Gary Edwards, a prominent New Orleans music industry businessman whose Sound of New Orleans label recorded many regional bands and musicians, died on September 22 after a long illness. He was 79 years old.
Born November 28, 1941, Edwards was a man who wore many hats over his 50-plus years in the New Orleans music industry. In recognition of his contributions, he was the 2015 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at de ShiftedBest of The Beat 2014 awards ceremony.
A native of the North Shore, as a teenager, Edwards played guitar in several local R&B and rock’n’roll groups. Enrolling in the University of Southeast Louisiana, Edwards continued to perform in groups on the North Shore and ended up running Cave Tangi, a popular music club in Hammond, Louisiana. After graduating in the mid-1960s, Edwards moved to New Orleans, where he taught high school chemistry for a year. He was not attracted to teaching, but he felt that New Orleans then offered enough opportunities to earn a living in some area of the music industry.
“There were a lot of good bands here, but Deacon John had the best band back then,” Edwards said in 2014. “They were so good they intimidated me as a musician.”
Edwards got a job at a musical instrument store and eventually became the business owner. Through the store, Edwards has maintained a relationship with his main influence, jazz musician Ellis Marsalis.
“Ellis was playing with Al Hirt, but he wanted to start his own band. I saw him a lot in the Quarter. He played traditional jazz but with a modern style to burst flair. He got a job at Labor Union Hall and needed a sound system. I knew how to ride one, so I did it for Ellis. Then he found a job with Lu and Charlie and I installed the sound system. Ellis was an extraordinary musician.
With his background in amplified music, Edwards approached Quint Davis in 1970 and eventually managed the sound for four stages of the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. At this festival, Edward‘s been introduced to another important influence, Sherman Washington, who then headed the Zion Harmonizers.
“There was just something touching and honest about harmonizing the gospel. Being around this music had a huge effect on me.
Edwards eventually created his own label, Sound of New Orleans, to record the Zion Harmonizers. Washington would return the favor by introducing Edwards to the local black religious community, which helped his retail business grow. A favorite of European music festivals, Washington has also introduced Edwards to several European festival promoters, contacts he has maintained for decades.
The 1980s occupied Edwards as his sound equipment rental and retail business grew into one of the largest in the South. He continued to supply sound equipment to the Jazz Fest and to the concert halls of the 1984 World’s Fair. He also opened the largest record store in the parish of Saint-Bernard while developing his interest in the studio. ‘recording, thus constituting an important catalog of New Orleans music. While working in the studio, Edwards was led to his third major influence, Cosimo Matassa.
“I met Cos in his last studio, Jazz City. I studied his work. Because let’s let the musicians do their thing and get out of the way. That’s how I worked in the studio.
Sadly, a major fire in 1988 destroyed Edwards’ Mid-City building, ruining all of his equipment as well as records, records, and tapes. Edwards eventually moved to St. Louis and only returned to New Orleans in 1992.
Back in New Orleans, Edwards rented a warehouse in the Homedale section of town and rebuilt the Sound of New Orleans recording studio. The 1990s were a fertile decade for New Orleans music, which Edwards helped facilitate. With the advent of the compact disc, the Sound of New Orleans catalog has grown exponentially. Edwards recorded the Treme Brass Band and the Algiers High Steppers, which helped the growth of New Orleans marching band music around the world. The studio has also claimed several new Latin, swamp pop, cajun and zydeco titles as well as Dixieland, R&B and gospel standards.
By the turn of the millennium, Edwards owned one of New Orleans’ largest music catalogs. Then came Katrina. His building took 10 feet of water and he still lost everything, including 13 Hammond collectors’ organs. Edwards and his wife moved to Houston and stayed there until 2009.
Upon his return, Edwards slowly replaced his catalog and even added a few selected recording projects. He also reconnected with some of his European contacts and brought several groups from New Orleans abroad to international music festivals.
After Katrina, Edwards made a rather ominous prediction about the state of music in New Orleans. “It has diluted since the storm. Many New Orleans musicians never returned. The musicians from out of town are technically good, but they don’t feel like New Orleans people are used to hearing.
Edwards is survived by his wife, Jennifer, his daughter Amanda Edwards of Chicago, his brothers Mark Edwards of Ponchatoula and Barry Edwards of Destrehan, and his sister Noreen Edwards Metz of Evanston, Illinois.