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Ed Ward, Rock Critic And Historian, Dead At 72

Ed Ward, photographed in the <em>Rolling Stone</em> office in December, 1970 in San Francisco.
Robert Altman
Getty Images
Ed Ward, photographed in the Rolling Stone office in December, 1970 in San Francisco.

Ed Ward, an incisive former critic and editor for Rolling Stone and longtime contributor to WHYY's Fresh Air, died this week in his home in Austin, Texas. He was 72 years old.

Ward was known for the historical precision of his work — who was playing what, who was friends with whom, what they were imbibing. In a piece on the label Paramount Records, Ward described the legendary Charlie Patton on Fresh Air in 2015 as "... a towering figure who was looked up to by most of the other Mississippi bluesmen ... Once his records began to sell, Patton would load up a car with his friends, his girlfriends, his ex-girlfriends and some whiskey and head to Grafton, Wis., to record. One of those friends was [the also-now-legendary blues player and singer] Son House." The details, both incidental and integral, were typical of Ward's work.

Born in 1948, one can find Ward's byline across all of the early rock magazines — principally Crawdaddy, Creem and Rolling Stone, the latter where he worked for a time as the reviews editor. He eventually moved to Austin, Texas — a city he became a relentless booster for.

In 2016, Ward published The History of Rock And Roll, Volume 1 – its sequel followed in 2019; both remain rigorous books that fastidiously surveyed the genre's formative history from 1920 to 1977.

In its first volume, Ward was committed to preserving the work of acts integral to rock's development, despite not having reached the heights of an Elvis or Ray Charles – the types of figures who would only be appreciated long after they were gone.

Ward told various interviewers a third volume would have traced the history up until the 2000s Napster era, though it was never finished.

In a 2016 interview with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Ward was asked if he had any regrets about his career or life. He replied, after a life spent tracing the past: "A little late for that, don't you think?"

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
Rose Friedman is an Associate Editor for NPR's Arts, Books & Culture desk. She edits radio pieces on a range of subjects, including books, pop culture, fine arts, theater, obituaries and the occasional Harry Potter-check-in. She is also co-creator of NPR's annual Book Concierge and the podcast recommendation site In addition, Rose has edited commentaries for the network, as well as regular features like This Week's Must Read on All Things Considered.