The first time I heard the name Bleu Edmondson, it came from the lips of a SMU sorority girl who was more well to do than anyone I had ever previously met at that point in my life. We were co-revelers at your standard college kegger. She was in the Hill Country with some friends and my group ended up near hers in the line to fill our plastic cups. She was talking about how her parents were going to throw her a huge rager out in Lakeway just because. They told her she could book any band she wanted. The year was 2000. She said “We could definitely afford Pat, I thought about Cory or Roger…but I think I want Bleu to play.”
That night when I got back to my apartment, I set about learning who this Bleu Edmondson character was. With the aid of some state of the art dial-up and a buzz good enough to make the late hour seem early I utilized the earliest form of Google to look up “Blue Edmondson”. (ed. note –it very well could’ve been Yahoo, Ask, Excite or some other turn of the century search engine stalwart). My results quickly lead me to discover the proper spelling of Bleu Edmondson. I learned he had a record called Southland that would soon be released in the new year and that he was playing dates all over the circuit including at such venerable venues as Wally’s Possum Creek in Georgetown, The Boar’s Nest in Dallas and actual landmarks Adair’s and the newly christened River Road Icehouse. It was a date at famed San Marcos honkytonk Nephew’s not long after that keg party where I first saw Bleu Edmondson perform. The SMU sorority girl and her friends weren’t there.
Since I had no recorded output to listen to as of yet, this was my first experience. He was acoustic and my initial impression was almost singularly honed on the fact that he was brooding and intense. He played smart covers from Springsteen and Keen. His originals had something unique to say. I wouldn’t know how unique until Southland dropped in April 2001. As with most great albums of the era, it was produced by Lloyd Maines. Maines tamped down the steel guitar and cranked up the earthy vibes of some of the best Austin had to offer (Glen Fukunaga on bass, Rich Brotherton on mandolin, Bukka Allen on accordion, Terri Hendrix on backing vocals and Scotty Owen on all manner of electric guitars).
Matt Powell’s “$50 and a Flask of Crown” blazed out of the gate as an album opener and set the tone as it exploded on the Napster/Limewire infused burned cd’s of the day. “Travelin’ Man” was one of the weaker lyrics, but stronger melodies. “It’s About You” was a humorous Keen style song about a doomed relationship. Yet, it was “What I Left Behind” is what would set the template of what Bleu Edmondson would become.
A few weeks after the album’s release came the 2001 version of Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Fest. Buzz was palpable for the Bleu Edmondson Band set. We would soon all learn the reason why. That was my first time to see the classic line-up that featured Coby Wier on lead guitar, Scooter Heath on bass and Kelly Test on drums. What a monster unit that was. The intensity of the entire band onstage was orchestrated by Edmondson at centerstage singing songs from Southland and songs that hadn’t even been release yet that would end up on the next album.
In a matter of months, Edmondson had stormed up the scene ladder in an era when there were no dedicated radio stations beyond KNBT, no social media beyond fan message boards and drunk sorority girls at keg parties and no playlists to share beyond a trusty burned cd. Edmondson found himself with a solid debut album, a shit hot live band and show amid a rising wave of people seeking the next big thing beyond the Pat/Cory zenith.
Edmondson did not waste his opportunity. He went back into the studio with Maines in late spring 2002 and the result was the sophomore effort The Band Plays On. Many of the same characters were in place, but this time the road band of Weir, Test and Heath joined the fray. Wier’s guitar tone and style is one of the best that has ever been laid down in this or any scene and he was allowed the freedom to rip throughout this collection of songs. The result was earth-shaking.
Edmondson rode that raw wave and buoyed it with stronger songwriting than on his debut album. He was also working with the confidence and swagger of knowing his brand of music was a success. The folksier elements of the first album were also trimmed down in the mix and a decidedly southern rock edge was added to the songs. Ruthie Foster was brought on to provide soulful backing vocals. This is most notable on the opening track “Southland” (not to be confused with the debut album). Wier’s riffs mix with Edmondson’s lyrical homages to Skynyrd and Ragweed while Foster punctuates it all with a Merry Foster joining the Stones on “Gimme Shelter” ferocity.
The title track is where things really got interesting as an acoustic guitar riff rumbles and gives way to a Brendon Anthony fiddle couplet as Wier’s guitar rings behind some of Edmondson’s best lyrics to date.
She hums a song she can’t remember The music lives but the words are dead The sun went out in late November It’s been four days since she’s been to bed
She’s got a tattoo on the back of her neck Wears China-red lipstick #3 Stands by the jukebox smoking a cigarette Watches the band and she drinks for free
Coby’s father, one of the largest legends in Texas Music history Rusty Wier, joined the fun on “Gypsy Wild”. A rollicking track that sounded as at home on a Rusty record as it did this modern sound. Turns out the reason for that is Edmondson co-wrote the song with Rusty. “Good Thing” showed some heretofore unseen heart and humanity. The catalog of Bleu Edmondson was becoming more well-rounded by the day.
The rocketship that was the Bleu Edmondson Band live experience continued to race upward and outward. They exploded beyond the borders of the Texas/Red Dirt scene and became regional headliners. Each show a testament to the lyrics of Edmondson and the guitar wizardry of Coby Wier. These guys were living a Motley Crue Prevost life in the back of an Econoline van.
And that ride didn’t slow down for a few years. The band chased the white lines on the strength of those first two releases. The five years between The Band Plays On and Edmondon’s next release were full of highs. Some of those highs came with a cost. And the band around Bleu Edmondson was altered due to it. Out went the signature sound of Coby Wier’s guitar and entered Devin Leigh’s six-string phrasing. Lloyd Maines was replaced in the producer chair by Dwight Baker (The Wind and The Wave).
Baker brought in a boundary pushing rock approach. He had worked with artists as varied as Vallejo, Zykos and a young Brandi Carlile. His production techniques brought out the Springsteen influences to a max degree. The music was different, but just as good or possibly better than it had ever been. Whereas our hindsight allows that The Band Plays On is probably the more important and more influential record in the pantheon of Texas Music, Lost Boy is without a doubt the grander, better album.
“American Saint’ sets the tone for what the album would be and what the career of Bleu Edmondson would be moving forward. The Springsteen vibe is heavy and the instrumentation unlike anything in Texas Music at the time. Stoic, heavy, poetic lyrics describing even the most mundane moments bounce in between big production full of rich music. This is probably most easily accessed in “The Echo”.
The sinners and the saints and the suicide girls Passion into darkness and the pawnshop pearls One place, one time, one love, we owned the night And the tender souls wondered where the faith has all gone And the neon on Lamar came rumbling on We swore they wouldn’t take us down without a fight
Hopeless hearted hunters waging war on the stars We cheered the revolution from a rooftop bar And swore to one another only we could make it right
There are moments that feel a bit campy, overwrought and forced lyrically with the lens of 13 years in the rearview, but it always sounds so good you dismiss it. This is an artist pushing himself to be as big as possible in all ways: lyrically, sonically and on the stage. The two tracks that got the most mileage on this album involve two of his Texas/Red Dirt peers. The Wade Bowen co-write “Ressurrection” and Brandon Jenkins’ “Finger on the Trigger”. “Resurrection” remains a mainstay in Bowen’s setlist and “Finger on the Trigger” is a classic in the canon of most notorious songs from this scene. The best renderings of these two songs are found here under Edmondson’s guise. It all sounds so broad and bombastic. It’s bold, ballsy and fearless. Lost Boy was also a considerable force in regard to why the late 2000’s found bands launching heavily into the rock side of things and dismissing the countrier elements (along with Cross Canadian Ragweed’s success).
2008 found Edmondson surfing on the success of Lost Boy and front and center in the Stockyards for his version of a Live at Billy Bob’s recording. Things were going well. The live band continued to evolve and Edmondson continued to grind. With the vacuum effect of Pat Green, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Charlie Robison, Randy Rogers Band and Jack Ingram becoming relative national acts during this time period, Edmondson was able to lock down a solid place as a headliner in the state and region. His career was a remarkable success.
The Lost Boy crew reconvened in 2010 to bring us The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be. The Springsteen elements remain on the front-burner and perhaps subconsciously or by implicit design, the songs mostly all come off as Springsteen b-sides. Lead single, “Blood Red Lincoln” is a toe-tapping Born To Run era romper that extols the “hallelujah rodeo”. The first half of the album continues in this pattern prior to falling off in the back half with some subpar slow burns. In 2015, he dropped a 4 song EP that didn’t make much noise despite some quality songs and it’s been pretty quiet ever since.
It’s not clear whether the well ran dry or if Bleu Edmondson just quit looking for it. But as the new decade dawned, Edmondson slowly slid from public view. He would pop up from time to time at the shows of his friends and maintain a sporadic touring schedule until 2014 or so. Then nothing. An acoustic show here or there. His online social media presence is much the same. A flurry of activity followed by a bit of radio silence. I’ve had younger fans ask me if he’s like Willis Alan Ramsey but with four records instead of one. In some degree, that may be an apt description despite their music being completely different.
The truth is, Edmondson was a Texas original. He was more influenced by the Bruce Springsteen aspect of his influences than that of Robert Earl Keen. As he grew more confident in himself as a writer and performer he accentuated the Boss and the result was truly magnificent. It left a lasting impact and influence that still reverberates across the Texas scene. Bleu Edmondson set a template of doing his own thing, not chasing the popular sounds of the day. When everyone else was trying to copy Pat Green, Randy Rogers Band or Ragweed, Edmondson turned to his soul inward and produced songs influenced by his own experiences.
He created his own sound and brand. And for over a decade he could sell out just about any room in the south. He made country records and rock records. He put sax on stuff. He sang about sinners, saints, suicide girls and the hopeless hearted hunters waging war on the stars. This wasn’t some dude waving a Texas flag in a disgenuine way and riding a wave of popularity. Bleu Edmondson wrote some damn good songs, surrounded himself with top shelf players, called on some of the best producers in the state and made his own way. That way took him to the top and he slowly backed off the top of his own volition. A true Texas Treasure.
GW Ultimate Bleu Edmondson playlist on Spotify