My Record Collection 187

John Stewart – the ever-flowing music man.   John Stewart had two bites at the success cherry.  A former member and major songwriter for The Kingston Trio in the late 50’s and early 60’s….and as a singer songwriter, who became a real Americana pioneer with a string of excellent albums in the early 70’s, culminating in a spell as a ‘pop-star’ with his single ‘Gold’.  By 1981 however he had no record company and was determined still to do it his way or no way.  He released multiple albums on several different labels ;- I don’t have them all; many were never released on CD but I am still hoping.

Blondes 1982.  This was his first release post the RSO ‘star’ years.  There is still a residue of the more commercial sound, but over all a better sound and a better selection of songs.  No rockers this time but a couple of stand-out tracks are ‘The Eyes Of Sweet Virginia’, ‘Jenny Was A Dreamgirl’ and ‘Queen Of Hollywood High’  

Trancas 1984.  Well, a bit of a let down I felt; the songs just seemed to lack any oomph really.  Only ‘Pilots In Blue’ and ‘The Chosen’ stand out from a dull bunch of songs.

Centennial (Later re-released as American Sketches) 1984 – a real gem, and a one-off; an instrumental with just John displaying his remarkable guitar skills.  The album only has four tracks, each featuring a few melodies.  The album has a warm feel and it is really all of a piece – the ‘songs’ are timeless and could have been recorded yesterday.  This was released on his own Homecoming label.

The Last Campaign 1985 – This is a re-recording of several songs that were written, either on or about, the Presidential bid of Robert Kennedy in 1968, which of course ended in his assassination.  Robert was far more of a Socialist than his brother John.  John Stewart and Buffy Ford toured the country with him.  These songs have all been released long ago, but here John sings them slower and far more poignantly as a permanent memorial to (who was by then) the only living son.  A hauntingly beautiful collection of quiet and moving songs. 

Punch the Big Guy 1987  – Not sure about this one, not his best and not his worst.  Still, part of the collection – best were ‘Angels With Guns’, ‘Midnight Of The World’ and ‘Strange Rivers’.  Amazing how many great artists of the Sixties and Seventies seemed to struggle in the Eighties.

Deep In The Neon – Live 1991 – Apparently John was now issuing on his own label ‘Neon’.  This is a very quiet album, obviously an intimate setting – Just John and his guitar mostly.  Great versions of some of his best songs ‘She Believes In Me’, a wonderful version of ‘Daydream Believer’ and a couple of songs I didn’t know – ‘the Man Who Would Be King’ and ‘Irresistible Targets’.  Really a great album.

Neon Beach – 1991 Another live album, this time with a band.  Lots of previously unrecorded songs; a really great concert.  Also, a tendency for the songs to expand much longer than the usual three minutes.  An excellent version of a Tim Hardin song ‘Angel Came From Baltimore’.  In the final song he seamlessly moves from ‘Gold’ to Paul Simon’s ‘Boy In The Bubble’.  A very nice album.

Bullets In The Hourglass – 1992 Another rather good album, he just seems able to rattle off new songs at will – but maybe it is a bit more complicated than that.  Best among a great set are – ‘Irresistible Targets’, ‘Seven Times The Wind’ and ‘The Wheel Within The Clay’.

Teresa And The Lost Songs – 1992   Not my favourite album…just a bit flat.

Airdream Believer – 1995 is a re-recording of many of his best songs.   His voice is a bit rougher, but more plaintive somehow.  Best songs are the mostly spoken – ‘I Remember America’, ‘The Ghost Inside Of Me’, ‘Justiceville’ and ‘Reverend Mr. Black’. (all unknown to me and equally brilliant).  Of course the old hits are great too.

Bandera – 1995 Another great album, mainly live gain – but so well sung and played.  John has become by now the true voice of America – maybe a lost America, or an idea of America.  Best songs  – ‘Ghost Of The Superchief’ (another spoken reminiscence of America), ’Monkey Boy’ and ‘Evangeline’.

The Trio Years – 1996 This is a retrospective re-recording of several songs written and originally performed in the late fifties and early sixties by The Kingston Trio.  Not really my style – but I like ‘One More Town’ and ‘Chilly Winds’.  Much later in John’s long career he did a few concerts again with The Trio.

An American Folksong Anthology – 1996 These are almost childish folksongs.  Not my favourite album.

Live At The Turf Inn Scotland – 1996 This album is credited to John and long-time singing and marital partner Buffy Ford.  A bit of a disappointment actually; John’s voice was a bit croaky and quite subdued versions of his songs.  I have to sometimes ask myself “just how many live albums do you need?”  I haven’t answered yet.

Rough Sketches – 1997 Not bad even though these are almost demo’s mosty. But what songs…’Cadillac Ranch’, ‘Spirit Of The Road’,’Johnny Flamingo and the Blue Dream Road’ and ‘Because of A Dancer’.  In fact not a poor track, great album.

John Stewart & Darwins Army – 1999   I don’t know much about this collaboration, but it works well…a variety of singers and john’s great songs and a few covers; ‘My Back Pages’ and ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ and some great originals too.  A nice album.

Wires From The Bunker – 2000  – A mixed bag, best of 18 tracks are ‘Diamonds In the Coal’, ‘Rockin as the Night Rolls On’ and ‘American Way’.

Havana 2003 – John’s vice at times no more than a whisper, but great none the less.  I like this album…best are ‘Davey On The Internet’, ‘Who Stole The Heart Of Johnny Blue’ and ‘Waiting For Castro To Die’. 

The Day The River Sang – 2006 – Not his best really, but okay as part of the never ending collection.  Apart from ‘Baby. It’s You’ the rest are just about okay.

So, we eventually come to the end of John Stewart, who died in 2009.   An almost unsung hero of the true American music.