Linda Ronstadt remembers Kenny Edwards: 'A beacon to me'
Linda Ronstadt spoke with me Thursday, generously sharing many memories of guitarist-singer-songwriter-producer Kenny Edwards, who died Wednesday at age 64. Edwards was a founder of the Stone Poneys, the band with whom Ronstadt first surfaced nationally when they scored a hit single with their version of Monkee Michael Nesmith’s song “Different Drum.” They met during an especially fertile time in the history of L.A. pop music, particularly in and around Santa Monica circa the early to mid-1960s. He became a key member of her band through her commercial peak in the 1970s and into the 1980s, until she made her shift to singing music of the pre-rock era. He also worked alongside musicians including Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Ringo Starr, Karla Bonoff, Wendy Waldman and numerous others.
I met Kenny when I was about to turn 18 and he was 17. I had just come from Tucson, and I was immediately drawn to him because we both had very eclectic tastes. He was incredibly sophisticated. He knew how to play the sitar, he had seen Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan and knew about people like Inez Foxx and the Staple Singers, and he could play all of it.
I knew him as a blues guitar player; we had both gone to see a show by the band Ry Cooder was in, the Rising Sons. Kenny introduced me to a lot of stuff. He was always beautifully dressed, kind of like a cross between working class and a college professor — tweed jackets — it was a very interesting look…. He was also really smart. He always read good stuff. I remember he was reading Thomas Mann when he was 17.
When the Stone Poneys were going, we’d get together and he’d cook Indian food. He loved to cook — he’d cook for days. He would also go to Pink’s — he always knew where to get the best burger in town — or he’d go down for a night at the Apple Pan. He was the male version of [Leonard Cohen’s] “Suzanne”: "He shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers."
We had a little house on Hart [Avenue in Santa Monica], and in one block, the Doors lived across the street, Pete Seeger’s dad lived in another house and the whole Seeger family thing was going there, [actor] Ron Perlman lived in another. There was a soul food restaurant in the neighborhood and you could walk to the Nuart [Theatre]. I got exposed to a cultural world I never knew about. It was a hippie crash pad, but it cost $60 a month, which was split about 15 ways. I could make $30 last for a month.
When the Stone Poneys started, Kenny had never sung, we [Tucson transplants Ronstadt and Bobby Kimmel] drafted him and kind of forced him to sing harmony. Later, when he started singing harmony with Andrew [Gold on her early ‘70s solo records], that became an important part of my sound. Having those strong male voices behind me gave me a chance to sing the high leads.
He had excellent creative ideas, and didn’t always get the credit that others did. When we recorded “You’re No Good,” Andrew gets the obvious credits, but Kenny supplied the skeleton, the basic framework of that low guitar and bass part that gave it a completely different sound. That gave Peter [Asher] and Andrew something to build on.
Kenny’s voice was like a laser beam. He was really strong. He was always a good singer, but back then it was always kind of a festival-seating approach. He’d move around to place a note wherever it would fit. His later stuff became so refined. His singing got so accurate and precise. He didn’t really have an arc in his career, he just kept getting better and better.
He was always a beacon to me, and his opinion always counted a lot for me. The great thing about watching what he’d been doing in recent years is how much he enjoyed it. He dreamed good dreams and he lived them out.
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Kenny Edwards. Credit: Gabriel Judet-Weinshel