Ed Snodderly’s life and music a ‘diamond stream’ E
d Snodderly has been working in his new mine of music for more than 30 years, creating a diamond stream of unforgettable melodies and musical adventures. His journey has been a thing of songs, of words scribbled on the back of envelopes to inscription on country music’s most venerated wall, and music performed from honky-tonks all the way to the big screen. Along the way he has become Northeast Tennessee’s own troubadour, the embodiment of a good life spent making good music. The results have been impressive, by any standard. Ably following in the footsteps of musical giants that were the inspiration of his youth, Snodderly has earned a reputation as a singer/ songwriter and musician of the first rank. He has performed throughout the nation, recorded a dozen albums, penned hit songs and formed and managed The Down Home that is now legend among listeners. On what passes for a quiet morning in his energetic life – in between scheduling an up-andcoming act for the nightspot, calling to arrange photographs, helping an early visitor track down show tickets and teaching a class for East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music program – Snodderly’s hands finally come to rest on the curved table. His fingers, which can so naturally find music in a guitar, dobro or mandolin, finally come to rest and, leaning back in a chair in which Doc Watson or John Hartford might have once relaxed between sets, Snodderly smiles and bows his head. “It’s been something, that’s for sure,” he says, his glasses rising on his forehead to make way for a thumb and index finger to massage what might be a careworn temple. “But, yeah, I’ve loved it. I don’t know that I would change a thing.” Continued on Page Two
2 Born in Knoxville, the son of Earl and Willie Snodderly was still a young boy when he first saw the gleam of the spotlight and was enthralled by legendary performers like Perry Como and Tennessee Ernie Ford. “I can remember seeing them on television and thinking I would really like to be out there in the light. Of course, I was tuned in to the music, but there was something about seeing the visual, and they were masters of that.” Snodderly’s grandfather played the fiddle, and the grandson took notes from him. His musical father and uncles had bought a guitar after the tobacco was harvested in the fall of 1964. They gave it to young Ed and he began to play. “It was probably something from the radio that I was trying to play. Of course that was the time of the British invasion. I didn’t sing much. I was just trying to learn the instrument.” A couple of years of classical guitar lessons followed, but the teacher realized his pupil’s heart wasn’t in following Segovia. “Oh, yeah, it was definitely more of The lyrics from Ed Snodderly’s ‘The Diamond Stream’ at the entrance to the a country and rock Hall of Honor at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. ‘n roll thing with me,” Snodderly grins at the memory. “That is where I had to be.” The Snodderlys moved to Johnson City in 1958. For the next decade, the young musician would hone his craft, practicing and performing wherever he got the chance. He set out for Boston in 1973, to join a band. He kept on writing songs. Within only a few years, he had impressed the right people, and his first album, Sidewalk Shoes, was released in 1977. Having played fairs and dives – the infamous “wide spots” in the road – he also kept on dreaming of a place where great music could be made. Continued on Page Three
3 The Down Home, brainchild of Joe “Tank” Leach with Snodderly’s assistance, was the culmination of that dream. “We were playing the Red Pig over on Walnut Street, and the Fatted Calf adjacent to East Tennessee State University. We got to be friends, and we often talked about how great it would be to have a place that not only catered to live music, but was for live music, and nothing else,” Snodderly said. “We collaborated on it. People started coming out and supporting it. It’s always been very a much a community effort.” Danny Julian and Phil Leonard joined Snodderly as partners a few years later. “Our motto is, ‘If you’re here, we’re here.” The recent economic downturn has made “a tough time for getting people out but we’re right here, just like always, looking for new music and artists to nurture.” After more than 30 years of the world’s best entertainers clustering on the boards of the modest Down Home stage, the memories of special moments are plentiful. Snodderly quickly lists Willy Dixon, New Grass Revival, John Hartford, Lyle Lovett and Billy Joe Shaver. “A lot of really good musicians have “But the truth is we’ve had a lot of local mu- played at The Down Home. Many of sic that has been very, very good, and that is them before they had ‘made it big,’ just as exciting in its own way. And we continand we had a hand in helping them ue looking for new acts, and bringing them in along the way. That is a great thing, and nurture them just like we’ve always done.
and we want to keep right on doing
“Unfortunately, people may come once in a it.” while, and see an overflow crowd for a wellknown act, and assume we’re packed out. But actually there are a lot of nights when there are plenty of seats.”
Snodderly agrees that The Down Home is not merely a treasure, but also an anchor in the community. “I suppose that’s true,” he says with a nod. “It’s been a special place. A lot of husbands and wives have met here. A lot of people have met here. A lot of good has come out of it. “Everyone connected with The Down Home is here only for the music. We’re here to promote the best music possible in a musical atmosphere without any diversions. The people who come Continued on Page Four
4 in come to hear it, and the artists know it, and they’re eager to put music in this setting.” Snodderly is proud of the achievement. “A lot of really good musicians have played here. Many of them before they had ‘made it big,’ and we had a hand in helping them along the way. That is a great thing, and we want to keep right on doing it.” *** Snodderly spent “a great 10 years” paired with vocalist Eugene Wolf, creating the highly respected and popular duo, The Brother Boys. A retro/homage to the mid-20th century music of acts such as the Wilburn Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs and the Louvin Brothers, combining country, folk, bluegrass and rockabilly music.the act began as a theater skit in Echoes and Postcards, the acclaimed production of Johnson City’s longtime professional theater troupe, The Road Company. One listener described the Brother Boys’ harmonies as so tight that “they were born to sing together.” The act included the contributions of musicians John King, Phil Leonard, Missy Raines, Roger Rasnake, Gary Smith, Adam Steffey and Roland White, and became so popular that the group toured extensively and recorded several albums, including Plow, produced by dobro legend Jerry Douglas. Wolf went on to become a leading stage actor with Barter Theater in Abingdon, Va., and in movies. Snodderly said he and Wolf “found a good blend, and a good connection. We’ve stayed pretty close, after all these years.” Due in part to the influence of Echoes and Postcards, and his musical reputation, Snodderly got the chance to appear in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coen brothers’ smash retelling of Homer with a distinctly Southern twist. *** A reviewer wrote that “Snodderly’s voice is mellifluous and friendly, irresistibly inviting the listener in to that sweet spot where the nights and the music are warm and being there is nothing short of pleasure. “He is equally at ease with the slow, gentle ballad of Don Gibson, the hillbilly harmony of the Louvin Brothers, or the uptempo rock ‘n roll of Chuck Berry. “So, too, his nimble fingers are at home on the neck of a flat top or mandolin, pulling out the reclusive, dulcet tones that are best the instrument has to offer.” Snodderly credits Sam McGee, Norman Blake, Guy Clark and Tennessee Ernie Ford as “mentors” of his music and career. Inspiration came, through the years, from tunes as diverse as The Byrds’ “My Back Pages” and the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” or Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting For a Train.” The tunesmith doesn’t know how many songs he’s written. He does know there are at least enough of them to fill seven popular CDs.
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5 He cannot label a single favorite, rather names off a few that have “done well” and had an impact on his life and career, such as “Pearlie Mae,” “Working in the New Mine” and “Majestic.” However, Snodderly’s “The Diamond Stream” may be the pinnacle. “It was a good song,” he says, his familiar boyish grin covering the understatement. In truth, “The Diamond Stream” brought its author one of the most significant distinctions possible for a writer and musician. The third stanza of the song adorns the third-floor entrance into the inner sanctum at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the circular room adorned with the gleaming plaques honoring the inductees. “One of the decision-makers had heard it from our Brother Boys days, and kept it on his desk as a suggested song.” In fact, so powerful was the impact of Snodderly’s lyrics that they also inspired an striking feature at the hall – a small waterway, just beneath the handrail of the spiral staircase leading down to the main foyer. “After people have seen the museum and all the guitars and the notes and the songs, then they come to the Hall of Honor, and the last thing you see as you turn away to leave is, in essence, the encouragement that, if you are so inclined, find your own guitar or fiddle box, and make your own song.” Snodderly says he is hoping “to wear a few less hats in coming days. I’m going to concentrate on teaching, performing and The Down Home.” Could he be slowing down? Hardly. Fresh off performances at Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots festival and Jonesborough’s Music on the Square, Snodderly departs for a tour in Arkansas in October. A new, as yet untitled album is in the can and due out early next year. “All of the songs are original and I think there are some good ones. This is a trio record – Brandon Story is playing bass and John Gardner is on percussion.” A Brother Boys reunion show is planned for early in the new year. Then he’s back on the phone, working to book a new act for The Down Home. Ed Snodderly leans back and grins, boyishly. “Hey, this is what I do.” (For more information about Ed Snodderly’s music and career, and upcoming show dates, visit him online at: www.thediamondstream.com. The Down Home is located at 300 W. Main St. in Johnson City, 423-929-9822. For schedules and more information, visit online at: www.downhome.com.)