Ed Ringwald: Man Of Steel
Submitted by Don Graham
You may not know his name but unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard the work of Ed Ringwald, aka Pee Wee Charles. Ed was Gordon Lightfoot’s steel guitarist for 16 years and if you are a country music fan you have no doubt heard his masterful steel guitar work on records by such artists as George Canyon, Beverley Mahood, Shane Yellowbird, Jim Witter, Jamie Warren, Gord Bamford, Jason Blaine, Jason McCoy and so many more.
Ed started playing steel relatively late in life compared to guitarists that start out as youngsters. “I went to a concert when I was 17 years old and saw Ray Price who had a pedal steel player named Buddy Emmons in his band. I was mesmerized by it; the sound , the look, all of it . I wanted to play that instrument. I got a little lap steel and started learning on that.” Then at age 20, Ed made a decision that would change his life. “I moved to Dallas, Texas in 1972 to study steel guitar with Maurice “Reese” Anderson. It was a period of saturation for me. I lived in a tiny little apartment and did nothing, and I mean nothing , but work on my skills. That’s how dedicated I was. Then I moved back to my hometown of Kitchener, Waterloo and the phone rang a day after I got home. My mom said “It’s Ian Tyson !”. I got on the phone and Ian said ‘I want you to play on my TV show, The Ian Tyson Show with the Great Speckled Bird, no audition needed, I know all about you.’ Wow, I got to back up all the Nashville artists that appeared on his show as part of The Great Speckled Bird as well as a nationally syndicated TV show. It would be an understatement to say it was going well. Then Gordon Lightfoot called me to play on his record and then asked me if I wanted to join his road band. I was comfortable with Ian and the show but couldn’t turn down Gord’s offer. As it turned out Ian’s show ended not long after so it was a wise move. Gordon flew me to Seattle in his private jet to see him playing a show to see if I'd like to join his band. I became a full band member and recorded on all his hits for 16 years, toured the world, playing some of the most amazing Concert Halls on the planet, Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, La Amphitheatre, Greek Theatre, Hollywood Bowl and so many more. Then we did .Saturday Night Live in the John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, we did the Midnight Special as well as movie scores, jingles, and on so many artists recordings. During this period I was called to do some Eagle sessions in New York in 1973 but I couldn't do them as I was at Massey Hall with Lightfoot for 10 days sold out shows that he did every year.”
After 16 years Ed had another choice to make. There are obvious upsides to touring with an artist of Gordon Lightfoot’s caliber but there are downsides as well. “I was missing my family and didn’t want to be gone so much. I made the decision to leave the band and drove out to Gord’s house to tell him in person. He was very gracious and understanding and thanked me for my work and said “I will never replace you Ed” That meant so much to me to hear that from him and he was true his word, he never hired another steel player.
Now Ed had more time at home and could be available for more session work. He has been named Steel Player of the Year by the Canadian Country Music Association 4 times. The most anyone can win in one category is 5 but sadly unless the CCMA has a change of mind, there will not be a 5th award. For reasons known only to them the category of Steel Guitar has been eliminated from the ballot. At the time of this writing there has been no word of reinstating the category despite the disbelief and confusion and social media outcry surrounding the decision. After all nothing says country music like a steel guitar. Here’s hoping more music minded heads prevail.(after this story was submitted the CCMA reversed their elimenation of the category and reinstated the steel guitar effective immediately. Yay !)
At present Ed is really happy to be a part of one of the top bands in Canada, The Western Swing Authority. “The WSA was the brainchild of my fiddle playing friend Shane Guse. The band is modeled after The Time Jumpers in Nashville. We have an amazing lead singer, Stacey Lee Guse, who was a formerly with the hit act Lace. This band is so talented and we have such a blast playing music together. “
To sum it all up the man of steel says, “What a life and career I’ve had so far. I have been so blessed in so many ways. A great career, a beautiful, loving wife, great kids and grandkids, amazing friends musical and otherwise and more good memories than one man can hope for. And I am so grateful and take none of it for granted. Life is a gift, make the most of every minute.”