Singer-songwriter Edwin McCain admits he wasn’t always the grateful type, but nowadays he counts his blessings. The Greenville, SC, native has released 11 albums, had huge pop hits, songs on movie soundtracks and has received all sorts of accolades.
But he’s happiest when he’s on the road.
In 1994, McCain signed with Atlantic Records – the same label as his touring mates Hootie and the Blowfish. The following year he released his first major label effort, Honor Among Thieves. But it was his second album, Misguided Roses, that changed everything. The 1998 record included the single I’ll Be, which became a massive pop hit, the first of several for McCain.
The chart toppers revealed McCain’s knack for writing tunes that resonate with large audiences while not coming across as dumbed down. “When I’m writing really all I’m trying to do is to distill down what I’m experiencing and what I’m seeing, and trying to be poetic about it,” McCain said. “I think it’s a matter of trying to be a good conduit.”
More than a million viewers of the Dr. Phil television show voted I’ll Be as the best wedding song ever, and his 1999 hit I Could Not Ask for More is another wedding favorite. The New York Times called him “the great American romantic” and that sent the record company’s publicity machine into overdrive, threatening to brand McCain as “the wedding guy.”
McCain wasn’t fazed. “The way that some of these songs have struck a chord and have endured the way they have is a blessing in every way,” McCain said. “It allows me to keep doing what I love to do.”
While he certainly knows his way around a ballad, McCain’s music is far more – mixing soul, country and straight-ahead rock 'n' roll. “It’s not all ballads,” McCain said. “We draw from a lot of different styles, because we come from the school of soul and funk.”
McCain doesn’t mind if it’s the hits that get people to attend his concerts, because he relishes the challenge. “I really like to convert the unwilling husbands,” McCain said laughing, referring to spouses who have obviously been dragged to the show. “Then I have two hours to convince them.”
McCain remains humble about his abilities to make the personal universal. “It’s completely out of my hands the way these songs come to me,” he said.
An example of the serendipity of songwriting involves one of McCain’s newest songs, Walk With You. A good friend of McCain’s asked him to write a song for his daughter’s wedding. McCain sat down with his writing partner Maia Sharp to start work on the tune.
“I told her I have this little song I need to write for a friend of mine, and it’s just going to be something that I’m going to sing at a wedding once, so there’s no pressure,” McCain said.
But the song quickly took on a life of its own. The track was included on last year’s career retrospective The Best of Edwin McCain, and it connected with audiences in a way that took him completely by surprise.
“World News with Diane Sawyer recently did a piece on a young lady who had been paralyzed in a car accident and pledged to not get married until she could walk down the aisle,” McCain explained. “She rehabbed herself to the point where she could walk down the aisle to Walk With You.
Live audiences love the song as well, and it’s now another highlight on his already jam-packed set list. “The universe had other plans for that one,” he said.
Sharp is producing McCain’s next record, Mercy Bound, which is slated to come out this August. His last CD of original material was 2006’s Lost in America.
McCain is also known for his rigorous touring schedule, performing up to a staggering 300 gigs in a year.
“I still feel like the teenager I once was hoping to have a music career,” McCain said with a chuckle. “That’s what gets me up in the morning to go and hit the road and keep it going. That teenager inside of me is still saying, ‘We’ve got a gig to play!’”