Musician opens up on his reluctant approach to stardom, raising a family and the moment he decided to cut his golden locks

As the curtain closed on the Grunge movement in the 1990s, music began searching for a fresh, more evocative identity. And while the Seattle music faction resonated throughout the United States, many Southeastern artists (like the Black Crowes, Hootie & the Blowfish, Widespread Panic and Drivin N Cryin) maintained an independent identity rooted in Southern Rock and jam band influences.

Because of this, a musical revival, consisting of eclectic singer-songwriters, began to spread throughout the Southeast in the late ’90s. Names like Warren Haynes, Angie Aparo and Shawn Mullins sold out arenas throughout the U.S.

Within that awakening of Southern rockers and acoustic harmonizers, Edwin McCain became the standard to which all others were measured by at the time. Not only did the South Carolina native embody the “nice guy” image with authentic humility, he created a live music experience that was almost spiritual in nature.

On Saturday, Dec. 19, Edwin McCain will perform at the Key West Theater, bringing with him the lyrical craftsmanship and vocal harmony that shaped a musical crusade. In a personal Q&A with the Keys Weekly, McCain opened up on everything from his reluctant approach to stardom and raising a family — to the moment he decided to cut his golden locks.

Keys Weekly: Let’s get this out of the way. The entire world identifies you with your hit songs “I’ll Be” (1998) and “I Could Not Ask for More” (1999). What do you say to someone who only knows you through those hits?

Edwin McCain: Those songs are most definitely famous and there is no doubt I will never understand how grateful I should be with those songs out there doing their work.  But it is so interesting that so many know the songs and they don’t know me — and I’m totally cool with that.

KW: You’ve never deviated from your style of playing. With so many jumping ship from one genre to another, how have you remained true to your music?

EM: I was fortunate to have the incredible opportunity to do the pop thing for a minute and experience that success. I know what that looks like and I came to the conclusion it really wasn’t for me. But I have that perspective — I don’t have that unchecked box. We went on all those big talk shows and it was a bizarre ride and incredible but I wasn’t’ very comfortable in that arena and it showed. There are certain people who are made to be in that arena but I’m not one of them.

KW: I know you and fellow South Carolina native Darius Rucker are good friends and he’s a great example of an artist who propelled his career by jumping into Country music. Has this ever been a tempting move for you?

EM: Darius always listened to Country so that didn’t surprise me. I’ve always been a songwriter and I haven’t really changed that much at all and I never wanted to change horses midstream. There were offers when Darius went to Nashville for me to follow, and it probably wasn’t a good career decision not to do that [laughing], but it just seemed like everyone was running to Country and I am happy doing what I do.

KW: Basically the entire world can sing the lyrics you’ve written by heart. What is the best compliment you can receive for your work?

EM: My favorite compliment that we ever get is from the reluctant husband — the guy that got dragged out to the show — he’s been dreading it all week and it’s obvious his wife bought the tickets. He’s just so bummed because he … assumes it’s going to be a night of smarmy ballads. And then the husband comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘Man! I was really dreading this but that was awesome man — we had a great time!’ Hands down my favorite compliment. That is the one I live for. I truly do.

KW: You have the reputation as being a genuine nice guy. Has this helped or hurt you in the music business?

EM: I have no clue how if it helped me or hurt me, but the fact I’m still friends with everyone I used to work with and I communicate with my old boss at Atlantic hasn’t hurt. For me it’s all about relationships, which are the true blessing in this life. It was never about chart positioning and money. I never would have met guys like Warren [Haynes] without music. You could take everything away, but as long as I have those relationships I’m fine.  Friendships are what I stress to my kids and I guess I’ve been lucky in that way.

KW: So what happened to the long hair?

EM: The hair came off after I walked into the boys’ room and looked into their crib and they said, ‘Mamma?’ I immediately thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to be ugly mamma. And I cut it off and took my role as father. It was kind of an acknowledgment for me to say the only thing that matters is being a good parent. I probably made terrible career decisions based on being a good parent, but I can live with that.

KW: You are a devoted family guy and a consummate workaholic. How do you balance the two?

EM: I don’t know anyone who became a parent and it didn’t change their reality. I’m the protector of these precious lives and I have to be there for them and I selfishly enjoy seeing them grow up. So I’m whittling down my schedule but I don’t want to disappear completely because a good work ethic is part of being a good parent. In my 20s I wrote about global things and huge ideas. That’s what 20 year olds do — dream as big as you possibly can because you don’t know not to. I dreamed to be a full-time musician and I was blessed that came true. And with children it’s all about gratitude and finding poetry in the little things. It’s a natural progression. I wouldn’t be friends with 25-year-old me. I was kind of loud and obnoxious. And 25-year-old me wouldn’t like 45-year-old me.

KW: I heard Justin Bieber got discovered singing “I’ll Be” on Youtube. What is your reaction to something like that?

EM: Yeah, he apparently got signed off “I’ll Be” and I hear he will sometimes does it at shows. People always ask me if I’m cool with it and I think it’s cool as long as people do it according to the rules. I just wish he would release it on an album. That would be amazing —financially; thank you, Justin Bieber (laughing).

KW: What can we expect from your upcoming show in Key West?

EM: I like the smaller venue because it gives us a chance to have rapport with the crowd. It’s really how I prefer to play music when I can play and communicate on that level. What we do is not super high profile. It’s not super lucrative. But what we do is work hard, earn an honest living doing what we do– and I can’t imagine wanting more than that. And it’s been consistent for the last 25 years.

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