Roots rockers are seldom as purist as Dave Edmunds. Throughout his career, he stayed true to '50s and '60s rock & roll — for Edmunds, rock & roll history stopped somewhere in 1963, after the Beach Boys' first singles but before the Beatles' hits. After establishing himself as a hotshot lead guitarist in the blues-rockers Love Sculpture, he launched his solo career by painstakingly re-creating oldies in his own studio, usually recording every track by himself. Through all of his efforts, he learned how to uncannily replicate the sound of Sun, Chess, and Phil Spector records, which not only helped him garner several U.K. hits in the early '70s, but also led to successful production work with artists like the Flamin' Groovies and Brinsley Schwarz. In the late '70s, he hit the peak of his career when he teamed up with former Schwarz bassist Nick Lowe to form Rockpile. For several years, Edmunds recorded albums with Rockpile and toured relentlessly with the band, which resulted in a string of hit U.K. singles. After the group imploded in the early '80s, he slowly disappeared from the mainstream, even as he made his most commercial music with producer Jeff Lynne; Edmunds eventually retreated to cult status in the '90s.
Dave Edmunds never abandoned the music he discovered as a teenager in Cardiff, Wales. He learned to play guitar by playing with the Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley records, picking out leads by James Burton, Chet Atkins, and Scotty Moore. He was also fascinated by Phil Spector's records, as well as American blues and country. Edmunds began playing in various British blues bands in the early '60s, eventually forming Love Sculpture with bassist John Williams and drummer Bob Jones, who was later replaced by Terry Williams. Love Sculpture's gimmick was playing bluesy, psychedelicized versions of classical songs, and their interpretation of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance became a British Top Five hit in 1968. Within a year, the group rode out its success and broke up.
Edmunds returned to his home in Wales and constructed the eight-track studio Rockfield in Monmouthshire, where he holed up and taught himself how to meticulously re-create the sounds of his favorite records. Many of these recordings were made entirely by Edmunds, usually with Williams assisting on bass. One of the first records released from the Rockfield sessions was actually one of the least indicative of his style, since it interpreted the source material instead of replicating it. Featuring his vocal piped in through a telephone line, Edmunds' revamped version of Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knockin'" became a fluke hit, reaching the Top Ten in both America and England, and he quickly followed it with the Rockpile LP, a collection of straightforward oldies covers that became a modest success. Over the next few years, he recorded the material that became his second album, Subtle as a Flying Mallet, as well as producing records by similar-minded rockers like Ducks Deluxe, the Flamin' Groovies, and Brinsley Schwarz.
During 1974, Edmunds made a brief appearance in the film Stardust and helped assemble the soundtrack. Also that year, he produced the Brinsleys' last record, New Favourites. During the recording, he struck up a friendship with bassist Nick Lowe, who over the next few years became his key collaborator. Lowe helped Edmunds move away from covers and into performing new songs, largely written by Lowe, that re-created the spirit of old rock & roll. Following the 1975 release of Subtle as a Flying Mallet — it produced two Top Ten U.K. hits with "Baby I Love You" and "Born to Be with You" — Edmunds began to rely on Lowe's original material and sought out newer songs in the same vein, as well as more obscure oldies. In return, Lowe joined Edmunds' touring band, Rockpile, which also featured drummer Terry Williams and guitarist Billy Bremner. The first record the pair worked on heavily together was 1977's Get It, which also was Edmunds' first record for Led Zeppelin's label, Swan Song.
Get It was well-received, as was 1978's Tracks on Wax 4, the first album Edmunds recorded with Rockpile as his backing band. By that point, Rockpile were touring constantly, earning terrific reviews in the U.K. press, who grouped the band in with the burgeoning new wave movement largely because of their drunken, reckless energy. In 1979, the band entered the studio to simultaneously cut Edmunds' Repeat When Necessary and Lowe's Labour of Lust, and the sessions were captured on the BBC documentary Born Fighter. Both records were hits, with Repeat When Necessary generating the major British hit "Girls Talk," as well as the Top 20 "Queen of Hearts," which Juice Newton later replicated for her breakthrough success. Rockpile entered the studio in 1980 to record the group's first full-fledged album, Seconds of Pleasure. During the recording, tensions between Edmunds and Lowe began to surface, resulting in an album that failed to capture the band's live sound. Seconds of Pleasure was a moderate success, but the group disbanded following its supporting tour.
Twangin', Edmunds' first post-Rockpile album, appeared in 1981 and featured contributions from Williams and Bremner. The album was a minor hit, generating a hit cover of John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night." Edmunds signed with Columbia the following year, releasing D.E. 7th, another moderately successful record. With 1983's Information, Edmunds began working with producer Jeff Lynne, a former member of Electric Light Orchestra. Not surprisingly for a prog rock veteran, Lynne brought Edmunds a more measured sound, encouraging him to work with synthesizers and drum machines. While greeted with mixed reviews, Information was successful in the U.S., resulting in the hit "Slipping Away." The pair followed the same formula for 1984's Riff Raff, which was an unqualified bomb.
During the early '80s, Edmunds produced records for rockabilly revivalists the Stray Cats, and in 1984 he produced the Everly Brothers' comeback record, EB 84. As his solo career stalled in the wake of Riff Raff, Edmunds concentrated on production, working on several acclaimed records, including k.d. lang's debut, Angel with a Lariat, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds' breakthrough Tuff Enuff. He returned to his own career in 1987 with the live I Hear You Rockin', which was ignored. Three years later, he released Closer to the Flame, his first studio record in six years, to mixed reviews. That same year, he reunited with Nick Lowe to produce Lowe's Party of One. Rhino Records released the double-disc compilation Anthology in 1993, and the following year Edmunds returned with Plugged In, his first set of one-man band material since Subtle as a Flying Mallet. Plugged In was received with good reviews, and Edmunds supported the album with his first tour in several years.
Following this tour, Edmunds went into seclusion, popping up for an occasional live gig, then releasing two albums on the Internet in the new millennium: 2005's Musical Fantasies and Alive & Pickin'. Toward the end of the decade, Edmunds showed up on Jools Holland's Hootenanny concerts as part of his semi-regular gigging. Eventually, Edmunds resurfaced in 2013, first supporting RPM's reissue of Subtle as a Flying Mallet and then releasing Again, a record that was largely culled from Plugged In but also featured five brand-new songs — his first new vocal recordings in nearly two decades. Two years later, he cherry-picked a few cuts from Alive & Pickin' and cut seven new tracks for the all-instrumental On Guitar....Dave Edmunds—Rags & Classics. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine