Sunday, January 20, 2008

Folkobit: John Stewart

The death has been announced of John Stewart, songwriter and member of the Kingston Trio.

Born in 1939, Stewart's earliest musical performances were driven by the-then young and vibrant rock music, leading his own band (called, with only slight derivativeness, Johnny Stewart and the Furies) before eventually turning folkier and winding up in The Cumberland Trio alongside Gil Robbins (father of Tim).

In 1961, Stewart was invited to join the Kingston Trio, who had just separated from Dave Guard. The band had briefly considered offering the job to Roger McGuinn, but Stewart's skills (and an ability to look good wearing the band's trademarks striped shirts, apparently) got him the gig.

He remained with the group for six years, during which they continued to be a regular chart presence - although never quite achieving the heights of their Guard-era Tom Dooley. By 1967, though, the Trio decided their future lay as three solo artists instead, and went their separate ways.

Retained by Capitol Records, Stewart started to write songs - most notably, Daydream Believer for The Monkees, although his work has been recorded by artists including Nanci Griffith and John Baez. In total, he wrote over 600 songs; although his fan base wasn't large enough to propel him to the charts, it was dedicated and he continued to record and play up until his final year.

In recent years, Stewart had been suffering from health problems - a series of ministrokes, and a diagnosis of the onset of Alzheimer's. It's believed that he suffered an aneurysm or major stroke; he died in the same hospital he was born in. He is survived by a wife, Buffy, and four children.


Anonymous said...

From turntable to CD player,from the Mean Fiddler to Macbes this man gave me and my friends so much pleasure and things to talk over.We will miss you John singing to those Wingless Angels.See you along the way.


Anonymous said...

I remembersitting on the floor in 1975 or 76, listening to John's masterful live album "The Phoenix Concerts" with Tom Conry, a friend and musician himself. Songs like "Wheatfield Lady," "The Pirates of Stone County Road," "July, You're a Woman" are among my all-time favorites. I have always loved songwriters who are story-tellers, and John was one of the best. In addition to the songs listed above, his narrative skills were apparent on "Mother Country," one of the finest 'talk-singing' compositions ever, IMHO.

All in all, I think "The Phoenix Concerts" is one of the finest live performance albums ever. I've collected a few of John's other albums over the years, but haven't checked out his newer material in a number of years now. I'm of course saddened to hear about his death, but the news has spurred me to get my hands on his later work. I hope others are similarly motivated.

My condolences to Buffy and his children.

Anonymous said...

I grew up as a huge Kingston Trio fan, and followed John's solo work for awhile-- then kind of lost track. Until last year, that is, when I found "The Day the River Sang" at a Borders store in Mpls. It reminded me of what a talented guy he was, and of my great joy when I convinced may parents to take me to see John, Bob & Nick at the old Mpls. Auditorium in 1965. Thanks for all the great music, John-- RIP.

Anonymous said...

Been in shock about John's death since I heard the news yesterday. My ex husband and I were huge fans of John's, back in the 70's, and in fact I think sharing the love of his music was one of the things that attracted us to one another. Right now I have dug up all my old vinyl and am currently listening to Missouri Birds on the California Bloodlines album. The record is a little scratchy-now here comes July you're A Woman, and I have tears in my eyes. Living in the same town as John and Buffy, I have had the occasion to see them "live" in real life now and then. His music has had a profound effect on my life, and yes Tom, I do intend to find his later works and reacquaint myself. RIP John, and condolences to your family.

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