Ryc Ward / “Elbow Jim”
Raised on the thoughtful and articulate songwriters of the 70’s, well versed in country and blues, bluegrass, and later, old time rock an’ roll, followed by Irish music, folk music both old and new, and old time music from the late 1800’s and the early twentieth century, I have become something of a music historian and storyteller. Because every song is a story condensed, a window on a part of the world, it’s also a way of building who we are, or creating dialogue about who we are becoming, and who we’d like to be; as people, and as a nation. Of course, we don’t get to say it straight out (most of the time), but that’s what it is. I always said it: “Life is music! Everything else is stuff you gotta do in between.”
I write what I feel, let it percolate for a while, and sometimes without me even asking, it will turn into tunes; and every now and then, one of ‘em just rolls out of my guitar like it was always there, waiting for the right time to appear. I’ve been playing the guitar for almost 47 years (not the whole time, of course), and writing songs. James Taylor said it: “I just happened to be the first one to hear it, and write it down.” That’s how I feel about it too, and it’s why songwriting is such a joy – ‘cause you never know when it’s going to happen, and you get to watch something appear out of thin air.
I sent a tune out to the Kerrville Folk Festival song contest, and made the top 32 out of 600! Sent out to the New Song contest when it was in West Virginia and did not pass the advance round, but drove in across the Shenandoah River for the right to play in the live round, and made the top 40 out of 1200 with that same winning song, “Up the Road from Tennessee!” That’s my main claim to fame so far, I’m working on more of the same.
Like every musician from my era, I did some time behind bars, (playing the pubs), honing my chops. Still like that old time rock an’ roll! And the tunes I grew up on, I’ve been like a human jukebox since the age of eight. Every Saint Patrick’s Day I do an Irish show, and being partly Irish, it’s not all that much of a stretch. Over the last twenty years I’ve also been playing at retirement communities; I love walking into a room and cheering everybody up! I tell a few jokes, the fewer the better, moving right along . . .
Finally, this last year I have been writing toward becoming a festival player - there are several tributes to Pete Seeger, another for Chuck Berry, and my answer to Donald Trump, along with songs about raising the minimum wage, the moonshine coming out of Capital Hill, and even a rousing anthem or two. I have seen the power of music to break down boundaries and bring people together, and I feel that now more than ever it’s important to speak positive into the world, re-take the narrative and show that we are the better part of who we are, after all. The rest I can explain better with a guitar.