteen’s success with "Born In The U.S.A." While

Eddie’s debut was reasonably successful, his follow-up, "Hard

Cold Truth," was not a commercial success. He was released from

his contract with CBS and he signed with Elektra Records, but was

later dropped by that label in 1992. Shore-area fans of the singer-songwriter

helped finance several independent releases through the 1990s.

"As far as I can tell," Eddie enthused, "this is by far

and away the most airplay I’ve ever gotten on a record. We even played

at a radio programmers’ conference," he adds. Eddie owes much

of his career turnaround to Michele Clark, a Turnersville native who

ditched plans for law school and started her own radio promotion firm.

Clark started her promotional firm in Cherry Hill. Now based in Malibu,

Calif., Clark was once a 16-year-old who snuck out of her parents’

house with her girlfriends to go see Eddie perform. Now, she’s often

driving him to shows, since she’s been formally managing him for the

last three years.

"We just played Reno, Nevada last night," he continues, "and

there were about 300 people at this club. I looked into the audience

and the people were singing along to my words. It’s the first time

we’ve ever really been able to break out of the East coast club circuit."

So what has Eddie learned in the process of being signed and dropped

from two major record companies, and then playing the Shore’s small

and big bars like the Stone Pony for most of the 1990s?

"A lot of the supporting tours we’ve done in the last couple of

years have been really helpful," he says, noting his band opened

for John Hiatt last year. "We’ve been touring non-stop for the

last two years, and that’s helped build awareness."

"Now, even though I’ve been blessed with all this support from

radio, I still think, nowadays, a band has to work 300 nights a year

to make an impact," he says, noting all the distractions nowadays,

like five new movies coming out each weekend, the proliferation of

video stores, and the Internet.

"We still sell a ton of records at our shows. People see the band

and they want the CD. I really believe in the power of that one-on-one

connection with an audience," he says, adding, "it helps if

you can see as many people as possible face-to-face."

At his slew of area shows this week and next, Eddie will be accompanied

by P.K. Lavengood on guitar, Kenny Aaronson on bass, Gary Gold on

drums and Bart Weilberg on guitar.

Other than having a multi-tiered, international marketing

and promotional record company machine supporting "Who the hell

is John Eddie?" little else has changed for the singer-songwriter,

who turns 44 on July 9th. He bought the house he was renting in Highlands,

"because I just recently was able to obtain good enough credit

to buy it outright!" Eddie, who has never been married and has

no children, looks after three dogs and two pigs when he’s not on

the road.

"I’m blessed to have good friends who house sit and look after

the animals when I’m away," he adds.

Despite his lack of formal education, Eddie showcases some incredibly

literate, poignant, autobiographical songs on "Who the hell is

John Eddie?" Songs like "Shithole Bar," "Family Tree,"

"Jesus Is Coming" and "Play Some Skynyrd" demonstrate

that Eddie has taken his songwriting to a new level with his current

release. Eddie cites legendary Americana songwriters like Willie Nelson,

John Hiatt, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as major influences since

he first started jumping on stages, singing his own songs in bars

in Philadelphia and south Jersey with his old band, the Front Street

Runners.

"I’m like a little cliche of all the people I love. To me, they

should be everybody’s favorite songwriters," he argues.

What has a new lease on the artistic life, in the form of a contract

with Lost Highway / Mercury Records / Universal Music Group taught

Eddie? He’s the first one to tell you how lucky he is to be 43 and

signed to a major label.

"These days, I’m a lot more realistic about `being a rock star.’

Now, I’m more interested in being a good songwriter. I like to play

live and it keeps the whole enterprise going, but in the last couple

of years, I’ve been concentrating on becoming as strong a songwriter

as I can possibly be," he says.

"If you write a great song, it lasts a lot longer than you do."

— Richard J. Skelly

John Eddie, KatManDu, Waterfront Park, Route 29,

Trenton, 609-393-7300. $7 at the door. Wednesday, June 25, 8 p.m.

and Wednesday, July 23, 8 p.m.

John Eddie, Count Basie Theater, 99 Monmouth Street,

Red Bank, 732-842-9000. Opening for Willie Nelson. Thursday, June

26, 8 p.m.

John Eddie, Stone Pony, 913 Ocean Avenue, Asbury

Park, 732-502-0600. Friday, July 4, 9 p.m.


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