The Edge: The Music He Loves

One of rock's biggest names on his music roots, and what's on his playlist.

March 02, 2009, 2:27 PM

Aug. 3, 2007 — -- Back in 1976, the Edge (then known simply as David Evans) teamed up with a few boys from Dublin to form the Larry Mullen Band. Never heard of them? That's because the name only lasted a few seconds.

They soon re-emerged as Feedback, which spun into the Hype, but it wasn't until the quartet decided on U2 -- a name they agreed they hated least -- that the group solidified and began their meteoric rise to the top of the charts.

Years later, the Edge is a guitarist and songwriter for what is undisputedly one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and one that has gone far beyond the world of rock to make a serious impact on global events.

"For a growing number of rock 'n' roll fans, U2 have become the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters," declared Rolling Stone in 1985, when they were already one of the world's most popular acts.

So what songs and artists does this legend listen to the most? For the Edge, it's a variety, ranging from songs by patriarchs of rock like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, to less mainstream acts like the Rebirth Brass Band. But each one is connected to some time or place in his life.

In 1975, the Edge was just 14 years old. He was a year away from meeting his future band mates and had yet to record such hits as "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With or Without You."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a New Jersey girl named Patti Smith busted the world of punk rock wide open. Her debut album, "Horses," redefined the genre by fusing rock 'n' roll and punk rock with spoken poetry. The album experienced only modest commercial success but its impact on the rock world was tremendous.

More than 30 years later, the opening track, Smith's cover of the Van Morrison song "Gloria," remains on the Edge's playlist -- a song he says was one of U2's earliest muses.

"That changed everything for me at the time because we were starting to play as a band," said the Edge. "The ideas… we're a band who loves to mix it up with the sexual, the spiritual, whatever, the political, and there in that song she did that so incredibly."

Within a few years U2 encountered international acclaim. They had become well known for their powerful live performances and in 1983 won the BRIT Award for best live act. But four studio albums had come and gone and the group had yet to have a No.1 record outside of the U.K.

After the release of their fourth album, "The Unforgettable Fire," in 1984, the band began exploring blues, country and gospel music. Their relationships with rock legends such as Van Morrison, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan had inspired them to explore the roots of rock 'n' roll.

During the recording sessions of U2's fifth album, "The Joshua Tree," the Edge found inspiration in the form of another debut record -- the Band's "Music from Big Pink" released in 1968. The album's hit single, "The Weight," made famous by the classic film "Easy Rider," particularly stood out for the Edge.

"We were first exploring American music and hearing their work, really delving into it -- it was mind blowing for me," he said. "And that I will always associate with a particular summer up in the hills in Dublin."

"The Joshua Tree" was a monumental hit. It was a No.1 record around the globe and went on to become a multiplatinum album, selling over 10 million units worldwide. Suffice to say, the record solidified U2's position as both creative and commercial juggernauts.

Success carried the Edge to nearly every point on the globe. In 20 years of traveling he has accumulated an extraordinary wealth of stories, from nearly having the group's only set of guitars stolen within their first few hours in New York in December 1980, to dancing on top of the bar with Bono in pre-Katrina New Orleans.

"I'd always had amazing times there," he said of New Orleans. "And I remember with Bono one night ending up in some tiny little club in an area of the city I'd never been to, dancing on the bar to this little five-piece funk outfit that didn't have any guitars. It was all brass, drums and whatever. And we were just completely blown away -- that music which was so amazing was totally unknown to us. It was like -- it was like discovering, you know, jazz for the first time or something."New Orleans definitely left its mark, and now the Edge's playlist is peppered with many of the bands he first encountered around the town with his band mates.

"The Dirty Dozen and the Little Rascals… Joyful music like 'Do Whatcha Wanna' by the Rebirth Brass Band is just this killer groove and just this amazing, joyful feeling," he said. "All these brass bands that are playing music which has incredible sense of rhythm and joy, all the things I look for in great rock 'n' roll."

Now the Edge and other heavyweights of the music industry have started a charity effort to rebuild the musical community left devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The primary goal of the charity, called "Music Rising," is to get these musicians back to work.

"We're using music as a way to try and get these areas kind of to -- to give them a leg up," he said. "And music is a great way to do that because it's really the spirit of that city and that part of America."

The charity is not the only thing that has tied the Edge with New Orleans. U2's performance with Green Day of "The Saints are Coming" at the reopening of the Superdome in September 2006 is now one of the more remarkable moments in the histories of both the band and the city. Regardless of the performance, though, the Edge claims the song would have earned a spot on the playlist on its own merit.

"'The Saints are Coming' was one of my favorite songs as a 16-year-old -- maybe 17 when that came out," he said. "This was very exciting to hear this band, the Skids, and their first album."

Reflecting back on his time in Louisiana, the Edge said that New Orleans music is a very unique aspect of the culture in that it continues to help victims of Katrina "celebrate being alive after everything that had happened."

"There's a strong case to be made that there on the streets of New Orleans was the beginning of that integration of African and Western music which begat jazz, begat R&B, begat rock 'n' roll," said the Edge. "So, you know, I wouldn't be here… if it wasn't for this very unique part of America and these little flukes of history and circumstance. And it's still all there. That's the amazing thing."

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