Guitarist Doug Edwards, the former Skylark band member who crafted the sound of 1973 hit “Wildflower,” has died in Vancouver at 70 after a battle with cancer.
A former bandmate of David Foster, and later a bassist for Vancouver-based rockers Chilliwack, his friends say Edwards was a quiet but incredibly capable musician. He died on Friday.
Born March 15, 1946, Edwards spent his early years in Edmonton before his family moved to Victoria when he was a teenager, where he picked up the electric guitar and bass.
“He was, always has been — and probably always will be — the best ‘pop’ musician Victoria has ever produced,” Foster said in an emailed statement.
“I don’t know where my career would be today if I couldn’t have hung my hat on that first hit.”
Edwards’s career jumpstarted as a session musician with the 5th Dimension in the 1960s, which led to TV appearances on the “The Ed Sullivan Show” and an opening gig for Frank Sinatra and the Harry James Orchestra in Las Vegas.
His session work continued throughout his career with appearances on tracks like Glass Tiger’s “Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” and the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Goin’, Billy?”
But it was “Wildflower,” which was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame five years ago, that solidified his spot in Canadian music history.
Edwards co-created the song after joining Skylark, which was led by singer B.J. Cook and Foster, who had just left Ronnie Hawkins’s band.
“(There’s) no instrument he couldn’t play, no chord he couldn’t access with ease, no musician he couldn’t make immediately comfortable,” Foster said.
Lyrics for “Wildflower” were written by Dave Richardson, a longtime friend of Foster and police officer in Saanich, B.C., who had been scribbling down poetry in his off time. When he heard Foster was looking for material, he sent over a stack of poems he thought might click.
One day Edwards was sifting through Richardson’s work when he came across “Wildflower” and was intrigued enough to craft a melody on a Hammond organ.
The song wound up on Skylark’s self-titled 1972 debut album, but it wasn’t an instant hit.
Capitol Records didn’t see the song’s widespread appeal and chose to go with a different track as the lead single. It wasn’t until Rosalie Trombley, a radio programmer at Windsor, Ont., station CKLW, heard the song’s potential that it finally took off.
When she added it to the station’s rotation, listener feedback was strong enough that Capitol decided to give the song a shot in Detroit. “Wildflower” shot up the charts on soul radio, which convinced the label to push it out across the United States.
The song went gold in Canada and hit No. 9 on the U.S. Billboard charts.
Edwards was never swept away by its success, says Valley Hennell, a longtime friend and manager of the song’s rights.
“He would never talk about it,” she says.
“Doug was the most self-effacing, soft-spoken human.”
“Wildflower” has been covered by over 70 musicians and sampled by hip hop and rap artists. Hank Crawford’s version was sampled in the late Tupac Shakur’s “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug” and Kanye West’s “Drive Slow.”
Other performers like the O’Jays, the Neville Brothers and Blake Shelton have recorded their own takes.
Skylark disbanded in 1975 after their second album flopped, but Edwards was active in the music industry until his death.
He was the bassist for Chilliwack for two decades until illness forced him to stop performing earlier this year.
Foster said he visited his former bandmate earlier this summer to reflect on their experiences.
“We showered each other with our mutual admiration for each other,” Foster said.
“He was a gentleman and a gentle man.”
Edwards is survived by his wife Mary, his daughter Jennifer and his sister Carol.
A memorial will be held Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m. PT at the Granville Island Stage in Vancouver.
— Follow @dfriend on Twitter.