Country music fans will remember Edgel Groves and his No. 1 hit “Footprints in the Sand.” Based on the poem of the same name, the song sold millions of copies and the record held the top spot on the Country music charts for weeks and was a crossover hit, soaring to the No. 1 spot on Christian and Country Gospel radio. DJs throughout the country voted it the No. 1 requested song of 1981. Edgel Groves is the first artist to record the song, and the only one to have a hit with it. His success is credited with making the poem popular even to this day.
Opportunist: Where are you from?
Edgel: I was born in Richwood, West Virginia, a small lumber/coal-mining town near the Virginia border, and raised in Akron, Ohio. Akron is an industrial town with lots of factories. During the war General Tire, Goodrich, Firestone and Goodyear had their factories and headquarters there. It is also home to the Soap Box Derby. [Laughs]
Opportunist: What inspired you to pursue a music career?
Edgel: I was born into a musical family. My father was a musical person, as were all the people in his and my mother’s family. He also was a minister and we were used to building lots of churches. Each of my five siblings plays music. At age four I was playing the mandolin, and by the time I was eight I had picked up the guitar. I also play the bass, the piano and a little bit of fiddle. I always wanted to be a recording artist since I was a child. I was still a child when Elvis came out and I related to his music and wanted to go forward with that.
Opportunist: Do you have any formal training?
Edgel: As Glen Campbell would say, “Not enough to hurt me.” [Laughs] I learned mostly by ear. Music school might tell you how to record, but you cannot get the total education in school. I was fortunate through the years to learn from everybody else on the streets, just like Quincy Jones. From two-track to four-track to eight-track and eventually digital—after 24-track—recording is a process. There are tons of valuable tricks you pick up along the way. You’ll find that most trade musicians have learned from others and advanced themselves that way—not on paper. For example, you might discover something from a previous recording session and say “Hey, let’s do this, this and this and put this sound on that and come out with this.” You can’t be taught, formally anyway, how to create and expand with your mind. To this day I’m still learning and I think Oh my goodness, I never thought of that. You’re never too old to learn.
Opportunist: When did you start writing music?
Edgel: I started formulating songs as a child and started sending them out to record labels and distribution houses when I was 13 years old—without really knowing what I was doing. I had the old 7-½ ips reel-to-reel recordings. I had to borrow one from somebody or do without. I would send those off to distribution houses or record labels.
When I was 17, I picked up my guitar and went to Los Angeles.
Opportunist: Did you have any luck there?
Edgel: I walked into RCA Victor with my dad’s old ‘49 Gibson guitar—in those days you could do that—and when the secretary asked, “What can I do for you?” I told her I came to record for RCA. I had the whole Elvis bit down, complete with a spit curl, and I was dressed in a blue suit and Beetle-style Spanish looking boots.
Opportunist: What was her reaction?
Edgel: She replied with an “Oh really?” and started laughing. So I said, “Yeah. Want me to play something for you?” She declined with a “no, no, no,” and quickly called for the A&R Director. He came out and she told him “This young man says he came to record for RCA.” He chuckled and asked if I had any demos or originals. So, again, I offered to play something. He didn’t want to hear me either, and told me there was a recording studio right down the street.
Long story short, I went down to the recording studio and told them RCA had sent me. They bought it, and offered me a recording session. That guy played every instrument except the guitar, so, together, we made a complete ensemble. After we recorded four little demos, I walked back down to RCA and presented them with a bill for $180.
Opportunist: That took some chutzpah.
Edgel: The secretary asked what it was and I told her it was a bill for the demos because he [the A&R Director] told me to go down there and record. He came out laughing and said “Son, I like you.” He paid the bill, we became good friends and I started doing RCA demo work.
Opportunist: Do you have any industry stories to share?
Edgel: I ran into Mike Landon—Little Joe to “Bonanza” fans—through some friends. We started hanging out, although he was much older than I was, and became good friends. I used to get upset because his baby would sit in the middle of the floor and chew on his “Bonanza” boots. I was like, You’re not supposed to be touching those—those are famous boots. Meanwhile, Mike was over on the other side of the room playing pinochle and drinking beer. He was good to me and set up a screen test with 20th Century Fox and a whole bunch of other opportunities. I did well while I was out there. But, like a crazy person, I left too soon.
Opportunist: Why do you say that?
Edgel: I never took advantage of the screen test. I had set it up and then the person administering the test went to Europe for two weeks. By the time he returned, I had returned to Ohio with my cousin. He had promised my mom that he’d bring me back home. I never did go back to L.A., which is a shame because I believe I was sitting right on the edge of a big break.
Opportunist: Did you continue to pursue your dream of recording music?
Edgel: Yes, I continued to record and had a number of records out—primarily regional hits in Ohio and also in Georgia—over the years. I even went to Nashville for a short period. I played a song for the famous Moss Rose publishing house, and Hubert Long International and they took me under their wings and had a story on me released in Stars and Stripes. I opened the King of the Road Hotel for Roger Miller that was located across the river from downtown Nashville.
After Nashville, I went to Atlanta and got in with Bill Lowery of Bill Lowery Music Publishing and was an artist for his label, Southern Tracks Records. I also produced and wrote for him for 12 years. The Atlanta Rhythm Section were my dearest friends at that time. I also recorded with Joe South, who wrote “Games People Play,” “Down in the Boondocks” and “Rose Garden”—Billy Joe Royal was the recipient of some of those songs—and Tommy Roe, who wrote “Sheila,” “Dizzy” and “Everybody” and had $30 million in record sales. Those are older guys now and, sadly enough, we have all grown apart.
Edgel: My friends [the music duo] Buckner & Garcia [Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia of “Pac Man Fever” fame] from my hometown of Akron produced the track for “Footprints in the Sand” and asked me to do it. I was just coming off a bunch of regional Rock ‘n’ Roll hits and didn’t want to do it because it was inspirational and more Christian oriented. Not that I am not, but I was reluctant to do it because I knew I would be pigeonholed after that. I told Buckner & Garcia that I didn’t want to do it, but it was October of 1980 and they convinced me to record it as a Christmas gift for my parents. So I said, “Sure, that’s a good idea.” I recorded the song and never thought anything would come of it.
Opportunist: Was it an instant hit?
Edgel: Yes, it became No. 1 in Detroit and within a week it was No. 1 in Chicago and then Alexandria, Va., which is basically Washington, D.C. They flew me to D.C. and I helped raise money for [construction of] the Vietnam Wall.
In New York City it became No. 1 at both big Country stations, and then it exploded across the nation. It was played on the BBC [in the U.K.] and on cruise ships, airplanes and even in Johannesburg and eventually became a No. 1 hit around the world.
Opportunist: Who wrote the poem?
Edgel: It is anonymous and a judge ruled it was a national treasure. Buckner & Garcia put music to it and they get royalties off that adaptation. The record exploded the poem into an entity of its own. Still today you see it on plaques and Bible markers and books and T-shirts and hats and everything.
Opportunist: Have other people recorded the song since you had a hit with it?
Edgel: Others, who wanted to get royalties for themselves, have put their own arrangement of words and music to it and never used ours. Since the words are anonymous, they would put their own music adaptation to it.
Opportunist: Do you consider “Footprints” your biggest career accomplishment?
Edgel: That was my 15 minutes of fame. [Laughs] I have done a lot of things in and around music and have been onstage and recorded with a few of the greats and produced a lot of people and written a lot of songs in my life. My Rock ‘n’ Roll career was over after that, though, and I had to accept the fact that I was put here to be a messenger.
That was it.
Being in music and persevering is an accomplishment in and of itself. People give up. They are so close to making it and they don’t even know it.
Opportunist: Who influenced you most, musically?
Edgel: Lots of people influenced me directly and indirectly. Elvis. A lot of the old guitar pickers from West Virginia and Kentucky and Ohio. Chet Atkins became a good friend—before that he was my hero on guitar—and Wes Montgomery, who was the total opposite but I love jazz music. Chet and I would pick and grin and have fun.
I recorded in the studio with Sly and The Family Stone. Sly was a little chubby boy who was a weekend DJ in San Francisco. I was at Coast Records with him when he wrote “The Swim” for artist Bobby Freeman, which was based on a dance kids were doing on the beach by the Golden Gate Bridge. He was a genius in the studio and created new sounds and new ideas. I learned a lot watching and listening to him. Joe Walsh, who’s with the Eagles now. He was Joe Walsh and the Measles back then, and then Joe Walsh and the James Gang. His drive and creativity were an influence but not the man himself. I thought he was off the wall crazy because he was playing Jimi Hendrix stuff before I had heard of Jimi. I would cover my ears and beg him to stop playing. Thank goodness he didn’t.
The music industry is like any business. Whether you’re in real estate or construction or plumbing, you know the people in the business and you rub elbows and you’re happy for them when they become a star because you saw them struggle along the way. You think of them as the way you knew them: as someone who was just like you.
Opportunist: What other accomplishments are you proud of?
Edgel: I have two sons. One is doing very well in the rock arena as the head of a record label in the Netherlands. My other son just graduated from an elite class in the U.S. Navy. I attended his pinning ceremony and left with tears in my eyes because out of 200 candidates he was one of only 15 who finished. It’s a tough school. He is a remarkable young man. I am very proud of both my boys. They are very fine human beings and wholesome all-American young men. Both are driven, and I don’t know where they get it. [Laughs]
Opportunist: What other songs have you written or produced?
Edgel: When I was in Nashville, I wrote songs that were presented to but never recorded by Elvis. My songs were presented to a ton of stars when I was there. My hits were regional hits like “Have a Little Faith in Your Man,” “Don’t Remind Me” and “Wall Socket Baby.”
Opportunist: “Wall Socket Baby?”
Edgel: [Laughs] That’s a little novelty song that I wrote at 3 o’clock in the morning—and I don’t drink or do drugs and never have—when I was looking at a wall socket and trying to think of a song.
Opportunist: Have you done any commercial work or advertising jingles?
Edgel: I wrote tons of local jingles in Atlanta, for different businesses such as furniture companies and car dealerships. Some friends of mine did a ton of those in a recording studio. That’s all they did all day. I even wrote a jingle for Hancock Fabrics years ago.
I didn’t do anything national. We can’t all be Barry Manilow. [Laughs]
Opportunist: Which segment of the music industry generates the most revenue?
Edgel: Writers and publishers make the most money on royalties from songs unless, of course, you have a No. 1 hit as the artist and the record label doesn’t mess you over. Then you can make a lot of money on sales, concerts and branding. Performance royalties go on forever, based upon plays as well as mechanical sales. Let’s say I had two or three songs on a CD that sold 10 million copies, but none of my songs were the radio hit but were still on the CD that sold 10 million copies. I would get mechanical royalties from every sale. Performance royalties from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC go on and on forever. Some get as much as $5 a play on old stuff. People like Joe South, who wrote all those hit songs and became a million seller at least three or four times apiece, still collect a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in royalties.
Opportunist: We understand you were also a stockbroker?
Edgel: Yes. Once I had my hit record and realized I wasn’t going to be a rock artist anymore I decided to go into business and bought a NASDAQ franchise and became an investment banker and stockbroker. I was a Regional V.P. for the firm, as well as running my own full service firm.
Opportunist: Being an artist, were you good at facts and figures?
Edgel: I know that business like the back of my hand, as well as the music business. There are certainly more things that you have to know that are black and white, whereas in music there is a lot of gray area…and creativity.
I became extremely successful until I found out that I had placed all my trust in the wrong person. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my money was being funneled to other parts of the world, in different securities in different banks.
About four years ago I decided to totally throw myself back into music and do what I love the most.
Opportunist: Please tell us about some of your current projects.
I am also trying to acquire a recording complex that includes a brand-new, state-of-the-art 5,000-square-foot recording studio. It includes the latest digital recording equipment. A friend is working on it with me and we have already completed the private placement memorandum [PPM].
Opportunist: How did you find out about the property?
Edgel: I was on Facebook and one of my friends in real estate, who is also an attorney, had just posted the listing online and asked if anybody was interested. At first glance I thought no and then it just kind of spoke to me. I felt that I needed to check it out. It was just a spiritual thing, actually, and so I checked it out in depth and was totally blown away. I called the real estate agent and she connected me with the owner who, it turns out, is from West Virginia. That was another confirmation for me. Also, my son wants a place to expand his label and record in the United States, so it’s a perfect scenario for him and me to be in and write songs and produce and do session work.
Opportunist: Where do you see yourself in the coming years?
Edgel: Producing music in the studio. That’s why I want to pursue this opportunity that came to me out of the blue. I never really thought I’d want to own a studio tied to a piece of land. I wanted to do it independently. My son wants to expand his label into the United States. It’s a brand-new property about 25 minutes north of Nashville with a nice home, incredible studio and huge warehouse that you could park a tour bus in! It’s perfect. It just spoke to me when I saw it. I have visited twice and feel like this is where I belong. Now I am just trying to make it happen. Years ago, I could have opened up my broker’s book and called about 20 guys and said “Send me about $100,000 apiece.” So now I have the PPM [private placement memorandum] and I am seeking investors to purchase the Nashville complex, using debenture bonds that pay a great rate of interest and that are backed 100 percent by the property. So, anyone who is interested can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send them a PPM in a PDF format.
I have also wanted to write a book called He Carried Me about my journey as the original recording artist of “Footprints.”
Visit Edgel Groves Online
“Footprints in the Sand”
Edgel Groves with Rick Pitts
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.