Music journalist Ben Edmonds dies at 65

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

Award-winning music journalist Ben Edmonds died at his home in Detroit on Friday morning after a battle with pancreatic cancer that lasted most of last year. He was 65.

Edmonds, who was also a band manager and record company executive over the course of his career, was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, on June 8, 1950. But as a student at Ohio Wesleyan in 1970, he found himself drawn north to the music and pop cultural circus that was Detroit and Ann Arbor. He soon dropped out of college to be part of that circus.

He found a home in the creative, chaotic offices of Creem, then in Walled Lake. He was an editor there from 1971 until the spring of 1975, when it was in Birmingham.

Leaving Detroit, Edmonds freelanced for a number of publications, including Rolling Stone, and worked as manager of the post-Jim Morrison Doors for a time. He also was an A&R executive at various labels, including EMI Capitol and Arista in New York, London and Los Angeles. While at Capitol, he discovered and signed the band Mink DeVille.

He used to joke that one night in London, he did his laundry instead of going to check out a young band named U2, for signing.

In Detroit, Edmonds’ courtesy and reserve set him off from his Creem cohorts.

“He was a New Englander, he wasn’t putting everything on the table and demanding answers in a few seconds, like the rest of us — like Lester (Bangs) and me anyway,” said Dave Marsh.

“But if he believed in something, he would carry it through,” Marsh said. “His role in Iggy and the Stooges’ success hasn’t been thoroughly credited, especially keeping them together at a critical moment.”

Although he was from New England, Edmonds was more embedded in the Detroit music scene than a native. “Ben was the quintessential insider,” said Creem’s Jaan Uhelszki. “He was a friend and confidante of the MC5, he had access to them, always.”

He was also “the best-dressed of our tribe,” Uhelszki said, often dressing all in white. But it was his writing that was most unique.

“Although understated in demeanor, he was the best writer of all of us,” said Uhelszki. “He had a sense of nuance and context, drama and tension on a par with Melville. His stories were more like mini-novels than journalism.”

That talent was recognized early, said his younger sister Nancy Paull of Westport, Mass. “He had a high school teacher who told him, ‘I just want you to write, write write, you write so beautifully.’ ”

Edmonds wrote the much-admired 2001 book, “Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On and the Last Days of the Motown Sound” about Marvin Gaye’s 1971 Motown classic, and had been working on a biography about the MC5 for years. He was nominated for a Grammy Award twice, and won two ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor writing awards, most recently, in 2013, for “Kill City Revisited: Confessions of a Fool for The Stooges,” published by Warner Music Single Notes.

“He always discovered bands,” said Marsh, even after his A&R days were over. “I love the Detroit Cobras, and that was his last gift to me, that he sent (Cobras member) Mary (Restrepo) to me when she came to New York, so I got a new band I loved.”

Ultimately, Marsh was most impressed by Edmonds’ demeanor since his cancer diagnosis.

“Ben worked the hardest, accomplished as much as any of us did, maybe a little more, but in the end, it was his courage to face this thing down without panicking that was I think remarkable,” Marsh said.

Restrepo, his longtime partner, was with Edmonds when he died at their Detroit home, where his quiet life was unchanged. She recalled his “incredible” sense of humor, and fondness for their six cats, that he’d started feeding one by one as strays. Every one eventually found their way “into the house, then onto the sofa, then… he was a sort of Dr. Doolittle,” she said, with a laugh.

Apart from Restrepo, he is survived by two sisters; Nancy Paull of Westport, Mass., and Katharine Paty of Atlanta, and two nephews and a niece. There will be a private cremation, and no service.

Susan Whitall is a former Creem editor and longtime music writer.