This is an extended version of an article that appears in this week’s edition of the Columbia Free Times. McCain is one of the headliners for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Five Points.
“I’ll Be,” Edwin McCain’s number one hit from 1997’s Misguided Roses, has continued to bring the South Carolina singer-songwriter recognition, with the audience from Dr. Phil voting it as their favorite wedding song last year.
“I figured if I ever got on that show it wouldn’t be good,” McCain says, “I’m happy to have been on when it wasn’t about something weird.” The extended life of that song in particular has been a major factor in his continuing career.
“The gift of having a song like that, which keeps on going and going, is that it affords me the ability to keep doing what I do,” McCain says. “I can go back to the world of independent music and not focus on the sales charts any more while that song just stays out there and does the work for me.”
Not that McCain hasn’t put in plenty of his own work over the years, however.
“I’m going on seventeen years of playing professionally, and I know that for at least ten of those years, we were playing full time,” McCain says. “I learned that from bands like Blues Traveler and Warren Haynes, they were never big radio bands but they had careers and the respect of their peers.” That’s a model that McCain says he’s tried to follow himself.
“If your’e going to have a career that’s the one to have,” He says. “As far as the music industry goes, I’ve had my strugggles, but I would still do it the same way–If I had experienced the kind of Dave Matthews succes or Hootie, i’d probably be dead.”
McCain’s referring to the mid-1990s glory days of fellow South Carolinians Hootie & the Blowfish, who sold over 14 million copies of their debut Cracked Rear View, spawning a small army of coattail-riders plying similar versions of the band’s accessible, rootsy, pop-rock sound, including McCain. He’s the first to admit the huge difference that the support of the guys in Hootie made.
“I’ve told them a bunch of times that I don’t think I can ever repay them for what they did for me early in my career,” McCain says, “How totally generous they were, they let me tag along.” One of the staples of those joint tours with Hootie was a show-closing rendition of the Bill Withers classic, “Use Me,” with all of the members from both bands back out on stage for an extended jam.
“That jam on, “Use Me” was a standard thing at all our shows back then,” McCain says, “We did that song I don’t know how many times in my association with the Blowfish guys, and it was always a lot of fun.”
McCain’s love of classic soul has led to a new project coming out this June, an album where he’ll be covering a batch of soul hits from the 60s and 70s.
“Time Life Records came to me about doing this album, which is strange because they are part of the same company I used to be with (McCain’s major label deal was through Atlantic Records, another division of Time/Warner) and I thought it was a cool oppportunity,” McCain says, “I’ve always credited this music as an influence on me, but never sung it, or at least recorded it before.”
The album will feature songs from Al Green, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and more, and the sessions were some of the easiest he’s ever been involved with, McCain says.
“We cut the whole record in ten days with a band that included people like Ivan Neville,” He says, “It has a real live feel to it. There are special guests like Joan Osborne, who sang on ‘Dreams to Remember’ with me, and overall it was just a really unique experience.”
While McCain’s profile isn’t what it once was on the national stage, he has kept busy satisfying a solid fan base by touring and playing events like the yearly Rock Boat cruise, which just sailed in February for the 2008 edition to Cayamo with McCain among performers like Shawn Mullins, Lyle Lovett, and Emmylou Harris.
“I have to work to make my living and feed the band members, I’m basically running a small business,” McCain says. ”I like to have that kind of challenge, though, slugging away in the bars doing the grunt work–I love it.” For McCain, the hits and the album sales that brought fame, however fleeting, were all icing on what has been a career that mostly occurred by dumb luck and pure happenstance.
“It’s all been by accident, right down to how I got started doing this,” McCain says. “I was a student at the College of Charleston and crashed my car, since I owed money on the repairs I started playing a few nights a week at a mexican restaurant in downtown Charleston, San Miguels. The first night I got seventy-five bucks and a meal–I dropped out of school right then and haven’t looked back since.”
These days Edwin McCain’s life is about as close to normal as it will probably ever get. He’s married and has two boys, 2 1/2 and 1 1/2 years old, which has affected his life in ways he couldn’t have imagined, he says.
“We took the boys to see ‘Diego Live’, and Dora made a surprise appearance,” He says, “It was like a rock show, only they use more production on these shows than I’ve ever had.” The advent of children has influenced another aspect of McCain’s life that hadn’t changed in a long, long time–his trademark long, straight locks of hair were shorn last year.
“There seemed to be some gender confusion with the boys looking at me and their mother,” McCain says, “There was ugly mama and pretty mama, as far as they were concerned. Also, if you’ve done the kid thing you know they like to grab the hair and yank on it, and let’s face it, dealing with brushing the knots out of your long hair every morning falls way down the list of priorities once you have kids.”
So Edwin’s career and family life are continuing onward in a balance that he seems to be comfortable with.
“I’ve got a bunch of new songs of my own written already and I’ll be sorting through them all to plan a new original relelase in the next year, year and a half,” He says, ”Frankly, I hope I’m still doing this when I’m eighty.”