Beginning his career, busking in Charleston, SC, Edwin McCain frequented many of the music venues from North Florida to Virginia Beach before becoming a “National Recording Artist”. During this same period other artists such as Hootie and The Blowfish and The Dave Mathews Band were beginning their careers in what McCain refers to (in this interview) as “the last moment of the big-time music industry”.
Grade School Was Tough
Being dyslexic, Edwin struggled in his early years in elementary school. His recollection of this time reveals some of the obvious pain that children (and adults) experience dealing with dyslexia. Church choir (Edwin calls it southern daycare) uncovered his musical talents and that attention helped him replace some of the negatives with positives. He says it kept him from being picked on during grade school and recalls, “That was it, it was me and music ever since….(like) peas and carrots.”
Edwin’s earliest song-writing influence was probably Eastern Appalachian Folk music introduced to him by his uncle. Through the graphic story-telling aspect of this music he realized the impact of telling life’s stories through music. It was his uncle who gave him his first guitar.
As his interest in music grew, David Wilcox and Kevin Kenny were early influences. But, Edwin recalls becoming interested in the southern punk rock scene for a period in his teens. “It was just music for its own sake,” he recalls. “It was unlistenable to the adults…it was our music. It was powerful music…I can’t event listen to it now (laughs), but it was perfect for that moment. It instilled this punk streak in me that still exists today. I didn’t work well in the major record labels. I had this indie thing in me…that’s what it is. That’s why I still drive the bus. I’m just too stubborn to have it be easy (laughs).”
The Big Plan
“I love when people ask me about the ‘big plan’ for the music business,” laughs Edwin. “If I’m being totally honest…I was playing guitar at a party once and this girl who was totally out of my league came up and was like… ‘hey you’re cute’, and I’m like…yea this is what I’m doin’ (laughs).” Like everyone else who wanted to be in the music business, he had the realization that he had to figure out how to make a living playing music. He went to Charleston, SC during Spoleto (Music Festival) and threw down a guitar case on the street and started playing music for tips. The manager of a Mexican restaurant (across the street) came an ask him if he was capable of playing for a couple of hours. Edwin recalls, “I didn’t tell him I’d have to play the same 10 songs I knew over and over.” But, he got his first real gig right there for for $50 dollars and a meal for playing on the deck of the Mexican restaurant each night. Edwin kidding,”I dropped out of college the next day. I’m rich!!I got this.” Laughing about this first job, he said he could see (from the stage) rats running around under the tables between the patrons feet. “They couldn’t see them, but I could. I was always just one rat away from my gig being over. I loved that gig. I’ve loved every other gig after that. My big plan was that I was just going to be a dude playing a guitar and writing some songs. I really didn’t have any plans to have a band or anything.”
The Last Big Wave
When bands like Hootie and the Blowfish and Dave Mathews started playing up and down the coast from D.C to Savannah and back, Edwin remembers thinking that was huge. He recalls, “If you’ve got a van and a trailer and you’re playing D.C to Savannah and back, that’s as famous as it gets. So, we started thinking maybe we should put a band together.” About that time the Truly Dangerous Swamp Band broke up and Edwin hired the bass player and drummer and started playing some shows. “It was the perfect storm of timing, ” he recalls, “You can’t buy that kind of timing. The last moment of the big time music business, the last wave…and we all, luckily, were sitting there on our surf boards and road it in to the shore. There’s no way to take any kind of credit for that. It’s like giving credit to the lightning rod for the lightning. We were lucky. We were lucky to be there. Anybody that’s still around will tel you the same thing.”
In his (always) humble gracious fashion, Edwin McCain says of song lyrics, “I’ve just lived long enough, when something song-worthy comes up, I just write about it.” When he was in his teens and twenties, he wrote in wide-ranging global themes. In later years he finds the poetry in inter-personal relationships with close friends and family like the the little things, like his daughter’s sticky hand prints on the wall. “I don’t think of songs as anything but a snapshot of whatever my life is at that moment,” he recalls. “That’s why playing them through the years is great. It’s like looking through a photo album.” He doesn’t write on any sort of schedule. He says,”If I gotta live long enough to care about it, it takes me a minute.”
Flipping Ships (reality TV Show) comes completely from Edwin’s story-telling background. He wanted to get into TV and watching Duck Dynasty, realized he had people around him everyday who were just as funny or funnier than the Robertson family. Edwin created an unscripted series around his business “Boats Have Souls”. A chronic restorer of anything, Edwin finds old boats and restores them with his crew. Flipping Ships made it for six episodes, but we got the feeling in this interview, Edwin may not be finished with television. It did not appear as though the itch that prompted Flipping Ships has been “fully scratched.” Time will surely tell.
When the mention of family entered into our conversation, one could see, hear, and feel the emotion in Edwin’s voice. It is more than obvious how much his family means to him. With three children it is also obvious that touring and having family time is a tough balancing act. “It’s incredibly fun…it’s challenging,” he says. “You go from…all you gotta be responsible for is your self, and now I think of their future…only. “Whatever I want to do is insignificant compared to what their future can be. They see me being musical, but they’re not interested in music. But they see all this entrepreneurial stuff I’m involved in and they see a good work ethic. My thing with them is…as long as your happy…working…. and not just playing around, I’m not forcing you to do anything.”
Edwin is still doing between 50 and 100 shows a year. “That’s a lot less than it used to be,” he laughs. “I used to do a bunch…for 26 years. I gave myself permission to back it down and be home with them (the family) while they still like hanging around me (laughs). It’ll be over in a minute and that road will always be there. I don’t have any compunction about someday being that dude in the corner of the bar playing a guitar. I’m sure that’s what will eventually happen….and I’ll be happy there, to.”
Writing new material isn’t something that Edwin is all that focused on right now. “I don’t release that much new stuff any more…I used to try to write something new every quarter,” he explains. “But, I’m guilty of the same thing people do to me. If I go hear ACDC, I’ll give you one new song. I may give you one new song at the beginning…and maybe one at the end. But, I want to hear ‘Back In Black’. I want to hear the whole thing. I want to hear every song on ‘Back In Black. And, I’m sure that a bummer to Angus and the boys. They released 15 albums or whatever it is, so I get that. I know when I go out to play, if I went out and said, like, I’m going to play you an hour of new songs, they’re gonna say no! No, we don’t want you to do that. We want you to play the songs we like…the ones we’ve been listening to all these years. So, I don’t place a lot of weight on saying ‘Ok, here’s some new music,’ because I know where I’m fitting in audience’s life. They’ve got those songs, it was a part of their life, it was music they cherish, and that’s what they want to hear.”