Ed Snodderly: With a Banjo on His Knee

By Amelia Mason - January 5, 2014


It’s possible that Ed Snodderly was put on Earth just to remind us how delightfully weird folk music can be.

The Tennessee native looks a bit like Doc from Back to the Future with shorter hair and Buddy Holly glasses. His voice is the sonic equivalent of an old denim shirt, creased and worn and reassuring. He makes clawhammer banjo and drums sound like the most obvious combination in the world.

In the 30-plus years since he first appeared onstage, Snodderly has made the music biz rounds. He left Tennessee in the early ‘70s to pursue a solo career, but returned in 1976 so he could found The Down Home Pickin’ Parlor in Johnson City. He has continued to run the now-venerable venue—a Concert Window partner—and also made time to record two albums as part of the bluegrass duo Brother Boys, record his own music, and make an appearance in the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Snodderly’s most recent release, Little Egypt And Other Attractions, is a fitting distillation of the man’s abilities. While “folk” doesn’t quite capture Snodderly’s essence—he is more like a singer-songwriter steeped in country and bluegrass—he is nevertheless finely tuned to the eccentricities of traditional music. At times he sounds like a countryfied Tom Waits, and at others he reaches back through the ages to channel his ancestors, tobacco and cattle farmers of East Tennessee.Little Egypt And Other Attractions kicks off with the driving, slightly manic “Johnson City Rag,” an ode to the music-rich city where Snodderly makes his home. The album meanders through dive bars and overgrown railroad tracks, with the occasional stop for a bit of poetry: “You’re like the wind blowing through my mind/ You’re like a star shining in the night/ You’re like a knife I’ll never trade/ You’re the shine comin’ off the blade.” It ends with the jaunty “A Life Of My Own,” a wry celebration of life’s freeing randomness.

Whatever you want to call him—Alt-Country Singer? Old-Time Musician? Folkie?—Ed Snodderly is proof that Southern music, with all its old peculiarities, is alive and kicking.

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