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Ed Ward, Rock Critic and Historian, Is Dead at 72 | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Ed Ward, Rock Critic and Historian, Is Dead at 72

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Following his years in Austin, Mr. Ward went to Berlin in the mid-1990s to work for a planned magazine that died before its publication, and then to Montpellier, France. During his years in Europe he wrote freelance articles, continued to contribute to “Fresh Air” (where he had been since 1987) and worked as a bartender.

He returned to Austin in 2013 and set to work on “The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1963,” which was published in 2016. A second volume, taking the music’s history up to 1977, was published in 2019. But his publisher declined to publish a third one because the second book’s sales had not been as good the first one’s.

Although familiar names like Elvis and the Beatles are in the first book, so are those of Black artists like Earl Palmer, the drummer on Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” and many other classic New Orleans records, and Lowman Pauling, the guitarist and principal songwriter of the R&B group the “5” Royales.

“There is this misconception that on some day in 1954, Elvis invented everything all at once, and not only is that wrong, it’s really simplistic and unfair.,” he told The American-Stateman in 2016. “There’s almost no knowledge of the Black music of the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s and the degree to which that shaped the sound out of which Elvis came.”

The book was, in a way, an outgrowth of Mr. Ward’s “Fresh Air” work. In segments lasting just seven or eight minutes, he would tell compelling, detailed stories about musicians and groups, both famous and obscure.

“I think that’s Ed’s most distinguished work,” Mr. Marcus said in a phone interview. “They were so interesting and well produced and so sharp. I’m not ignorant in this field, but every so often he’d present a segment about something I’d never heard of. He was a great explorer, a great excavator.”

But in 2017, when “Fresh Air” declined to interview him about his book, he quit.

“To leave ‘Fresh Air’ was a dangerous thing to do,” Mr. Patoski said, “and it hurt him because that’s how people knew him.”


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