Ed Littlefield, Jr.'s self-proclaimed objective is to reach the kind of transcendence in his music that brings him to tears. He sings cowboy songs, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, mandocello, pedal steel guitar, dobro, piano, bass, and backing vocals.
My Western Home is his second solo album and features cowboy classics both traditional (“Get Along, Little Doggies” and “Red River Valley”) and modern (“Darcy Farrow” and “Four Strong Winds”).
“The way I play the songs, the way I arrange them, is how I imagine cowboys would have, just sitting around the camp fire playing for fun, with no thought to whether they would get airplay.”
As evidence, listen to his version of “Spanish Is A Loving Tongue,” running 15 minutes. The acoustic lead guitar was recorded in one long first take without edits."
You gotta figure there's more going on here than a rehash of out takes from some old Sons of The Pioneers chestnuts extracted from a Roy Rogers matinee shoot-em-up. In a voice that's weathered, wistful and a little weary, he brings to traditional cowboy songs a new vibrancy like rain drops dancing in desert dust.
Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart says Ed's music “just glistens. It radiates the true spirit of back porch American music … I can't stop listening … Is this some kind of sonic voodoo?”
It may just be. Ed's pedal steel playing conjures the psychedelic spirit of Jerry Garcia as readily as it does the Western Swing stylings of Buddy Emmons, aspects of a musical voice that's greater than the sum of its parts and uniquely his own.
“The first time I touched those four chord pedals on a pedal steel guitar I went right to heaven,” he says. “I was born to do it. No doubt about it. I understood the volume pedal immediately. The intonation, I could hear it right away.”
Born into a family which became one of the largest holders of ranch land in the west, Ed and his brother fell in love with the land and ultimately chose to live in the country. That family business, the Utah Construction Company, was responsible for building half the tunnels and railroad trestles west of the Mississippi.
By the time he was eight, Ed had memorized most of the songs on his dad's collection of Burl Ives 78s. The Saturday night square dances he attended in his youth at Eaton's Ranch in Wyoming were indelible experiences and more than a half century later he can still vividly recall the cast of characters who populated them: Pat, the pipe-smoking caller; the little old lady in a floral print dress who played piano; a guitarist, a fiddle player, an accordionist. “They did a whole bunch of tunes that in those days were still common knowledge traditionally. If you spoke English in America you would probably know these songs. Some of these fiddle tunes you hear on the Warner Brothers cartoons. That's why music director Carl Stalling chose the tunes he did - they were part of our culture.”
In the mid-1970s, Ed played for five years with Lance Romance, a six-piece, country-western band that traveled to a new bar every week all over the Pacific Northwest. “Later, we got down to four nights a week, playing three, one-hour sets with half-hour breaks for 'attitude adjustment.' We played up-tempo, truck driving hillbilly barroom music for working-class folks - loggers and cowboys - in bars, saloons, roadhouses, and honkytonks. In the Northwest, cowboys and loggers are pretty much the same guys with different hats and boots - one ropes cows, the other logs. Both are known to drink, use quaint language, and chew snoose. And all of them like working outdoors.“
In 1986, Ed became a member of Marley's Ghost, a beyond-eclectic roots band possessed of multi-instrumental chops, multi-part harmonies, and a music vocabulary that runs deep and wide. Still vital and playing 30 years later, the band has a more-than-respectable amount of mud on its boots.
Its recent albums have been produced by the likes of Nick Forster, Van Dyke Parks, and Nashville leg" end Cowboy Jack Clement, the latter of whose work with Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and countless others, is the stuff of music history. He produced Ghost Town for the band, as well as its upcoming release, which features Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Marty Stuart. Clement has declared on stage more than once that Ed is his favorite pedal steel guitar player and you can be certain he's heard plenty.
Ed's early love of the land eventually led him to build his own farm in northern Washington, starting from unimproved wilderness, plowing the virgin ground with horses, logging, blacksmithing, and building his Western home with his own hands and a little help from his friends. Amidst the woods, fields, and streams, he also designed and built a state-of-the-art recording studio, where he's produced an array of recordings with exceptional sonic clarity.
“There's a whole bunch of stuff in the popular culture that doesn't speak to many of us,” says Ed. “I do know what I'm looking for in my music, and what I seek is transcendence where the music acquires a special kind of magic that with any luck reduces people to tears in a good way. This transcendence is timeless; the recording does not grow old. You listen to it a hundred years from now, and if the music was played with passion, it still jumps out at you and seriously moves your soul.”