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Doug Edwards is seen performing with Chilliwack. (Rob Porter)
Doug Edwards is seen performing with Chilliwack. (Rob Porter)

OBITUARY

West Coast musician Doug Edwards composed Wildflower for Skylark Add to ...

On a night when he had planned to go to the movies, Doug Edwards decided instead to stay at home and work on some songs for his band, Skylark.

He leafed through a sheaf of poems written by a friend of the band. Mr. Edwards heard a melody in his head as he read the lyrics. Though he was a guitarist, the nearest instrument was a Hammond organ, so he used it to pound out the tune. Soon after, in the back seat of a car on the way to a rehearsal, he presented his score to the band’s keyboardist, whose immediate reaction was a hearty, “This is a hit.”

The song would need some studio serendipity and a disc jockey’s obsessive support before becoming a chart-topper. In time, Wildflower became a Top 10 smash for Skylark and one of the most-covered Canadian songs ever written. The soulful pop ballad is played at weddings and funerals alike, and has been heard at the Olympics.

Mr. Edwards, who has died in Vancouver of throat cancer at the age of 70, was a seminal figure on the West Coast music scene, playing in early rock ’n’ roll bands in Victoria before becoming a valued session musician for the burgeoning recording industry in Vancouver. For the past 20 years, he was the bassist in the touring lineup for the rock band Chilliwack.

A humble, soft-spoken man, the guitarist had a reputation for a crisp playing style that made him a valued sideman.

Douglas Fraser Edwards was born in Edmonton on March 15, 1946, to Dr. William Edwards and Muriel (née Brown), who was known as Brownie. The family soon resettled in Central Butte, Sask., where they lived in a small house adjoining the community hospital. The boy learned to play piano at a young age and studied the instrument through a peripatetic childhood until he picked up the electric guitar as a high schooler in Victoria.

By his senior year, he was playing in a band called the Cavaliers, who had a regular gig playing an after-hours joint known as the Golden Slipper from midnight until 3 a.m. (The Slipper was a bottle joint, selling overpriced mix to patrons who surreptitiously supplied their own booze.) The group reformed as Bobby Faulds and the Strangers, gaining a recording contract. Meanwhile, Mr. Edwards taught himself to play bass so as to be a more versatile musician for hire.

By the mid-1960s, Mr. Edwards was playing with the Villains, the house band at Oil Can Harry’s, a Vancouver night club with go-go girls and mandatory attire of jacket and tie for men.

A single audition earned him a spot on the touring roster of the 5th Dimension just as the band hit the top of the charts with a medley of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In from the musical Hair. He performed in the music pit during three of the group’s appearances on television’s The Ed Sullivan Show.

In 1971, Mr. Edwards joined Skylark, a band centred around keyboardist David Foster and his wife, the singer B.J. Cook, both from Victoria. Dave Richardson, a police officer in the Victoria suburb of Saanich – known by the musicians as Dave the Cop – gave Mr. Foster several of his poems for consideration, including one about his girlfriend, a hard-working nurse who had collapsed exhausted after a trying day at the hospital. His line, “Let her cry for she’s a lady,” became a soundtrack for many women’s personal travails.

While the band suspected they had a hit, the recording session sputtered as Mr. Foster fretted that the tune was too sentimental. He left the room, soon to be joined by organist Robbie King. The remaining musicians, including Steve Pugsley on bass and Duris Maxwell on drums, captured the sound they were seeking on their first take, with Mr. Edwards’s evocative guitar opening and later solo familiar now to generations of listeners. A heartfelt, emotional vocal by Donny Gerrard would be imitated by the dozens who covered the song.

The record label released two singles off Skylark’s debut album, though they gained little notice. It was Rosalie Trombley, music director of radio station CKLW in Windsor, Ont., who heard potential in Wildflower. She played the album track over and over for three months, insisting Capitol release a single. The record company ignored her and she briefly stopped playing the song only to have listeners in Windsor and Detroit deluge the station with requests. The record company finally relented and released a single to the Detroit market, only to watch the song take off along the Eastern Seaboard before sweeping the continent. Wildflower, a word which, incidentally, does not appear in the song, spent 21 weeks on the Billboard charts, climbing to No. 9 on the Hot 100 chart in the United States and to the No. 1 slot in the adult-contemporary chart in Canada. It would sell more than one million copies.

Skylark’s second album, which also included Wildflower, as the record company sought to cash in on its earlier negligence, failed to find an audience and the band broke up. The hit launched Mr. Foster’s career as a multi-Grammy Award-winning producer, songwriter and arranger.

Mr. Edwards went on to play with the Hometown Band, which had two modest hits with Flying and I’m Ready. He can be heard on countless hit songs, including Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina by Olivia Newton-John, Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone) by Glass Tiger and Which Way You Goin’ Billy? by the Poppy Family.

Mr. Edwards had open-heart surgery and a triple bypass in February. During the surgery, it was discovered that he had throat cancer. He died at home in Vancouver on Nov. 11. He leaves his wife, Mary; a daughter, Jennifer; and, a sister, Carol. A celebration of life will be held in Victoria in the spring.

Wildflower earned Mr. Edwards induction in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside Mr. Richardson in 2011. The song has been covered by numerous acts, including the O’Jays and the Neville Brothers, as well as in several genres, including country and jazz instrumental. Various versions have also been sampled for recordings by the likes of Tupac Shakur, Kanye West and Drake, a remarkable achievement considering Wildflower was the first complete song Mr. Edwards ever composed.

As Mr. Foster wrote in a statement on his friend’s death, “Wildflower will live long after all of us are gone.”

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