Eddie from Ohio isn't

Eddie From Ohio

by Seth Rogovoy

(PITTSFIELD, Mass., May 6, 2004) – Eddie Hartness’s parents were music teachers, and they groomed their son from day one to be a musician. As a child he learned several instruments, including violin, piano and trumpet. But when Eddie got to high school, he discovered the Canadian rock band Rush, and all bets were off.

“When I saw the drummer, Neal Peart, I knew I wanted to play just like that guy,” said Hartness in a recent phone interview from his home in Virginia. “My parents did the right thing. I took private lessons and learned tympani and marimba and all the rudiments. I just stuck with it. But I always wanted to play in a rock and roll band.”

Things didn’t turn out exactly the way Hartness planned – but they turned out pretty close. For the last 13 years, he’s been banging on hand percussion and occasionally a full-fledged drum kit for the folk-pop group Eddie From Ohio. Best-known for its three- and four-part harmonies, its novelty songs, and its zany stage presence, the group performs at the Berkshire Museum on Saturday at 8 in the last show of this season’s “Originals in Song” concert series.

Hartness seems fine with the way things have turned out. “I’m lucky because they let me do what I want to do,” said Hartness about bandmates Michael Clem (bass), Robbie Schaefer (guitar), and Julie Murphy Wells (vocals). “We try to concentrate on the music to make sure the vocals and the words are out there first and foremost. The hand percussion suits that format really well. I’ve been doing more kit work lately, as the songs lend themselves lend to that. But if you just try to be musical and listen to what everyone’s doing, it’s not too hard to keep everything in rein and not get too loud or busy.”

Hartness met Clem and Schaefer, who grew up together, at James Madison University. After graduation, Clem and Schaefer began playing music together informally with Wells, mostly playing songs by the likes of the Indigo Girls and Crosby, Stills and Nash – influences that can still be heard over a decade later in the music of Eddie From Ohio.

When the trio began getting a little more serious about playing music, they contacted Hartness and asked if he could help them keep the beat. “A few months into it we began picking up some gigs,” said Hartness. “When Robbie and Mike started writing original songs, then we we’re putting a lot of work into it and not just bashing out covers and drinking beer. We were getting together and rehearsing and working out vocal parts. We got a regular weekly gig and it snowballed from there. I’d say it took about a half a year until it seemed like it was going somewhere.”

By the end of 1991 the group was a real band. While the Eddie in its name came from Hartness, no one is from Ohio. “We originally had three names,” explained Hartness. “Eddie From Ohio, the Beasleys, and Five Foot Seven. Eddie From Ohio had the most character, so that’s the one we kept. It was a silly nickname I was given in college by a girl I knew who loved this band Firehose, whose lead singer was called EdFromOhio. She gave me the nickname Eddie From Ohio. When we gave the name to the band we didn’t think too seriously about it. If we had known we’d still be together thirteen years later, we might have tried harder to come up with an original name.”

The name has actually served the group well. Its eight CDs, including “A Juggler on His Blades,” “I Rode Fido Home” and “Looking Out the Fishbowl,” all released on its own Virginia Soul label, have sold over 100,000 copies. The grassroots quartet has performed in top folk festivals including Philadelphia, Boston, City Stages (Birmingham, Ala.), Telluride, and nearby Falcon Ridge, and has appeared on public radio’s “Mountain Stage” and “World Café.”

The group’s latest recording, “Three Rooms,” is a two-disk live album featuring plenty of the group’s trademark harmony singing. “Very early on the idea was all about doing these rich, three- and four-part harmonies and making the chords sing,” said Hartness. “That was always the focus. We’ve all been huge bluegrass fans growing up in Virginia. It’s very close to our hearts and there are a lot of great bands down here that have always had the tightest vocals. We had a great respect for that and pay homage to it and noodle around with it a little bit.”

The group prides itself on remaining independent and managing itself. “We do it like we’re running our own restaurant, divvying up jobs for everyone,” said Hartness. “Mike provides the sense of humor and a great writing ability. Julie has an awesome voice She’s a really sweet person, and a smart businessperson – which is the only way the band has survived. Robbie’s a great songwriter and singer. And I can drive the R.V.”

For tickets call 413-443-7171 ext. 10.

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on May 6, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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