Tuesday, January 22, 2008

John Stewart, 1939-2008

John Stewart, whom we had written about not so long ago as the spiritual forefather of We Five and, thus, of its dandy hit "You Were on My Mind," dead at the age of 68. Stewart first made his mark as a member of the folk trio the Cumberland Three (alongside Gil Robbins, father of future Tapeheads star Tim Robbins) before being tapped to join the Kingston Trio in 1961 when founding member Dave Guard left.

Stewart was aboard for Trio hits like "Greenback Dollar" and the magisterial "Take Her Out of Pity," but the folk boom soon petered out, and Stewart began writing songs for other artists, including the Monkees' "Daydream Believer." (Stewart had originally written the line "Now you know how funky I can be," which Davy Jones changed to "Now you know how happy I can be," maybe because neither the Monkees nor the Kingston Trio nor John Stewart was ever funky a day in their lives.)

Then in the late 1970s, Stewart had himself a most unlikely - well, it's not even a comeback, because Stewart never had any solo hits at all until, pushing forty, he landed in the Top Ten with "Gold" in the summer of 1979. Somehow, he got Stevie Nicks to sing backup on that one, and Lindsey Buckingham to play guitar, at a time when those two, with Fleetwood Mac, were two of the biggest stars in the music business. His followup, "Midnight Wind," was sort of the reverse of "Gold" - a terrific title but an utterly banal song - and ducked into the Top Forty for five weeks in the fall of '79. After one more minor solo hit, he was gone.

In his later years, Stewart and follow ex-Kingston Tri-ite Nick Reynolds offered fans the Trio Fantasy: singing old hits alongside two members of the classic group. I don't know how much that would have cost you, but it doesn't matter now.


Anonymous said...

this is a really cynical and totally inadequate assessment of a truly great person and a terrific songwriter... to bad, you missed the whole notion of this man's talent and his contribution to a whole array of musicians who loved him.

T. Nawrocki said...

I'm really sorry you feel that way. It was necessarily going to be inadequate, since I am not really capable of encapsulating a man's entire life in a blog post, but I was a fan of Stewart's work, and didn't intend to be cynical about him at all.

If you have anything specific to contribute about John Stewart's talent and the musicians who loved him, I'd love to be able to publish it.