Remembering Ed Vadas

The Pioneer Valley music community has just lost one of its giants, both figuratively and literally: bluesman Vast Ed Vadas.

Countless young guitarists of our generation fell in love with the blues during the folk boom of the 1960’s.  We learned the 12-bar pattern, and memorized the words of the blues icons, but when one listened, it was never as interesting of vital as the original version.  But with Ed, it was different.  One could really tell that he had listened long and hard, and absorbed the tradition.  He took that and carried it forward in his own unique way.  He was often loud, crude and obnoxious, and many people couldn’t get past that.  But the blues was never supposed to be a polite genre; its practitioners played in raunchy bars and sang about men and women who lived hard lives.  The music and the lyrics reflected that, and Ed channeled it in his own hard driving and often hilarious way.

My first memory of Ed is not a pleasant one: he came into Downtown Sounds looking for a couple of connectors for a microphone cable and I was out of stock.  He went into a blistering and obscene tirade about my incompetence as a music retailer.  Later visits were more pleasant, and I have fond memories of him sitting in “his” spot on the ledge near the counter pontificating about music and musicians.  His opinions were always interesting and worthy of consideration.

When I was in college I used to read a magazine called the Saturday Review.  They had an interesting feature which imagined the meeting of two historical characters who could not have known each other.  I had to opportunity to create such a meeting when Seymour Duncan, maker of pickups for electric guitars and basses, came through town to promote his company, offering to do a public show where he would accompany a local blues band.  I fixed him up with Ed and Junior at the Basement, and they put on an entertaining show.  Unfortunately, I think Mr. Duncan was more interested in flirting with a young woman who worked for me at the time than paying attention to the band he was playing with.

The final memory I want to share involved a dinner at my house; through a peculiar set of circumstances he and a friend spent an evening with me, my wife, and my mother.  My mother was 88 years old at the time; she was brought up in a very proper British household, and was always shy and reserved.  For me, who knew both of them, it was amazing to watch Ed put on the charm–he was polite and very attentive and they got along very well.  Before he left, he picked up a really crappy guitar I had lying around and sang “Trouble in Mind” for her; even on a junk guitar it was a beautiful moment–he just put everything into that song that was ever supposed to be there.

Rest in peace, Ed, and may you live long in the memories of all those you touched with your outsized personality and your heartfelt music!