Raised right here in Prince George’s County, Ed started his music career in junior high, turned on by Hendrix and Santana, among many others. He started with the guitar, teaching himself to play through the Mel Bay method. His first band – a rock and roll band called The High Boys – performed locally in American Legion and VFW halls.
But by his junior year at High Point HS he’d taken up the harmonica and recalls playing it during smoke breaks at school, where the smokers’ stairwell had great acoustics. (Apparently tile walls are responsible, thus bathrooms are also good place. Ed says he’s “played all the great bathrooms of Europe.”)
The blues scene was exploding in the DC area in the mid-’70s, and Ed was a huge fan of local band The Nighthawks (Though the Nighthawks became nationally known, they still perform here in Greenbelt – during Labor Day Weekend and occasionally on Sundays at the New Deal Cafe.)
The social benefits of music were obvious to Ed. “You got invited to a lot of parties if you played an instrument.” .
By the late ’80s Ed was playing in an acoustic blues band in Baltimore, but soon began an extended break from music due to the demands of career and his growing family.
Jumping ahead to the early 2000s, we find Ed playing the harmonica in open mics around DC and by 2009 he began a 2-year stint playing it with the R&B band Blue Dog Band.
By 2011 Ed had formed his own band, Fast Eddie and the Slowpokes, which performed at the DC Blues Society’s “7th Annual Fish Fry and Blues Show” at the American Legion in Silver Spring, and by the next year it had won the Society’s Battle of the Bands and the right to compete in the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
The Slowpokes perform regularly at such events as the Greenbelt and Colonial Beach Blues Festivals, and venues like the New Deal Cafe, the Old Bowie Town Grille, and others in Baltimore, Columbia and Northern Virginia.
Ed serves as the band’s manager/leader, using uses a Google calendar to coordinate bookings. (Apparently the band does “very well at the New Deal Cafe,” in tips, so gigs there are as lucrative as most venues that pay a flat fee.) He also does all the social media for the group – on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The Slowpokes perform 2-3 times a week, more often in summer.
Coming up this year, the Slowpokes will record for first time! They’ll also be headlining at Pearl Street at DC’s Wharf and at The Hamilton, and performing at more and bigger festivals. They’re even performing on the Blues Cruise on the Susquehanna, which leaves from Harrisburg, and other venues as far away as Philadelphia, Richmond, Winchester and the Maryland-Delaware beaches.
Through these Musicians of Greenbelt profiles we’re all learning a bit about lesser-known in instruments, and this time it’s the harmonica. Ed says everyone starts playing initially because it’s easy to carry but it’s not so easy to play. Double-reeded, it’s the only instrument that uses both in and out breaths to create sound.
Ed estimates that he owns between 100 and 150 harmonicas, plus 8-10 amps and about 25 mikes. Harmonicas cost about $40-80 each, though they can be customized for much more and the chromatics can cost as much as $300. (Chromatics are capable of playing the 12 notes of the Western chromatic scale, unlike the standard harmonica, which can play only the notes in a given musical key. Check out How to Play Chromatic Melodies.)
Ed carries at least one harmonica with him at all times, and freely admits to playing it while driving. For gigs, he takes his trusty harmonica case that holds 30, one for each of the most common keys that blues tunes are played in.
HOW BLUES SURVIVES
Ed credits local blues societies with the popularity of blues today. The Baltimore Society, for example, books big national names and local bands to open for them. The DC Blues Society has new leadership that’s doing the same.
Blues Cruises are also big, especially the “legendary” Blues Cruise from Miami to the Caribbean Islands, which is booked years in advance, carries up to 4,000 passengers and about 700 musicians, and has a long wait-list for bands.
Locally there are monthly Blues Society jams, which are like free auditions for musicians, helping them find each other and more gigs. (The Slowpokes found each other at a jam.) Ed says there’s a jam every night in the DC area, Sundays through Thursday (Fridays and Saturdays are performance nights). Nationally, there’s the Blues Foundation, with its Keeping Blues Alive Award.
Just as crucial to blues are the fans themselves, whom Ed describes as “die-hard.”
MORE ABOUT ED
Ed studied English literature at Bethany College in West Virginia, where he was active in the blues scene. His interest in English lit even took him to Oxford University for a semester, where he studied Arthurian legend!
He next earned a Masters in therapeutic recreation and worked at Sheppard Pratt in the Baltimore area, in their Child and Adolescent Mental Health Department. Ed met his wife Abby at Edgemeade residential treatment center where they both worked. She recently “retired” from Catholic Charities DC and is now on assignment in the Philippines for the Peace Corps Response program.
Ed’s day job today is teaching adapted physical educational at James Ryder Randall Elementary School in Clinton, a program serves children with special needs. (He says it’s the largest adapted physical education department in the whole U.S., with 30 teachers, versus just two in Montgomery County, for example.) In his 23rd year in the County, he has no plans to retire early because, “I like what I do.”
Ed and Abby like to travel, and they see a lot of theater. Their oldest son Jesse attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School, where he sang in a student-led a capella group and was chosen to perform in Wolf Trap’s Opera Scholar Program. He’s a song-writer and singer, and has worked as a recording engineer. Jesse recently opened Dice City Games in Wheaton. Their younger son Lucas is a stylist for the rapper Goldlink.
I had to ask. We see the colorful forearms on Ed, but are there more tattoos somewhere else? Turns out yes, on his lower legs, too. Ed had each limb done with a different theme in traditional Japanese art: Loyalty, Perseverance, Rebirth, Compassion, Protection, and so on. And they’re awesome!
Ed moved to Greenbelt’s Charlestown Village in 1984, where his now-wife was living, and today they live in their third house within a few blocks from there – in Belle Point. Ed spends lots of time with his granddaughter, who lives near Greenbelt Lake.
Watch and listen to more on the Fast Eddie YouTube channel.
- Thanks to Mark Opsasnick for research on Ed’s complete musical history, which will appear in his new book Rock the Potomac: Popular Music and Early-Era Rock and Roll in the Washington, DC Area. Order it here!
- Photo of Ed by Rebecca L. Carroll.