Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it: The first person who inspired me to play guitar was the blind blues guitarist Paul Pena. Paul moved away when he was signed by Capitol Records so I knocked around on my own. One night I was a front act for Andy Cohen who played old blues & folk songs. Andy opened a musical world for me. That encounter lit a fire in me to learned more. I entered college as a Chemistry major. I wanted to pursue learning music and with encouragement and good fortune wound helping create and become the college's first music major. I learned to just keep pursuing music on my own.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career? There was one venue that the house manager didn't believe I was me. I might be Ed Sweeney, but I wasn't the Ed Sweeney he expected. Instead of getting in a useless argument, I signed up for the open mic which was happening before my "appearance." I went upon last. When I started playing the rest of the staff realized that I was the Ed Sweeney they were expecting.
What has been the high point of your music path? I have two high points that always stand in my memory. When Inside Fezziwig's The Spirit of Christmas Past was released I receive national and international attention for the first time in my career. I was changing my youngest son's diaper when USA Today called to let me know my recording was one of their top choices and interviewed me. Here I was being interviewed and at the same time trying to position the diaper so that I would not be "christened." It was a surreal meant.
The second high point was a few years ago in Taiwan. I was performing with my friend Yang Wei who was a member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. We were performing in a restored temple when it hit me that I was probably the first banjo player who had ever played there.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like? It takes me awhile to learn new songs and instrumentals. I have to figure out which instrument I was to play them on, which tuning to use, what am I doing an why am I doing it. I continually learn that I should learn and perform music that I like. It is my calling as an artist to try and bring people into my musical world. I have to listen to and focus my inner sensibilities. I no longer learn things because someone said it would be the perfect song or instrumental for me. I learn and perform what I like and love.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
Indie Artists sometimes need to grow a thicker skin. Remember that the only person who wants them to have an artistic career is them. On the flip side...Indie artists need to continually meet new people. We need to listen to other musicians and artists, even if it doesn't match our artistic sensibilities. All of us are continually adapting.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why? This is the hardest question to answer. In recent years I have been performing with other people, after spending 30 + years as a solo performer. Many of the people I would have loved to share the stage with have passed. I think I would like to perform one song or instrumental with Yo-Yo Ma. I admired his artistry, musical sensibilities. I find him to be an incredibly inspiring and accepting person.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show? I try to get to a venue several hours before a show. I want to focus and get the feel or the vibe. I want my instruments to acclimate to the surroundings. I have several hundred songs and instrumentals to choose from. I want to get a sense of where I am and who am I appearing in front of. I try to warm up for at least an hour.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
I am more of a song finder than songwriter. There are some songs I sing the affect me emotionally. It is hard to keep my composure while singing them. Acceptable Risks about the veterans of Atomic Testing is one that took me a long time to learn how to perform. The veterans were dying because of radiation sicknesses. The army had marched solders near ground zero of atomic bomb tests, told them it was safe, and kept classified records of their health, then denied health benefits as they were dying. The song comes from the testimony of one soldier before congress. That soldier died a couple of years after his testimony.
What's coming up in the future?
Right now I am working on a new recording with my friend Cathy Clasper-Torch. It will be released in March or April. I am currently booking the spring and summer of 2023
Tell us where fans can access your music.
You can find my music on my website , on most digital outlets including Spotify, iITunes, and Amazon Music.
About Ed Sweeney
Ed Sweeney honors people and their histories by presenting music that entertains and educates. Ed helps listeners understand the motivations, stories, and culture that have made us who and what we are today through his musical expertise, breadth of knowledge, and wonderful sense of humor.
Ed performs a wide-ranging repertoire on 6- and 12-string guitar, 5-string banjo, and fretless banjo in theatres, concerts, coffee houses, schools, clubs, tea houses, festivals, house concerts — almost any venue imaginable. His concerts and recordings have received accolades throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Ed’s cross-cultural collaborations were influenced by his 14 years as Finance Director of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. His international musical friendships allowed him to explore and build new artistic partnerships. What’s guaranteed: With his knack for eclecticism and excavating overlooked songs, what you hear from Ed today will not be the same as what you’ll hear tomorrow. For more information about Ed Sweeney, please visit his website.