In 1993, Ed Woodsworth was in his second year at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, minding his own business, going to classes and playing his bass. He was working on a Bachelor of Music with emphasis on jazz performance. Within a month he was on the road with the soon to become internationally famous Ashley MacIsaac.
“It just kinda happened,” he explains easily as we walk through the woods by his home in Big Pond. “It all just fell into place. I was in school and there was a quote in the newspaper from Ashley saying that there were two young Cape Breton musicians that he wanted to work with. One was Gordie Sampson and the other was Ed Woodsworth. And then about two weeks later he called my mom looking for me and about two weeks after that I got the gig.”
And so Ed became a professional musician. He toured with Ashley for the next two years while still in school, maintaining a spot on the Dean’s List, but the touring be-came more demanding as MacIsaac’s sound took off. Ed decided to leave school before his marks started to suffer and for the next three years he traveled all over the world playing in places like Rome and Japan, all over North and South America as well as the U.K. and Europe.
Ed started playing in bands and writing songs in high school, but his love for music was developing from an earlier age.
“I used to go up to my mother’s relatives in New Brunswick on summer vacations and they had an old guitar upstairs. I used to go upstairs and I’d take the guitar and I’d make up different tunings, I’d make open chords, just whatever pleased my ears, you know. I fell in love with the sound and the way the sounds made me feel. I was totally mesmerized and I just totally fell in love with music. It was very addictive, the way it made me feel.”
Probably taking a hint from the hours of vacation time Ed would spend with that old guitar, his parents bought him one and in high school he formed his first band. There was lots of music around Riverview High School in those days – the blues based stuff Angelo Spinazzola and the boys were playing in Robert Lewis’ barn, the acoustic guitar beach party tunes Carlo Spinazzola and Gordie Sampson were coming up with and the songs a band called Tinted Visions was writing and recording. Tinted Visions was the second band Ed was in during high school, having switched to bass after winning one in a bet. They wrote their own songs and recorded them on four track. Writing and recording songs was pretty advanced stuff at the time but these guys were committed to making their music and for Ed, this is what it was all about. “When I first started music, that was my drive, what I wanted to do was be a singer, to write songs and to play my music for people.”
After high school Ed joined pop/rock band Realworld and toured the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario bar circuit for three years. In that time the band had a couple of hit singles on local radio and recorded an album that charted a few songs nationally. But the individuals in Realworld had grown more musically than the band was able to and they went their separate ways. Ed enrolled at St. F.X.
“I knew that music was something I had to have in my life if I was gonna be happy so I just decided to do it. When I graduated from high school, my first inclination was to go to St.F.X. and study music, but I didn’t do it because I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think it was a good decision at the time. But then, 4 years later, it was still my first inclination so I just went with what I really wanted to do.” And now that his stint with The Kitchen Devils is done he’s ready to get back to it.
“Well, right now I just want to finish it. I’ve been really aggressive at advancing my skills in the last couple of years and I don’t plan on stopping and therefore I keep on getting better and better. I want to be able to be free to land some really good gig somewhere, like if I want to go to LA or Paris for a year or two or three I wanna be able to do that. That’s why I have to finish this one year of my degree. And I wanna finish it because it makes much more sense to have your degree, especially since I’m almost there. Right now I’m really busy with Mary Jane (Lamond) and doing some touring with Gordie (Sampson) and trying to find the time to keep working on my own music. I’d like to go back to school in the fall and to keep touring at the same time, but I’m not really sure what’s gonna happen with that yet because it’s a lot of work and my touring schedule might be too much.”
One of the drawbacks to making music for a living can be the uncertainty about the future, how plans and schedules have to be subject to change as tours are booked and dates added, but still, it’s nice work if you can get it. “I like it cause I get to play my bass. It’s just a great job. I think the thing I like the best about it is that ultimately I’m my own boss most of the time. I mean I work for Mary Jane and I work for Ashley and I work for Gordie so in a sense they’re my boss, but not really. If I want I can always find work for myself in some sense and I like that freedom. It’s just very enjoyable to play music as your job. Yeah, playing bass professionally is a good job. I like it.” Ed laughs as we follow an old logging road toward the highway. We’re on our way back from a campsite he’s picked out for himself where he plans on spending a few days and nights later in the week; a quiet kind of retreat before hitting the road again in May with Gordie Sampson opening for The Rankins.
As a professional bass player, Ed’s on the road quite a bit. He tours regularly with Mary Jane Lamond’s band and now with Sampson as his solo career gets to that stage. Being on the road is part of the job and being professional is all in the details. “The whole touring thing is, basically, learning the music for the person you’re gonna tour with and making sure that you show up and have all your equipment and everything works well and you know the music and you have appropriate clothes to wear for the show. You make sure you’re professional on all levels and you just gotta cover your ass, make sure there’s no mistakes.”
It’s a part of the job that can be very demanding and the little things, like living in hotel rooms with 13 guys for four years and being away from home a lot can be hard on the head, but traveling all over the world, experiencing different cultures can be exhilarating. And playing music has its own rewards.
“It doesn’t happen all the time but frequently in the shows (with Ashley) there would be magic moments when the music’s just slamming and I’d be in a blind slammin’ rage, just slammin’ my bass and I’d look up and there’d be like ten thousand people going exactly in time with me, like perfectly in time, jumping up and down. That instant is so intense.”
Ed admits that touring with Ashley has been a high point of his career so far, but since leaving the band, he’s had an opportunity to expand his talents. “Lately I’ve been getting hired to do some things other than playing, like writing charts and small arranging things and stuff.” In the past few months he’s worked as band leader for two pretty big productions, the Celtic Electric TV show and a Mary Jane Lamond / Symphony Nova Scotia show. “They were both challenges and they both gave me a chance to stretch out and push myself and learn new things. People have to realize what you can do, right. I never actually went around telling people I can do this, I can do that but now that I’ve actually done some of those things and people can see that I’ve always had those skills, they are starting to take advantage of that to help get the work done that they need.”
Ed’s varied musical experiences, from jazz studies to European tours, have fostered the versatile skills required to make a living as a musician. “A lot of times I compare playing bass professionally to being like a chameleon. You have to go into a situation and totally be adaptive in your personality, in your playing, in your look, in the way you sound, in your music. You just have to really fit in and not disturb anything that’s there. Just let it keep goin the way it’s going cause it’s working for them and you just gotta fit into it.”
His bass playing has fit in with some of the biggest names on the East Coast as well as a great many locally established artists. It can be heard on recordings by Rita MacNeil, Ashley MacIsaac, Glenn Graham & Rodney MacDonald, Morningstar, Mary Jane Lamond, Buddy MacDonald & John Ferguson, Gordie Sampson, Wally MacAulay and Dougie Johnson among others. “I do all kinds of session and studio stuff. The thing about recording is most times you go into the studio and you play music that you never heard before so you just kinda work it out. Sometimes there’s lotsa rehearsals and sometimes you get together with people and they just want your influence because they know what you sound like and they know what your ideas are like and they want to have your influence on their music. So you’re more like just a contributor or something.”
Between tours and studio work, Ed somehow finds the time to work on his own music, an activity made more convenient by the recent installation of studio quality recording equipment in the house he shares with Carlo Spinazzola and Matt Foulds. “I’m finally getting time to start working on my own music again. Me and Carlo are thinking about putting out a CD with a couple of songs each on it, like a co-production kinda thing.” Despite years of writing and recording demos and playing on other people’s stuff, only glimpses of Ed’s own musical ideas have been revealed. “On the Realworld album there’s one song that I have songwriting credits on which is a transformation of a song I wrote in high school and on the Load Of Wood album, that’s a more recent song.” Not to mention popular. “Eddie’s Song” from the third Load Of Wood compilation has quickly become a favourite among the crowds who gather to see The Wayouts, a band made up of housemates Ed, Carlo and Matt. “Having the studio in the house is just honing my recording studio skills.”
And the time is right for Ed who has contributed so much to so many other people’s work. “The big reason I want to do it now is because I can. I can’t picture myself being content unless I try it while I still can so that’s why I wanna do it while I’m young, so I can say I wanted to do it, I tried to do it and I did it. Everything is falling into place. I’ve got the connections, I’ve got the skills and I’ve got the studio in the house. It’s just gonna smoke.”