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charlene 09-18-2013 08:41 AM

ED - Pee Wee - article
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Tuesday, September, 17, 2013 - 2:02:36 PM

ED SAYS: Thanks to Bob Vrbanac at the Waterloo Chronicle for nice article today "Man of Steel"...I've posted the link...just a few typos....My Daughter is Pamela not Paula. ....Grand Daughter Talya...and of course need to mention Kathy Ringwald my wife of 37 years who was behind me all those years travelling the road....she was my support...couldn't have done it without her...love her so much...thanks Kath...

Bob Vrbanac Photo

Waterloo steel guitar player Ed Ringwald was named to the All-Star Band at the 2013 CCMAs last week in Edmonton.

Man of steel

Waterloo’s Ed Ringwald has had some time to think about what makes the steel guitar such a fascinating instrument to play, and how it leaves them wondering how he produces such haunting sounds.

“The best way to describe it, I guess, is that’s it’s the sound of rock-bottom loneliness and heart-stabbing isolation,” said the music man with more than 40 years of trying to get “the steel” to divulge all of its secrets. “It’s the soundtrack for ecstatic self-pity — basically it’s the musical glue that holds together the emotions in a song.

“That’s the best way I can describe it.”

The 61-year-old admits he came up with that definition over a glass of wine and after some reflection on a career that has seen him play with music legends like Ian Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray while turning down an invitation to join a newly formed group called The Eagles back in 1973.

Ringwald’s poured his soul into those strings over his six-decade career, and in recent years he’s received recognition for that body of work after being named the Canadian Country Music Association’s best steel guitarist in 2011 for the first time and following that up with the 2013 award last week at the annual awards ceremony held in Edmonton. He was named a member of the All-Star Band for his work with George Canyon and Western Swing Authority over the last year, on top of the session work that has him constantly in demand.

And to think it started after his dad Jack took him to see country music star Ray Price at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium in the 1960s. His dad had a lap steel and was trying to get son to pick up the instrument.

“I’ll never forget seeing this steel guitar up there and I was fascinated by the instrument and the sound it was producing and how this guy was playing it,” said Ringwald. “It had pedals and knee levers and that’s what go me on to it.”

But it took a little convincing from his dad. At that time the steel guitar cost around $500, which was a lot of money for an instrument back then, let alone one that required such dedication to play.

“He did, but he didn’t think I would stay with it, and I said, ‘Dad, I’ll make you eat your words’ and I did,” said Ringwald. “And I practiced and practiced it until I got good at it, and that’s what you have to do because it’s such a difficult instrument to learn.”

He even moved to Texas for a seven-month stretch to learn from a steel guitar master and bring back some of the expertise with him. Even then it was a rare instrument to learn and play, so when he got back to Canada he was immediately in demand for his talents.

“A day after I got back from Texas the phone rings and my mom said it was Ian Tyson,” said Ringwald. “I said ‘Mr. Tyson’, and he said, ‘Forget the Mr. Tyson stuff, you can call me Ian and I have a T.V. show and I’ve heard a lot about you.’

“‘I don’t need an audition, we start next week and if you’re in you’re in.’ I was on the T.V. show for two years.”

What makes steel guitar player so in demand? Ringwald said it’s a real mental effort to bring all the elements of the instrument together to produce its unique sound.

“You’ve basically got so many different things going on,” he said. “You’ve got finger picks in one hand, then you play with a bar. Then you have pedals on the floor that you step on that give you all your different chords, and you have knee levers that move sideways while others go up — you’ve got a lot of different things going on.”

Mastery of the basics can be a daunting task, which might explain why there are so few steel guitar players out there. But when you do master it, it produces some beautiful music and it lead to an amazing music career. It did for Ringwald, including 16 years of playing and touring with Canadian music legend Gordon Lightfoot. He has gold and platinum records hanging on the wall of his Waterloo home from artists like Lightfoot and Murray, and he played on such iconic songs as The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Ringwald went under his music alias of Peewee Charles in those days, a nickname given to him in 1968 with more than a touch of irony for the self-professed six-foot-four string bean. But the last few gold and platinum albums feature his given name so that his family had something to hold on to, and the two CCMA awards are destined for his children Jesse and Paula.

While Ringwald doesn’t like to be out on the road as much — all that travelling is a little less appealing for the 61-year-old who has played concert venues around the world — he still is on the stage every week at the jam space at the Commercial Tavern in Merryhill.

He loves the fact that he can share his love of music with his granddaughters Talia and Addison and they get to see what their “Bapa” can do.

Ringwald and the other members of Western Swing Authority are putting the final touches on their latest CD, which really has the music veteran excited.

“We just cut our latest album,” said Ringwald. “It motivates me so much to play with great musicians like that.”

But inevitably, he’s also starting to think about his musical legacy, and that’s why the CCMA awards have been such a thrill. It’s a little of the validation that any true artist seeks during their lifetime.

“Everyone wants to develop their own sound and everyone wants to be unique in their own way,” said Ringwald, who has tried to pass along that love affair for the steel guitar but hasn’t found a lot of takers locally. “As soon as you hear them you know who it is, and that’s what you try to develop so that people remember you by that certain sound.

“You play something and you’ve put your soul in it and it’s going to be there forever.

“It’s been a real honour, and its nice to have that credibility that people want you to play on their record, and I have as much pride playing with the little guy as the big guy.”

So what would his father think of how that $500 investment turned out? Ringwald said luckily his dad got to see him playing some of those big shows before he passed away. “He would be so proud now,” said Ringwald. “He’s probably be smiling as we’re talking.”

teherie 09-18-2013 10:46 PM

Re: ED - Pee Wee - article
Thanks for the nice update.

Pee Wee's contributions to Gordon Lightfoot's work is unmistakable and left and continues to leave a lasting impression on me.

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