Written by James Killen
Jan 26, 2013 at 08:00 PM
ImageYou don’t see Ed Snodderly’s name on any big casino billboards or headlining a night at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Ed might be best remembered by most people as the fiddle player in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou.” What most people don’t know is that the new Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame building has the words from Ed’s song “The Diamond Stream” engraved in the wall. Ed lives in Eastern Tennessee, just the other side of the mountain from Malcolm Holcombe, another of the Appalachian singer-songwriters familiar to most of the Almost Austin regulars. Malcolm mentioned to Ed what a cool music scene Houston was having, so Ed decided to come on down Saturday night to check it out.

Ed opened up the show with “Band Box” featuring a smooth jazzy hillbilly guitar style recounting an old fiddle tune, to which Ed had added lyrics. It’s immediately apparent that Ed Snodderly is a story teller as well as a musician and song writer. This is not unusual for the folksy side of music to include a few stories, but Ed takes it to a new level. It’s hard to tell when the story telling stops and the song begins sometimes, as he’ll start to loosely play a few notes during the introductory conversation, then the tune begins to take shape and before you know it you’re well into the first stanza of the song. Ed seems to sing and play his instruments as fluidly and effortlessly as he talks and breathes.

The second tune was “Cryin’ Boy” played on the banjo. The show continued with “Farther Than Your Eyes Can See” about the lives of the people he knows, farmers and such, and features some piercing imagery with lines like “Everything turns to rust and blows away”. The show continued with “Magnolia” and “Majestic” which Ed played on a resonator guitar that he borrowed from Jimmie Hendricks (not Jimi Hendrix). Ed then took us on a virtual trip to the farmer’s market in Johnson City, Tennessee with the “Johnson City Rag” as he recounts sitting on a stool at the market with a banjo and riffing on the passers-by (a pastime that he seems to really enjoy). During the introduction to “Diamond Stream”, Ed talked us through his chords, commenting on people that are learning to play guitar and the personality of the chords as if they were characters in a script, speaking English and music interchangeably like some kind of a language translation exercise.

After the intermission, the Show started back up with “Little Egypt” and “Black Crow”. His third song of the second set tempted me to use the adjective, “Dylanesce” as if it were something approaching Bob Dylan’s style, but “A Basket of Singing Birds” is so much Ed Snodderly, that I would rather suspect that he and Dylan were drinking from the same well of inspiration. “Twist You Up” was the musical version of Ed’s grandmother’s advice about leaving the hills of home. Ed turned a rendition of an old 78RPM tune called “Party Song” into a rousing sing along, followed by “Small Southern Town” and “A Life of My Own”. “A Life of my Own” had a rhythm that reminded one of the old Johnny Cash tunes, which elicited a story about the last time that Ed had seen the man in black. He said that Cash was so weak that they had to push him on to the stage in a wheelchair, but that when he spoke into the mike and said “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash” the hairs still stood up on Ed’s neck. Mr. Snodderly ended the evening with an old gospel sing-a-long called “Goodbye” that had the whole room singing in unison.

I often get to see artists for the first time and enjoy their work. After this first show with Ed Snodderly, I can truly say that it’s been good to meet him. An evening at an Ed Snodderly show is an invitation to spend a while with him in his world, and it ain’t such a bad world at all.