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Ed Snodderly: Treasures in the Attic

He is a musician. A singer. A songwriter. A storyteller. An actor. A club owner. Ed Snodderly has many talents and, by all accounts, uses them well. Ed was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and has traveled the world but always returns to his roots in upper East Tennessee. It’s where the music venue he is associated with, The Down Home (described as an eclectic music room), is in the heart of Johnson City.

Ed was introduced to music at an early age. “I grew up in a musical family,” he says. “On my dad’s side, my grandfather, Gaines Snoderly (the spelling of “Snoderly” was changed somewhere along the line to Snodderly), was the Postmaster and farmer and played old-time fiddle. He and his brother, Silas, competed in fiddle competitions around Knoxville in the 1920s and 30s and usually brought home ribbons.”

Ed discovered a guitar in the attic of his grandparents’ farmhouse. “It was painted with a palm tree with silhouettes of a senor and senorita. I remember it having only three strings strung to it,” he says. “I found out much later that a painter had traveled through the community, and my grandfather had hired him to paint the barn and fences and then lastly the guitar.” The guitar was a no-name guitar bought by Ed’s father and brothers in the 1930s with money made working in tobacco fields. Ed recalls that when he was 12, he walked through the house with a baseball bat and glove.

“My mom asked me as I passed by her if I’d like to learn to play the guitar. In the time it took to get to my bedroom door, I had shouted back a ‘yes.’” Later, when wanting an electric guitar, Ed’s dad sat him down at the kitchen table and told him he had to change from G to C and D chords much faster before thinking about getting an electric guitar. “To this day, that is the best guitar lesson I’ve ever had.”

Ed went on to play mostly the acoustic guitar. He also plays the dobro and other stringed instruments. He is an accomplished songwriter who teaches others to do the same at East Tennessee State University.

“It’s really not so much that I teach students to write but that I show up with them and bring their attention to routine and keeping their ears open. I like to start off by asking them questions. You know the general acquaintance question like ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Where’re you from?’ ‘What do you do?’ I remind them it’s basically trying to get someone’s attention and then keeping it for a couple of minutes.”

For Ed, it’s about continually conjuring, perpetuating, and calling on memories.

“Through the years, I’ve seen a lot of people perform. I keep learning. I realize more and more every day how people value and want to hear a good story told.”

Many of Ed’s students have gone on to have successful careers in music. Amethyst Kiah is one of those students. “She’s kicking ass. We spent a lot of time together picking the guitar. Now she’s singing on my new album, Chimney Smoke.” The album is Ed’s tenth.

“I’m really proud of this one. I wanted to make a record in Nashville. I got the best songs possible and asked myself if they were worth singing. I think the album is filled with above-average songs; at least, that’s what I think.” The album was recorded and mixed by the late Bil VornDick and produced by R. S. Field. “Bill Tyler was the graphic designer, and I’m sure you’ve seen his work before, Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues, etc.”

As an actor, Ed performed with the People’s Bicentennial Troupe in Boston and worked at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. He collaboratively created Echoes and Postcards with The Road Company Ensemble out of Johnson City, a show that toured the southeastern United States, San Francisco, California and even Russia. He also toured with the original production of Fire on the Mountain from 2004 through 2007, performing at prestigious regional theaters, including Actors Theatre of Louisville; Denver Center for the Performing Arts; Seattle Repertory Theatre; and Northlight Theatre of Chicago. He made his film debut in 2000 in the award-winning Coen Brother’s classic Oh Brother, Where Art Thou as the village idiot.

When he’s not touring or teaching, Ed will likely be found in the club he helped to found.

“In the mid-1970s, I was playing in a noisy barbeque joint where I met Joe “Tank” Leach. A few years later, he said we should open a place for live music, and we both agreed it should be a place where people come to listen.” They did just that in 1976 with The Down Home. “It’s a real place with lots of characters. We’ve had lots of legendary artists play our stage as well as lots of up-and-coming acts who are now very famous. We’re still here so many years later, doing what we set out to do.”
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