The John Stewart Collection

(Image from the cover of the Willard LP)

Years of Long Letters from a Good Friend,
the Plainspoken Poet Who Didn't Know Our Name
(but knew us well)

John Stewart moved on over the next ridgeline, the one we all have to climb eventually, in January, 2008. It has taken a little over two years since then to begin the update of these entries about his music. Most of his performances and songs are just plain timeless, so what was the rush? "We'll do it when we can," we said...

It has been the experience of the folks who hang out around the Archive Project that very few people outside the Phoenix area start listening to John Stewart because they heard a song on the radio.

Most people start listening to Stewart because somebody said something like, "Sit down, shut up, listen to this, and I'll tell you when you can talk." Some people are more gentle than that, but it's pretty much the same message. He gets passed from friend to friend, but hardly anyone will loan you an album or disk. And practically everyone has a story about how they started listening to him...

Here's one:

The Fourth of July, 1972, was beautiful in San Diego. Most of the parties in the Mission Beach area were actually in the alleys. You could just wander—and be welcome wherever you stopped. There was a lot of music. There were little pick-up bands and people had set up record players outside, or run wires from the turntable and amp out the window to speakers, but nobody had it cranked up. It was nice. You could walk from one sound to another, without overlap, and the music would pull you in to hear it better, not push you away with the noise.

Some folks had driven straight through from a huge armor, mech infantry and cavalry exercise at Fort Irwin, north of San Bernadino and Barstow in the high Mojave, just south of Death Valley. It had been tough—two weeks plus, snatching sleep while your tank rolled through the night, 113 degree-average days with a couple over 130, night-lightning storms out of a movie. Life included very large bugs, super fine sand and dust, extremely broken tracks, that sort of thing. San Diego sounded really, really good. The summer of '72 wasn't a very good time to be in uniform in public in some parts of the country, especially in airports, but it was getting a little better. On that day in San Diego it didn't matter whether you looked like a soldier or not. 

Guys with military short cuts, some with truly incredible sunburns, were drinking beer next to long-hairs with funny eyes and nobody cared. Or maybe if they cared, they left. Whatever was going on, it was an ad hoc, temporary, real community. It lasted all day and deep into the night, and the people went away before the feeling did.

Harry and Shirley Scholten had taken a break from working the line and her little school down by the Mexican border. They invited some friends to the small house between Mission Bay and the seawall where they lived before going back to South Dakota to raise little girls and large, web-toed dogs. About mid-afternoon, Harry put down his guitar and said something like, "Now I want you to hear somebody really good." The voice was familiar, but it was hard to put a name to it. The album was called California Bloodlines. It blew us away. It turned out the guy's name was John Stewart and we were remembering the voice from the "second" Kingston Trio. It had been some few years. Things had changed. So had he.

Here was this guy singing, "Oh, Mother Country, I do love you..." on the Fourth of July, at the end of the middle of the Vietnam War, and tapping into the common memories of common folks in a way that wasn't really folk, or country or rock and roll, but a little of all of them and a lot of him. It was rough and real and road-weary, and it sliced through all the cynicism and emotional armor that had been getting us through life for a terrible long time.

The best part was that there wasn't just one album by that time. Three of them came in by special order and, after haunting the aisles at the Electric Fetus back home in the Twin Cities for a couple of weeks, another was found a little later. He had recorded four albums in four years, and you could take an audio bath in this stuff if your timing was right. It was. We did.

He never stopped. In the forty-some-odd years since then, Stewart's songs and the changes they reflected have been a constant thread intersecting the collective American life-line. More than a few of us wonder if we could have gotten through all this without him. The albums seemed to come when we needed them. They got worn out and replaced, but the old ones were never thrown away. After a pocket knife has been sharpened down to where it's too thin for heavy use, is it thrown away? Heck, no. It gets retired to the drawer full of special stuff, because it would be like throwing away a piece of your life. Same thing with the albums.

It got to the point, for some of us, that we could almost feel when it was time for another long letter from this guy who had become our good friend, even if he didn't know our names. Some of us have people like that in our lives, who do know our names—and addresses. Every once in a while there will be a letter. And it will basically be an honest, kind, and open epistle along the lines of— "Here's how things are in my world, with a little white-out over the really scary parts. There was some bad stuff that made me stronger. There was some good stuff I want to share. The other day, something made me realize how much I love the person who shares my life and I have to describe how strong the feeling was. Here's a couple of things that made me laugh. Here's one that made me cry. You are special to me, and I am counting on you to keep out of the ditches. I'm going to be out of touch for a while, but I'll be thinking about you. Hope you'll do the same. Later...." His albums were exactly like that.

With John Stewart, one went to the General Delivery Counter at the Electric Fetus, or some store that felt right in some town along the way, and picked up his latest when the time also felt right. Or there might be one you had missed in a cut-out bin. Or you hung around a record store until they let you use the Schwann catalogue to see if he had anything new. Often enough, a special order would turn up, and the timing was always absolutely perfect...arriving when we needed it—not when we wanted it.

After about 1975 or 1976, some folks would copy the record directly to a cassette and listen to it in the car. Somehow or other, these long, beautiful letters from a friend sounded better behind the sound of a V-8 engine, with the volume cranked up. They would sustain and enrich us through those long nights when we were sticking highway under the back end of the thing we were driving just to get somewhere. And they sounded especially meaningful and beautiful on those two-in-the-morning, all-downhill roads that led home to someone special.

There's a question lurking here. "John Stewart was from California. He said so in the first song of the first solo album. He was born there and he lived there. What's he got to do with the northern plains? Anyway?"

Good question.

The answer is point of view. This part of the nation is just like all the others. It's defined by the regular people who live in it, work in it, raise kids in it and die in it. But there are some old American veins that seem a little closer to the surface here than elsewhere. Maybe the wind blows some of the spillage off. The pure stuff, with all its contrariness and compassion and cussedness and beauty and pride and shame, seems to be exposed with a little more frequency around here than in some other places we've been. And the pure stuff is what this guy's music is all about.

As the years went by and the albums piled up, and this man somehow kept finding a way to tell our truths, we would find that there were cycles and rhythms and patterns to the gifts he gave so freely. Above all else, there would be an abiding love for the American language and its sounds and subtleties and humor. Time and again, he would give us a snapshot or sketch of someone seen for an instant from a moving train or automobile, or standing backlit in the upstairs window of an otherwise dark house we were walking past. And he would tell us a story about that person—sometimes in the first-person and sometimes in the third, and sometimes both at the same time. Some of the people he showed us were salt-of-the-earth, and some were just plain salty, and some of them were the sides of ourselves we don't brag about. But they were all real, all human, all treated with affection, and all a part of that greater whole we are proud to be a part of.

Top-40 radio has relied (with the occasional exception) on catchy musical passages to hook us into turning up the volume on a song. With Stewart, the main hook was in the words—and the point of view they have eloquently and gently expressed. This guy liked us, in all our imperfections and glories. And no, that doesn't mean the music behind the words is unremarkable. Far from it. There are songs in his catalogue that demand that you dance, whatever your abilities and inhibitions. There are songs that nail you musically to your seat and require that you play them again, immediately. But the thing that will bubble along in your head and be waiting for you when you wake up is the flow, rhythm, art and choice of words. The poetry of this plain-spoken man is so rich, so filled with nuance and metaphor, so perfectly tuned to his times and ours, that his relative obscurity is breath-taking if we consider the loss to "greater" America. The fact that we also get incredible musical craft and artistry, from him and those he has chosen to accompany him, sweetens even further his gifts to these long letters from a friend...

If you sometimes want to go in search of America—the nation, not the country—but you don't know where to start, then you should have at least two John Stewart albums on that special shelf where you only keep the songs you need against the promise of hard times. They are California Bloodlines and Wingless Angels. If you look hard enough, you can find the originals on used vinyl (and we might be able to help with that), and they are included on the CD's we offer, in combination with other John Stewart albums. But we don't think you'll stop with these two, which is good, because he has other songs and other albums that you will end up putting with those two. And that's especially true if your mental image of the trip to chase the nation is a winding two-lane, not an interstate.


One of the things we have noticed about authors and artists we think are important is that it is often very difficult to locate a single place, in either the real world or "L-space," where everything available in their catalogues can actually be found. Too often too much of their work is out of print. We plan to address this for selected authors and recording artists, so that if you share our enthusiasms, you can basically "get it all" —in one place. Jack Weatherford was the first author we selected. John Stewart is the first recording artist. We don't do this stuff lightly.

Please note that what follows is not a "discography." The albums aren't purely in the sequence they were issued. There are links  at the bottom of each page to websites offering pure discographies and a lot more about John Stewart. Here, there is some commentary about each album, and some of the songs we particularly think should be brought to your attention. Just because a song doesn't have commentary doesn't mean it isn't a great one, or well worth your time. Some of them mean so much to us that we can't come up with adequate words. And one of the joys of exploring the music of John Stewart is that of finding hidden treasures. We are not about to deny this to you. (Plus we don't have time to cover every one of the more than 600 songs this guy has written. We're thinking seriously about including song comments from others, and as time goes on we will comment on more of them, so keep watching.) But please remember that the comments are our opinions. Opinions are a lot like armpits. Everybody ought to have at least two, but that doesn't mean they should necessarily be shown in public. Yours may differ. Great! The important thing is the artist and his music. We will be including samples of some songs, as soon as we sort out the legalities.

Every album Stewart has ever issued in his post-Kingston Trio career is available in some form, mostly compact disks. Because these albums reach back over 40 years, and due to the vagaries of the music business, many have gone out of print, and we must search for them on the secondary market, at premium prices. Our prices must reflect our costs of acquisition, and all orders are subject to our acceptance. We must reserve the right, on all orders, to limit or reduce quantities and issue refunds when we cannot accept any portion of an order. If you are not a dealer, it is unlikely that these policies will affect you. And we know of nowhere else you can order from the entire catalogue of this pivotally important American artist.

The John Stewart Collection—Shelf One

Signals Through the Glass
1968 Capital release on LP
Produced by Voyle Gilmore

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Photography by Henry Diltz

There are countless stories about the period between John Stewart giving his notice that he would be leaving the Kingston Trio and the release of his first solo album. There were almost trios, with people like John Phillips and Scott McKenzie (formerly of the Journeymen, and both about to have some rather significant success in groups like the Mamas and Papas, or solo). There were almost duos, with people like John Denver. What there was, however, was one album with Buffy Ford, who, a few years later, would become Buffy Ford Stewart.

Listening to this album will turn your clock back about 40 years. It is not the John Stewart sound that we got hooked on. There are echoes of arrangements from groups like the Association and others. There are strings. There is brass. There is a real effort on the part of the people who were producing and supervising and packaging to sound "popular." Some of it sounds a little dated all these years later, unlike the completely timeless solo albums that were a year away.

But there are also those lyrics. And there are those incredible harmonies. It has been said that John Stewart sounds more like himself when Buffy sings with him. It is certain that some sort of magic goes on. It was first recorded and released here.

Two of these songs would be pretty much taken apart and stripped down and retooled for speed—"July, You're a Woman" and "Cody." They would turn up on the albums that were about to pour out of the creative V-12 engine of John Stewart's talent. 

Until March of 2004, we were saying, "This one is for the connoisseurs, if it can be found. It ought to be reissued for them."

It has been! There's a long story about dedication and attention to detail on the part of Allan Shaw and the folks at Folk Era Records that may just find its way here, in time. For now, Signals Through the Glass has been remastered and reissued and is available once more. 

The songs: 
Side One
1.   Lincoln's Train
2.   Holly On My Mind
3.   Mucky Truckee River
4.   Nebraska Widow
5.   July, You're a Woman

(Image is from the back of the original album)   

Side Two
6.   Dark Prairie
7.   Santa Barbara
8.   Cody
9.   Signals to Ludi
10. Draft Age


California Bloodlines
 May, 1969 Capitol release on LP
 Produced by Nik Venet

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Photos by Capitol Photo Studio/Rick Rankin/Henry Diltz

This is the one that started it all, for a lot of us. There are some people who can't sit down and listen to this thing even today without tearing up—and maybe even leaking a little.

It's one of the two John Stewart albums we think of as essential items in our musical emergency kit. If you want the vinyl, you'll have to go look for it, or e-mail us and we'll try to hook you up. It was re-issued on CD in combination with the second album, Willard. That's a good thing, because Willard is a terrific effort in its own right. Think of it as a bonus. But you have to remember that these early works were albums, and song placement on one side or the other, and the sequence, were not just important in the creation, they were part of how we got acquainted. And when you got up to turn the record over, you were saying to yourself, "Ok, give me chapter two..."

Over time, as noted above, we would learn that there were patterns to Brother Stewart's songs, and most of the patterns started right here in the first solo album. There would be songs about real mothers and fathers, and the wings and baggage they give to people who would actually look in the mirror later on when they shaved or put on their makeup. There would be songs about the people who get lost in the shuffle of the country, but inform the nation. There would be songs about the call of the horizon, loneliness, anger, self-delusion and the wistful high you can get when you're driving into a sunrise. There would be a young ton of self-deprecating humor, laughter and joy.

The songs would be chapters from the novel of somebody's life. There's no "background music" in this stuff—it's at the extreme other end of the spectrum from muzak, and elevators, and supermarket-aisle, hunger-lull, happy-fog, no-waves goo. You get to fill in the rest of the story from your own novel. You get to visualize, just like in the days of radio dramas, before media became one-way. And lordie, lordie, the movies the two of you make in your head...

Mostly, there would be an emerging point of view that is very old-style American. Most of our real friends have been people who sent the message that, "You aren't going to get all of me on the front end. I'll show you what I choose, or let slip, when it happens. But you're going to have stick around a while, and work a little and forgive a little, and I'll probably have to do the same. We'll see how this works out..." Same thing here.

The songs: 
[All lyrics quoted are copyrighted to John Stewart]

Side One
1.  California Bloodlines

"There's California bloodlines in my heart
  And a California woman in my song..."

It seems like there are a lot of people out there right now that either don't know who they are, or don't want to claim it. It's one of the reasons for starting the Archive Project. So we like it that right here, in the first cut, on the first album, in the first chorus of a solo recording career, you get "This is who I am, this is where I come from, this is who I love, and this is how I feel." 

2.  Razorback Woman

"...I was only fourteen, and my dad he was mean
  When his face shined a river of sweat.
  Oh he'd start to yellin', 'You'll go straight to Hell
  And you're young and your ears are still wet.'
  When other young boys were enjoying their toys,
  He gave me my first cigarette...

...And the razorback woman who stood by his side
  Is skinny and fixin' to die.
  Oh, the razorback woman is calling me home and she cries,
  Oh my God how she cries..."

You know these folks. Some of us were raised by them. If you grew up outside of town, especially if you did it before there were Interstates, the odds are even better. Some of us think that the strength of America is the pure cussedness of the average citizen, and some of us think that's been the problem all along, and some of us, well... Whatever you think, we double-dog dare you to listen to this thing without seeing those WPA Project photographs from the depression in your head and thinking about Henry Fonda. And if you've got some Scots-Irish in you somewhere and claim your roots, this sucker just might break your heart at the same time it makes you feel special. And if you don't have those roots, it just might do it anyway...

3.  She Believes in Me

"She believes the witches fly, crazy 'cross the moon.
 She believes in angel eyes in the corner of her room.
 She believes the ships come home singing from the sea.
 She believes in losers, oh, she believes in me.

 Blow lightly wind so she can ride.
 Blow lightly wind and I will see her by and by.
 Away with the fools who tell her I am make believe...

 She believes a pot of gold marks the rainbow's end.
 She believes a light will show the lonesome, homeward friend.
 She believes the weary soul one day will be free.
 She believes in losers, oh, she believes in me..."

Those of us who are in our very, very late thirties didn't all sing Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog to our kids, at least to our little girls. Some of us sang All the Pretty Horses to them—and All the Brave Horses to ourselves. After she had actually, finally, fallen deep asleep on your shoulder though, this was the one for a lot of us. If you've had a real life and raised a little girl, or taken care of one— or been one—and this doesn't make you mist up even a little, it might be time to go sit on a rock for a while by yourself.

4.  Omaha Rainbow

"Keeping my eyes on the Omaha Rainbow
 Going down the same roads, as my younger days's a long way to August, I got a lot of roads to go...

 ...So keep your eyes on that far distant star
 And the sun's gonna to shine where you are..."

It's not exactly a road song. But then no really good road song is exactly a road song. Some of us have made it to August. But it took a lot of friends. Enough said.

5.  The Pirates of Stone County Road

"Henry! It's getting towards suppertime Henry!..."

"There she calls, from her second floor room,
 At the end of a back porch afternoon,
 Where we'd stand on the bow of our own man-of-war,
 No longer the back porch any more.
 And we'd sail pulling for China,
 The pirates of Stone County Road
 All weathered and blown.
 And we'd sail, ever in glory,
 'Till hungry and tired
 The pirates of Stone County Road 
 Were turning for home."

Somewhere, out in the middle of the South Dakota prairie in the 1950's, there stood an old combine that had been pulled by a string of tired tractors before it finally settled down into the buffalo grass for good. Great big old thing. Room for ten or twelve kids to hang off various parts of it. Television had finally made it to the scattered ranches that had washed up in the draws and buttes of the western breaks of the Missouri, way after the kids in town had gotten to watch Davy Crockett and badger their folks for coonskin caps. Along with Tombstone Territory and Wyatt Earp and Sky King on the one available channel, there was a show called The Silent Service. The kids who grew up in the big chunk of wind and dry that surrounded that old combine still had the special pillows they'd used to lie on the floor in front of the console radio to listen to Johnny Dollar and Mister Keane and Suspense and The Creaking Door and The FBI in Peace and War and Gunsmoke with William Conrad as Marshall Dillon. So "shows" were still interactive and we took the pictures in our heads out to that old combine and it became a submarine. The Patrick kids' dad had a dagger with a swastika on the hilt hung on the wall under the picture of the bomber he had worked on and its crew, and The Argus Leader used to come, three days late in the mail, with a black box in the center of the front page with the casualties from Korea. We had heroes in our heads...

6.  Shackles and Chains

"...Let me go, let me ramble.
 I don't want to know the pain
 Of the rattle and the clatter
 Of the shackles and the chains..."

One of the truly fine railroad rhythm songs, especially if you've ever been in Barstow. If you ever find yourself under the wheel, on an old highway, after a fight with your woman and with a head full of yourself—and you don't want to wake up hung over in jail—do not listen to this song, do not let your car turn into a honky tonk, do not look at that waitress... oh, well...

(Image is from the back of the 1969 album)
Photo Credits listed above   

Side Two
7.  Mother Country

"There was a story in the San Francisco Chronicle that of course I forgot to save,
  But it was about a lady who lived in the good old days
  When a century was born and a century had died.
  And about these good old days the old lady replied,
  'They were just a lot of people doing the best they could.'
  'Just a lot of people doing the best they could.'
  And then the lady said that they did it, 'pretty up and walking good.'

  ...And the sun is going down for Mister Bowie, 
  As he's singing with his class of nineteen-two.
  Oh, mother country, I do love you..."

If somebody ever puts together the top ten candidates for the official anthem around the Archive Project, this one will be way up on the list. "What ever happened to those faces in the old photographs...?" Do you know about Johnstown? Do you know what a "campaigner" was? Can you tell the difference between what falls out of cows and horses, with your eyes shut? And your shoes on? Can you figure out why any of it might be important? If you can listen to this one, at about two in the morning with your eyes shut and the volume up, and not get filled up with some sort of crazy love and pride and desire, it might be time to go find that rock we were talking about. Of course, contrary is also pretty good...

And here we are now, with another century born and another century died, and we really, really need to figure out who the heck we seriously are, but we can't find our homework assignments, right? So call a friend...hook into something that's real, and do chin-ups on it...go to an elder and actually listen to what they've seen and something seriously. You could start with that old lady in the song...

8.  Some Lonesome Picker

"...Lilly McLean, you are standing in the rain 
 And you are cold— you are hungry and afraid.
 You are waiting for a sunrise—
 A sunrise makes you feel so very small.
 Darling Lilly, aren't we all... ?"

If you've ever been so long with lonesome that it was handing you cigarettes, and you still clawed your way through it and out the other side, this just might be your anthem. Even if you can't play guitar like this. This may be the saddest lead line we've ever heard anywhere out back of the blues.

9.  You Can't Look Back

"...Stumble and fall.
 I'm not the man that I was at all.
 Words on the wall, I do believe—
 I do believe I might have blown it all.

 But you can't look back
 When you're moving on..."

There's a whole piece of a generation out there growing up with a slightly twisted understanding of the word "irony," thanks to Alanis Morissette. You want your irony? We've got the real stuff here, kid. We've always figured that this one had so many layers that you could never get to the bottom of it. Somewhere in between that Nashville guitar lead and the piano passage you lose track of whether this thing is tongue-in-cheek or deadly serious, and you can come out the other end wondering whether he has wrecked or glorified a whole stratum of songs. So what's wrong with that?

10. Missouri Birds

"...If I go into the world Susanna,
 Oh will you wait for me?
 If I go into the world Susanna,
 I'll come back and tell you what I've seen..."

Even now, there are the same choices that this one talks about. The fact that this song comes right after You Can't Look Back simply cannot be an accident. What do you lose when you go out the front gate that one time too many? Does it matter where your mind was, when you're trying to walk backwards in your tracks? And what's a bigger word than bittersweet?

11. July You're a Woman

"...I can't hold it on the road, when you're sitting right beside me
 And I'm drunk out of my mind merely from the fact that you are here.
 And I have not been known as the Saint of San Joaquin,
 And I'd just as soon right now, pull on over to the side of the road.
 And show you what I mean..."

We truly feel for anybody that can't relate to one side of this song or the other. For a whole bunch of people, this thing somehow took a piece of our early adulthood and pinned it perfectly to the wall without hurting anything, and froze the moments alive. And a lot of us are glad that, except for the occasional fantasy or flashback, we've pretty much put this sort of stuff behind us... Unless we're lucky enough to still be with the one we first heard it with, and then, heck, that's how you define fine.

12. Never Goin' Back

"Every time I see that Greyhound bus go rolling down the line
 Makes me wish I'd talked much more to you when we had all that time.
 Still, it's only wishing, and I know it's nothing more,
 So I'm never going back...back to Nashville anymore..."

DO NOT play this song at night on the Interstate unless you're in Montana. Try to keep it under 110, even then. When you get pulled over, show your hands, turn it up, point at the radio, give the officer that two-hands-up "What was I gonna do?" shrug, and you might just get lucky. Probably not, but it happens. If you're sitting at home, try not to hurt yourself keeping time. Nobody just sits through this one, or, as somebody a whole lot more talented than us said, "This song is alive..."

This album can be found in two flavors. Plain, in combination with Willard from Fuel 2000, and
up-gunned, remixed and fuel-injected, by itself from Rev-Ola in the UK

(with our contribution to the liner notes).
(No, really...)

(The image is from the cover of the combined CD re-issue)



(The image is from the cover of the Rev-Ola CD re-issue)

This is the 2007 Rev-Ola re-issue of California Bloodlines by itself, with the original art, and in a remixed sound that has drawn accolades from the most stalwart of Stewart's long-time fans. In the words of one, "I didn't realize how much acoustic 12-string was on the album until I listened to this, and I have listened to the original hundreds of times." (Our friend Fred Grittner, September, 2007) "...Subtleties that John and Nik Venet intended are coming through now..." (F. Grittner, slightly later that same year) We're particularly impressed with the second page of the liner notes. The fact that we provided them is irrelevant, of course...


July, 1970 Capitol release on LP
Produced by Peter Asher

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Cover drawing by James Wyeth/Photography by Henry Diltz

It took us a while to get this album into perspective. We've finally come to the conclusion that it had to be made, or John Stewart would have been painted into the usual corner that great artists too often are given. Do not misunderstand. This is a great piece of work, and includes a number of songs that have gotten us through some really tough times.

But it was a little different from the first one. California Bloodlines was recorded. This one was produced. When we first heard it we missed the raw, live feel that Nik Venet got on the first album by recording straight to two track stereo without a whole lot of evident re-mixing. This one didn't feel as spontaneous. And we had really been spoiled by not being fed the usual stuff on the previous album. Not that we really got it here, either.

Willard said a lot of things about what we could expect if we stuck around as this man honed his art. Like, sometimes it's going to be raw and spontaneous, and sometimes its going to be carefully crafted. And sometimes it's going to have his best, non-famous friends on it, and sometimes it's going to have people like James Taylor and Doug Kershaw and Carole King. It's not all going to be profound, because sometimes the only way to be truly profound is to be a little goofy. And you won't get your heart broken by the music without also getting a nudge and a nod and a wink.

The songs: 
[All lyrics quoted are copyrighted to John Stewart]

Side One
1.   Big Joe 
2.   Julie, Judy, Angel Rain

"...Now my lover's Angel Rain
Who stayed with me through all the change
And knows the wind that blows within
Is driving me insane..."

This is one of the most real love songs we've ever heard. A lot of the others are also by John Stewart. These are the words for the feeling a lot of us have had, standing there with mud on our boots, and lost for a way to tell someone about the thing inside us that's so big we cannot get a word past our throat.

3.   Belly Full of Tennessee

"...I got my two-time totaled car,
I got my good eye on a star,
I got a heart full of woman
And a belly full of Tennessee..."

Sometimes you look in the rear view mirror and have to fight the wheel to keep it from turning back around all by itself. Sometimes you look in the rear view mirror and the gas petal goes all the way down by itself. Some stuff only makes sense if you make a joke out of it. Everybody probably has a couple of places that they could substitute for "Tennessee." If you're lucky the names have three syllables. Then you can sing along. And make a joke out of it.

 4.   Friend of Jesus

"...Jesus hung with the hard-line gang.
Jesus knew the songs they sang.
He didn't have no money, I hear he didn't have a dime.
I do believe I'd have been a friend of Jesus in his time..."

As songs of hope and redemption go, this one might just be the semi-secular "Amazing Grace" for those of us who sometimes carry big, dirty things in our pickup trucks. Or have known one end of a manure fork from the other. Or have been moved to take a prayer onto the prairie or into the woods because it felt a little more right...

 5.   Clack Clack

This one defies commentary.

6.   Hero From the War 
7.   Back in Pomona 

(Image is from the back of the 1970 album)
Art Credits listed above    

Side Two
8.   Willard

"...Willard, he's a loner, living by the railway.
Living by the tracks beside his home.
Willard, he's a loner, if you're going his way,
Say hello, he ain't got no one to call his own...
...Could it be we're all just Willard in disguise?..."

Words and music like strokes of charcoal on the back of a grocery sack. Nothing extra, nothing wasted. Just enough to plug you squarely into the American experience and some healthy questions about keeping—and at the same time respecting— your brother. And sister.

 9.   Golden Rollin' Belly

"...I want a golden rolling belly, yeah, where I can lay my head..."

If you've ever stood in the dark at a pay phone, with cold rain running down the back of your neck, and a long line of guys behind you silently screaming for you to hurry up, this could have been the song you were singing in your head, even if you didn't know the words. When your woman on the other end of the line says "How's it going?" and the memory of her perfume is the only thing that's been keeping you from going nuts for about three days, there are at least a couple of ways you can go. You can suck it up and say "It's ok!" while you whimper in your head. Or you can flat out tell her that you're going to be fine, because you've got the best thing in the world waiting for you at the end of whatever. Some of us think that this one, and "Bring It On Home" from Sunstorm mark one end of a spectrum, and Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" (especially the Marshall Chapman version) marks the other. A lot of us like both ends of that range, and just about everything in between, but given only one choice... .

10. All American Girl 
11. Oldest Living Son

"...The back of my hand started looking like a man's
Way back when I was only ten.
Still the lonesome in me cries
Like a little boy sometimes...

Me and Jim, getting thin, fare-thee-well to him
Fare-thee-well now, Mamma
I'm gonna take good care of him...
...there ain't nowhere to run, for the oldest living son..."

If you are a first-born boy, this one's for you. If you grew up in the country working with your hands, it might just put you outside in the dark again in your memories, tracking the milky way. If you had a little brother, it could turn into a personal anthem.

12. Earth Rider 
13. Great White Cathedrals 
14. Marshall Wind 

(The image is from the cover of the combined CD re-issue)

The Lonesome Picker Rides Again
November, 1971 Warner Brothers release on LP
Produced by Michael Stewart

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Photography by Henry Diltz

This was John Stewart's first album for Warner Brothers, after leaving Capitol. It is another classic.

He looked to his brother Michael to produce it, and seemed to move back toward the more spontaneous feel of California Bloodlines. Two of the tracks were recorded live, at Chuck's Cellar in Los Altos, California. There is not a single song out of the twelve that isn't a "keeper." Over the years we've sat a few people down and introduced them to our favorite recording artist, and this album has had an extraordinarily high number of songs that have stayed with those folks in the years that followed. There are songs that are deeply sad, and songs that are powerfully hopeful. There are songs that rock like mad, and songs that are quietly thoughtful. And there is one of the truly rare instances of punctuation puns in American music, paired with lyrics that are somewhere on the other side of bittersweet.

There was a little trepidation when the reissue disk was cued up in the player. The album carries a lot of freight for a lot of people. Songs like "Touch of the Sun" and "Little Road and a Stone to Roll" and "Daydream Believer" (in the lyric as Stewart wrote it, and not the way it was cleaned up for Davey Jones—"funky..." not "happy...") have enabled a lot of us to shoulder our mental backpacks and march on, one more time, a lot of times. The pure, aching harmonies of "Bolinas" and the vivid pictures brought by "Wild Horse Road/All the Brave Horses"...the juxtaposition of wit, irony, beauty and power as the phonograph needle slid from one cut to another are woven together with memories that begin over 30 years ago, and memories overlaid in the time since. Some of us simply cannot imagine our lives without these songs touching them in a thousand places.

All that freight was slid into the CD player along with the disk. ...Shouldn't have worried... The remastering is superb. The reproduction is teeth-achingly clean and crisp when played at volume. The liner notes are measured, knowledgeable and are apparently based on recent interviews with Stewart.

Whether you are a long-time or recent fan, this is an essential part of any John Stewart collection.

And then there's "Daydream Believer" and 30 years worth of lessons about not taking yourself too seriously, and the enduring power of laughter. The fact that we have somebody here at the Project who happens to be named "Gene" has certainly not influenced our enthusiasm for this one. Much...

The songs: 
[All lyrics quoted are copyrighted to John Stewart]

Side One
1.   Just an Old Love Song 
2.   The Road Shines Bright 
3.   Touch of the Sun

4.   Bolinas

"...Two little figures far down the road, chasing the train as far as they go.
But the train disappears in it's own westward dot, and the two little figures now stand on the spot
Where all that mighty iron had rolled.
And the track now is cold..."

This is one of the most purely beautiful songs in the Stewart repertoire. The weaving of his voice with that of Buffy Stewart is a pure aural definition of synergy. But beyond that are riches that will draw the careful listener back again and again. Time can be small...believe it...and carry it on...

5.   Freeway Pleasure
6.   Swift Lizard

(Image is from the back of the original album)
Photography by Henry Diltz    

Side Two

7.   Wolves in the Kitchen
8.   Little Road and a Stone to Roll
9.   Daydream Believer
10. Crazy

"Crazy lives in Tempe—
Married three times that Crazy knows.
One dude was a hustler.
One dude was a drifter.
One dude I heard tell,
Crazy didn't know...

...I will drive you, Crazy
If I see you by the road
'Cause I will know, Crazy
You have gone..."

A lot of our friends believe that everything must be kept in balance. Nobody should be too serious without also being silly part of the time. Sadness must be balanced with laughter. This song seems to agree, down in the roots of its creation. On first listening, it is an achingly bittersweet story about someone who is lost, and has been that way for a very long time. After a couple of listens, and a check of the lyric sheet that comes with the LP, one finds some commas that turn the song halfway on its head. Punctuation puns?? It remains one of the most telling and hopeful of what we call the "woman at the window/woman by the road" songs Mr. Stewart has ever written, and if you listen to it three times you will find it coming unbidden into your head at certain moments, years later.

11. Wild Horse Road
12. All the Brave Horses

(Image is from the back cover insert to the Collector's Choice Reissue)  



April, 1972 Warner Brothers release on LP

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Cover illustration by Bernie Fuchs
  Photography by Henry Diltz and Bill Matthews

For this second album for Warner Brothers, John Stewart again turned to his brother Michael to be the producer. The liner notes included a quote from a gentleman named Oliver Makin—"The bird that flies above the clouds knows only the sun and his storms are sunstorms." A couple of albums later, we would meet Mr. Makin again, and learn that his words were written at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Someday, we hope to learn more about him.

In a slightly better world, this album would have yielded at least two top-20 singles. For years, if you wanted to track it down it had to be in the original vinyl. It has now been reissued by Collector's Choice Records, with new liner notes by Richie Unterberger, painstaking reproduction of the original graphics, and a sound as crisp as their parallel release of The Lonesome Picker Rides Again.

Sunstorm is one of those albums some of us find ourselves going back to over and over. There is just something in the mix, or something in the sequence of thoughts, or something indefinable about it that reaches out from time to time and marches us to the record shelves. The songs themselves contain nuggets that are part of the lyrical vocabulary of anyone who listened to the music that would later become known as "Americana"— at the time it was known as "John Stewart's new one." "Standing in line at the Bank of America..." from Kansas Rain, "Only once around, then they nail the top down..." from Cheyenne, "I'm gonna lean like a willow on the sky..." from Lonesome John...and on... and on... But somehow, there's more to it than that. There always seems to be a little something new, with each return.

In some ways, this album is a sort of photograph of ourselves, reflected through prisms by old sunbeams...

And now it's on CD? Cleanly remastered and preserved?? 

Life is very good.

The songs: 
[All lyrics quoted are copyrighted to John Stewart]

Side One (Song order is from the LP. Order printed on album cover differs.)
1.   Kansas Rain
2.   Cheyenne

3.   Bring it on Home

"...Yeah, when I get too mean and down
Gonna turn this big machine around
And, ooh, baby, I bring it on home to you..."

Some few of us used to know a crusty old one-star, who, when the getting it done had gotten over would say "People, the sweetest words a soldier will ever hear are 'mission accomplished, it's time to go home.' Try not to break anything on your way out of here." This was the song for the long drive that always followed. Played over and over, sometimes. And it could be erroneous, but while hollering along with it--pulling two-in-the-morning highway back under a huge Lincoln V8 with both hands--it was very hard to believe that we were singing about an automobile.

4.   Sunstorm

5.   Arkansas Breakout

"...Arkansas, is it all
Work and drunk and dying?
Arkansas, there ain't no law
To keep a boy from flying.

Leaving the fields
And the rain and the work and the pain
Like the wheels of a train
You must run, run, run
From the work and the rain..."

There is no way in this world that this song wasn't a hit at the time. There is no way in this world that it isn't included on every popular retrospective collection of the time. It must just be that we missed it in those contexts. This one also comes with the warning that it is not to be played at full volume while driving through any known state—and especially Wisconsin. Nobody can keep track of the accelerator while this is playing.

Side Two (Song order is from the LP. Order printed on album cover differs.)
6.   An Account of Haley's Comet
7.   Joe
8.   Light Come Shine
9.   Lonesome John
10. Drive Again

(Image is from the back cover insert to the Collector's Choice Reissue)  



Cannons in the Rain
March, 1973 RCA release on LP
Produced by Fred Carter, Jr.

 (Cover image is from the original LP)
  Photography by Henry Diltz, Joel Bernstein, W. Patrick Harper

There are a number of long-time John Stewart enthusiasts who list this album as their personal all-time favorite. There is no question that it includes songs that are both well-known and neglected classics. It was the initial release after Mr. Stewart left Warner Brothers for RCA. Part of our fascination with the album has always been the feeling that a huge piece of the real story here (hear?) is unseen (and unheard).

Seen from the outside, it was as if Mr. Stewart was beginning to close some of the circles opened by the earlier albums. He returned to Nashville, where California Bloodlines had been recorded. Fred Carter had been the "studio" guitarist on Bloodlines. He produced Cannons in the Rain. Others from the first solo album, like "Diamond" Kelso Herston and Charlie McCoy were also on these sessions.

"Chilly Winds" had been written with John Phillips and recorded by the Kingston Trio during John Stewart's tenure with the group, and is dedicated to "Nick (Reynolds) and Bob (Shane)." There are stories that Stewart and Phillips were on the threshold of forming a group (with Scott McKenzie) in the period immediately before he began his solo career. The song is a clear link to his roots and friends in the "folk movement" (surely one of the great oxymorons of the time).

The closing of another circle is begun with Nik Venet, who produced California Bloodlines. Venet has talked about his interest in Native Americans during the late '60's, and playing Bloodlines through headphones for John G. Neihardt. He has said that Neihardt, "...was almost deaf [but] ...could hear quite well through headphones, and I played him 'Mother Country' .... he thought it was beautiful - 'that boy sounds like he was standing beside me in the Missouri River' he said." John Stewart dedicated "Spirit" on this album to John G. Neihardt (and Kim Novak).

[For more about him, return to the Gift Shop and check the Archive Bookshelf for Neihardt's book Black Elk Speaks].

The "real world" love songs from the previous albums culminate here in the clearly autobiographical "All Time Woman." The theme of heroes, large and small, that began with E. A. Stuart, is advanced here with "Armstrong." "Cannons in the Rain" and "Wind Dies Down" are outstanding additions to what we were coming to call the "woman in the window/woman by the road" thread in his music, and one could probably add "Easy Money" as well.

And we have always appreciated the fact that this album both begins and ends with a wink and a nudge—"Durango" for Sam Peckinpah and Kris Kristopherson and "Lady and the Outlaw" for all the rest of us. There is a great deal more to be found in this album, but we'll leave you to find it for yourselves.

The songs: 
Side A
1.   Durango
2.   Chilly Winds
3.   Easy Money
4.   Anna on a Memory
5.   All Time Woman
6.   Road Away

(Image is from the inside of the gatefold cover of the 1973 album)

Side B
7.   Armstrong 
8.   Spirit 
9.   Wind Dies Down 
10. Cannons in the Rain
11. Lady and the Outlaw


(Image is from the cover of the combined CD re-issue)



The Phoenix Concerts Live
June, 1974 RCA release on a double LP
Produced by Nicholas Venet

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Cover Photo by Elbinger and Sun

It is nearly impossible to describe the experience of listening to this double album for the first time. Most of us who were following John Stewart by the time it was issued had never had the opportunity to see him live. For us, this was as good as it got.

Later, we realized that some more circles were being closed. He had gathered a group of friends for this appearance, and re-united with Nik Venet—producer of the California Bloodlines album. Buffy Ford, (who would become Buffy Ford Stewart a couple of years later) was there, as the perfect compliment to his voice. Mike Settle, from his first folk trio (The Cumberland Three), sang backup. His brother, Michael Stewart who had produced Lonesome Picker Rides Again and Sunstorm, played rhythm guitar and sang backup...

Years later, we would learn that two shows were scheduled, with hardly any time for rehearsal, and when he and Venet listened to the results of taping the first show, they didn't feel they had anything usable. So we had no way of knowing that everything was riding on one tape of one show.

It wouldn't have mattered. We would have said that however many times the dice had been rolled, this package was worth twice whatever we paid for it. You could sit in front of the huge speakers everybody used in those days, crank this thing up, sit cross-legged on a floor pillow, look at the pictures from the concert in the gatefold cover— and you were there. And there was perfect. It still is. Try it and you'll see. Of course, first you'll have to find some of those huge speakers and a copy of the original vinyl and cover, if you really want to duplicate the wonder... 

And a wonder it is. Each of the original four sides had at least one song that had not been on any of the previous albums, and they were great. Six were from Bloodlines, one each from Willard and Sunstorm, three (on the re-issue) from The Lonesome Picker Rides Again, and even one from Signals Through the Glass and one from the next album, Wingless Angels (on the re-issue). Heck, there's even a sing-along (one of the few we really enjoy on record), and some of the most priceless stage banter ever heard and never forgotten—"...he didn't have any fun, but he was cool," for instance. This thing unfolded, album side after album side, and they were played until you could practically see through them.

(Actually, the re-issue is excellent in either the domestic or import version. The domestic version on BMG/One Way includes an insert that faithfully duplicates those graphics we loved so much. And there are two songs that weren't on the vinyl as well.) ENJOY!!

The songs: 
Side A
1.   Wheatfield Lady 
2.   Kansas Rain 
3.   You Can't Look Back 
4.   The Pirates of Stone County Road

When some of us heard the spoken introduction to this one, we knew instantly that we had signed on for the whole ride. He talked about laying on the living room floor and listening to the same radio programs we had absorbed, our ear to the speaker of a five-foot-tall AM/SW radio running off the 32-Volt DC from the wind charger. A half a continent away, this supremely talented storyteller and poet and musician might have been on the floor on the same night? Listening to the very same shows? Heck, you're gonna have to throw us off this train...

5.   The Runaway Fool of Love

Side B
6.   Roll Away the Stone 
7.   July, You're a Woman

This is the definitive version of this song. All right, all right...the version on California Bloodlines may be a little bit better musically. But this one has the spoken introduction. And once you've heard it, you will never, ever, hear the song again without leaning over a steering wheel in your head. There are some things that are so absolutely perfect that the only adjective that comes to mind is "classic." This is one. And it really needs to be in your mental repertoire about 20 years of albums later, when you hear the same song on Deep in the Neon.

8.   The Last Campaign Trilogy

Side C
9.   Oldest Living Son 
10. Little Road and a Stone to Roll 
11. Kansas 
12. Cody

This song was originally released on the album that John Stewart and Buffy Ford recorded a year or so before California Bloodlines was released. That album was called Signals Through the Glass, and for many years it was one of the most sought-after, vinyl-only issues in the world. There are those who say that the pairing of these two voices is the perfect example of synergy—that this is like adding two and two and getting seven. You will get no argument here. If you can listen to these soaring notes and words and not get goosebumps, we still know where there's this perfect lonely sitting rock...

13. California Bloodlines

Side D and Extra Songs
14. Mother Country 
15. Cops

In the mid-1970's, there was this Highway Patrolman on I-90/94, down by Black River Crossing in Wisconsin, that the truckers called "Choo Choo Charlie" on Channel 19, and who was the very best we ever saw...Except maybe for the guy in Nebraska that hid on the right side of our truck for about 10 miles, running on the shoulder at 65, shooting radar at the oncoming eastbound traffic...

16. Never Goin' Back (to Nashville Anymore) 
17. Freeway Pleasure (added on CD re-releases) 
18. Let the Big Horse Run (added on CD re-releases) 

(The image is from the cover of the CD re-issue)



Wingless Angels
April, 1975 RCA release on LP
Produced by Nicholas Venet

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Photos by Henry Diltz 

We would discover later that this album also completed a number of cycles that began with California Bloodlines. These again began and ended with Nik Venet—producing both albums, three major record labels between. What we had come to call the "woman at the window" songs, braided through the first six albums, reached a temporary summit. And the stories of less-than-perfect Americans that had enlivened the albums of the previous six years had their edges tucked in, as the future beckoned, by a guy who was ready to fly. 

You knew you had something special in your hands when you first pulled this album off the front of the eight or ten inch-deep stack in the racks at the record store. The album graphics were absolutely stunning. The album title was dazzling in its implications. Somehow, it felt heavier than a normal record. And there was a puzzle built into it—why is John Stewart dressed like he's about to climb into a biplane in the 1920's?

Even the timing was impeccable. It came into the store at the same time the first leaves were filling out, when winter's late grit and sludge had disappeared, and the sound of water running in the eves from the early rains could give us a gentle backdrop to the first twenty or thirty times we listened to this vinyl wonder. 

A year later, when this record was still at the front of the "ready-rack" right next to the turntable, some of us began to wonder if this man had been given a glimpse of the future when he wrote the songs, in what we assumed was late 1974 and early 1975. The nation went through some sort of "phase-shift" during that time. The winter had been bleak on the northern plains and it was hard to leave the mood outside on the front step. Chemical dependency centers were overflowing to the point that "out-patient" programs were instituted to supplement the "in-patient" programs and reduce the waiting lists. And then, shortly after the release of Wingless Angels, Saigon fell... Some of us have always been grateful to the man in the white scarf for giving us a few of the tools we would need to weather the storms of summer.

So you put the record on the turntable and settled back to listen— with the cover in your hands— and as the delicate cycle of songs spun out of the speakers, you began to discover hidden treasures. Every time you thought you had this thing figured out, another door would appear—and worlds of understanding and compassion on the other side. When you slid the record out, you found the lyrics printed on the interior sleeve, and as you read along you began to realize that these songs were not written—they had been crafted.

Almost hidden in the upper-left corner of the back of the cover, printed in rose-colored ink, was another gift from Oliver Makin. This time we found out that the words were from 1903. Over seventy years earlier, he had written, "The earth is a depot, where wingless angels pass the time waiting for the long ride home. Seeing a small boy smiling in the corner I said: 'You must be anxious to go home.' 'I am home' he replied. 'I just come here to play the games'."

Those words, and these songs, have gotten some of us through so many tough times in the years since that we cannot bear to count them up. When times were a little less exciting, they have enlivened countless conversations with good friends in every corner of the country. Above all, as the first couple of copies of this record got worn out over the years, we came to appreciate how respectful of us John Stewart had been. When other recordings were beating us in the head with obvious messages, he trusted his listeners to find and appreciate the nuances and themes he had captured.

We would need them—fallibility, sympathy, empathy, endurance, the bravado of desperation, the sly edge of remembrance—promise and despair— and the clear, clean hope of redemption. Enough...listen for yourselves. Hold the miniature album cover from the CD insert in your hand. We urge you to start with the 12th track on the re-issue CD—"Hung on the Heart (of a Man Back Home)" if this is your first listen. Let it stand alone, without the preamble of Cannons in the Rain, that first time.

The songs: 
Side One
1.   Hung on the Heart (Of a Man Back Home)
2.   Rosewater
3.   Wingless Angels/Survivors II
4.   Some Kind of Love
5.   Survivors

(Image is from the back of the original album)


Side Two
6.   Summer Child
7.   Josie
8.   Ride Stone Blind
9.   Mazatlan/Adelita
10. Let the Big Horse Run


(Image is from the cover of the combined CD re-issue)




Fire in the Wind
1977 RSO release on LP
Produced by Mentor Williams and John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Photography by Norman Seeff

In his 1999 notes for the CD insert to Gold, the two-disk compilation issue of John Stewart's music, John Tobler tells the story:

"...Wingless Angels in 1975...became [John Stewart's] first album to reach the Top 150 of the US album chart. However, this ended Stewart's relationship with RCA, and to the dismay of his fans, nothing new was released in 1976."

"The devotion of those fans, especially in Britain, has always been extraordinary, and a school teacher in Surrey, Peter O'Brien, published Omaha Rainbow, a superior fanzine named after a track on California Bloodlines... Omaha Rainbow always featured the latest news on John Stewart, and was published for many years during the 1970's and 1980s. When it became clear that Stewart was having difficulty in finding a new label, O'Brien and many of his readers bombarded Al Coury of RSO Records with requests that he should sign John Stewart, and Coury, who had known Stewart at one of his earlier labels, finally bowed to the pressure of dozens of letters and signed Stewart in 1977. His first RSO album, Fire in the Wind, although it became his highest charting album in the US, was felt to be unsympathetically produced by Mentor Williams (brother of singer/songwriter Paul Williams)."

Rod Wilson takes up the story, from his notes for the insert to the re-issue CD of Fire in the Wind. "The recording sessions commenced in Nashville in July, 1977, produced by Mentor Williams and whilst featuring some of this city's most prominent musicians—Kenny Buttrey on drums, Reggie Young on guitar, Shane Keister and David Briggs on piano, Troy Seals on guitar and John Williams on bass—these sessions were not considered by John Stewart to be successful. Concerned that this first opportunity to record for RSO had not gone well, John returned with the tapes to his base in Los Angeles and started work on completing the album. Released to critical acclaim, Fire in the Wind laid the groundwork for John's subsequent and successful album, Bombs Away Dream Babies..."

OK, OK, OK, OK... The fans over here, who were busy trying to put things back together in their heads and their lives, and get through the Wisconsin Dells without spending a lot of time talking to Choo Choo Charlie, didn't know about much of this. All we knew was that there was a big hole, exactly the size of the next John Stewart album, and there was nothing in it. So we carried on with life, did a little laundry, and kept playing Wingless Angels and the others we had cut to tape, in the add-on cassette player under the dash of our old cars.

And then...a friend of ours takes up the story...

"The night before a trip to a meeting in Iowa, I stumbled across a John Stewart album called Fire in the Wind, in the new release racks at the Electric Fetus. I didn't have time to listen to it, but while packing that night I cut it to a cassette and threw the tape, the record and a heavy-duty portable AM/FM/Cassette player into my suitcase. After supper the following night I retreated to my hotel room in Sioux City, plugged it in, loaded it up, and turned it on. I remember looking at the album cover while the leader ran and thinking that this didn't exactly look like the guy with the goggles, boots, leather coat and white scarf that I had gotten used to. And then that lead cut kicked in. Holy buckets of ... WHAT IS THIS THING...? There was this jacked-up, fuzz-busted keyboard thing that about tore my head off...and then the bass line kicked in with the drums, and then, there was my road partner singing about a sixteen year-old? And while I was still trying to get my head around all of this there's a screaming electric lead passage, and it just kept getting bigger and bigger...

It must have taken me 45 minutes to even get to the second cut. I just kept hitting the rewind button and turning up the volume and trying (unsuccessfully) not to dance around the room. I did that to each cut—one at a time, rewind, play, rewind—and there wasn't a flat track in the bunch. Even the political comment about James Earl Carter kicked butt. By about eleven or so I got to the next to last cut. I could not believe it. I kept listening to "The Last Hurrah," over and over, and I couldn't make it mean anything except that this guy was going to hang it up for good. I listened to "The Wild Side of You" but couldn't find anything to change my mind.

I couldn't get to sleep, so at about three in the morning, I called Harry Scholten long distance to see if he had the album yet and whether he thought it meant the same thing. He was actually pretty gracious, once he figured out what I was worried about. He hadn't heard the album, but I think he said the sixteen-year old thing was probably some historical deal that folk singers knew about, like Old John Webb or something. I tried to tell him this wasn't exactly folk music...

It was two years until the next album. They were two very long years..."

They would be worth the wait. And we had an excellent new album to listen to during the interim. Of course, "18 Wheels" cost us all a lot of money in the Wisconsin Dells...

The songs: 
Side One
1.   Fire in the Wind
2.   Rock It in My Own Sweet Time
3.   On You Like the Wind
4.   The Runner
5.   Morning Thunder

(Image is from the back of the original album)   


Side Two
6.   Promise the Wind
7.   Boston Lady
8.   18 Wheels
9.   The Last Hurrah
10. The Wild Side of You

(Extra tracks on the CD not on the original album)
11. Where the Wind Can't Find Me
12. Old Gunfighter
13. Sun Flies Shining
14. Zappata's Own Comrades
15. Auld Lange Syne

(Image is from the cover of the CD re-issue)



Bombs Away Dream Babies
1979 RSO release on LP
Produced by John Stewart (Producer at Large—Lindsey Buckingham)

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Photography and album design by Herbert W. Worthington III

The Summer of 1979 was "Gold." And "Lost Her in the Sun" and "Midnight Wind," and...

The Summer of 1979 was driving through the Twin Cities, and other cities and towns between the Black Hills and Lake Madison, and listening to John Stewart on the radio of the car next to you. It was some strange sort of vindication for all the times you had planted someone in a chair and played this artist at them. It was getting phone calls from old friends in other places who had been "played at" and now simply had to let you know that they were very smugly telling people, "Oh yes, well... Actually I've been listening to John Stewart for any number of years now..."

The Summer of 1979 was a gift most of us didn't appreciate at the time.

Maybe we should have been holding our breath. Maybe we should have been preparing for attitude pushups. Maybe we should have hunkered down, or tightened up, or checked the cinches. But most of us didn't. We rolled the windows down and the radio up and went for it. And that was probably the best thing of all to do...

The Shah had fled Iran in January. The Ayatollah Khomeini had returned to Iran in triumph in February and the President's brother had told the Jews of the world that they could kiss his extreme, bifurcated lower back. March had ended with the closest thing to a nuclear meltdown in US history at Three Mile Island. April was spring rains and Billy Carter promising to quit drinking and May was Margaret Thatcher and vindication for Karen Silkwood. And then came summer...

Seventeen years before, a producer named Nik Venet had signed a young California group to the Capital label. In July of 1962 he put the Beach Boys and "Surfin' Safari" at the front of the summer's sound, and changed the way the Northern Plains looked at the time between the cold rivulets of spring and the glory of fall. In the summer of '79 a whole new "California sound" pounded its way across the plains, driven by a very stubborn man who believed in his music, and a circle of friends like Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks who heard the same magic and filled in the harmonies.

Bombs Away Dream Babies was a new kind of very California record, from "driving over Kanan" in the chorus of the first song to the "California boy...with his ass in the sand" near the end of the second side. Out here on the Plains, we didn't care, because right alongside those references were a crowd of things we could hook directly into and relate to and run with. This thing was cycles of sequenced lyrics and music that refused to get old, and as the temperatures went up so did our appreciation for the thought that had gone into the album.

Sure, "Gold" was a hit. But as we put miles on this record, a lot of us became convinced that "Gold" wasn't the best song on the disk. The stunned, reality-altering fist-between-the-eyes morning of "Lost Her in the Sun" was something some of us had been through personally, but we could still listen over and over because John Stewart had once again mixed blues-tinged words with soaring sound. Then he skipped a few chapters in the novel of this thing and gave us the slightly-later-in-a-life rueful "Runaway Fool of Love," with some of the most incredible backing-vocal stylings we'd ever come across. Then a few more skipped chapters and the hope of the "Golden Road" in "Somewhere Down the Line." And full-circle back to the heat and the streets of "Midnight Wind." "Let's shake the town with the windows down and fly in the midnight air..." Oh, yeah! We were there, thundering up through the Wisconsin Dells, or across the prairies of the Dakotas and Nebraska on our way to the Rockies, pushing a 410, one eye on the radar detector and one ear on the CB...

And that was just the first side. Did he somehow know that we were going to need the second side to get through the hostage taking in Iran, and the killings in Greenville and the Soviet war in Afghanistan? A lot of us got a little too busy to think about it much. But songs like "Spinnin' of the World," "Comin' Out of Nowhere," and "Hand Your Heart to the Wind" got us through the storms of winter, and "Heart of the Dream" helped us keep our perspective and even laugh a little.

How in the world did he know we were going to need a white knight? And a rose...?

It all still works...and we all still play it.

The songs: 
Side One
1.   Gold
2.   Lost Her in the Sun
3.   Runaway Fool of Love
4.   Somewhere Down the Line
5.   Midnight Wind

(Image is from the back of the original album)   

Side Two (tracks 9 & 10 reversed on album cover)
6.   Over the Hill
7.   The Spinnin' of the World
8.   Comin' Out of Nowhere
9.   Heart of the Dream
10. Hand Your Heart to the Wind



(The image is from the cover of the CD re-issue)

The original issue of Bombs Away Dream Babies is out-of-print. It was re-issued as a CD, and as a CD combined with Dream Babies Go Hollywood, and those have also gone out of print. 

Dream Babies Go Hollywood
1980 RSO release on LP
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the LP)
  Photography, concept, design by Herbert W. Worthington III

Before the winter of 1979-80 had melted its way down to the rivers, John Stewart came back with another album. Rose. White suit. White vest. Puffy shirt. White bow tie. Phil Everly... Phil Everly!

Yep. And Linda Ronstadt and Wendy Waldman and Nicollette Larson, and on, and on. Once again, the album graphics were stunning. You wound up placing the two albums side by side and looking at the fronts and the backs, and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Because the Dream Babies thing was back in the title of the album, but this wasn't Bombs Away, Part II.

Mr. Stewart declared his independence from our preconceptions about that in the first licks on the first song on the first side. There were these lyrics about Hollywood dreams, and something happening to a girl/woman while you looked at the man dancing with a perfect blond mannequin, but the backing was intentionally rough, like sounds from a garage studio. And then you pulled the record liner out of the sleeve and found out that he wasn't singing about "losing" your dreams, but "loosing" your dreams, and while it wasn't punctuation puns, you knew that this was going to be one of those rides he had given us so often in the past.

A slow one about a woman who is gold and silver, with a chorus about the wind on the river, and moonlight, and radio all night, and you were looking at the pictures on the sleeve and then back to the album cover, with that incredible chorus coming back in, and scratching your head a little... Then he jumped in your car with you for "Wheels of Thunder" and you knew that this was not a song you would dare to play on those long drives at night...because you were going to need to hear your CB speaker when the accelerator went down, and it just couldn't be played soft enough for that. Then the album slipped smoothly into overdrive for a folk-sounding, haunting, sailing thing with Old Riley in there so you wouldn't lose your place. And then an epic.

That's right. The BIG song had been put at the end of the "A" side. A driving bass, quiet keyboard effects, crisp lyrics, and it just kept building and building. "Assassin of the sea wind..." "Keeper of my heartline..." And just when you though it couldn't get any bigger it kicked it up not one, but two female backing-vocal notches, and you knew you'd been set up and you didn't care...

Everybody knew that by this time, producers were loading up the "A" side of albums. You might find a keeper on the flip side, but you'd have to be lucky. So some of us waited a little while before this one got turned over, and played that magical combination of "Monterey" and "Odin" over and over. You already knew that you had gotten your money's worth, so you called some friends and did some laundry, and maybe later that night you sat down in front of those huge speakers to run through the "thrown-on" side before turning in for the night, happy that it had been less than a year since the last one.

And got nailed.

Five seconds into "Lady of Fame" you knew there was something seriously backward about your thinking. The fourth or fifth time you set the needle back to the opening grooves, you also knew that you had fallen in tall clover. Single drum strokes on some sort of a tenor snare-sounding drum—perfectly placed—into some sort of anthem about laughing in the face of the fire and dancing in the light of the flames and being up on the wire...

That song has given some of us all the permission to dare great things we would need...and a beat to get back up to when we missed the net on the way down.

And as we worked our way through the hypnotic words of "Raven" and the affirmation of "Wings" and got kicked in the head by "Nightman" (especially that small segment of us that had worked deep-night radio shows), we reached the conclusion that somebody very sneaky had produced this thing and put the "A" side on the "B" side...but then how did you explain "Odin?" So we finally read the production credits. Produced by...John Stewart. Mixed by...John Stewart and Jim Hilton. Uhuh! By the time we finally figured out that it ended back with the same feel that began it, and flipped it over...and over...and over again, it was far enough into the next day that we didn't get into too much trouble for inviting friends over for an early breakfast-and-new-album session. With depths in the words and care in the production, dancing in the melodies and mysteries in the graphics.

The eleven year cycle that had begun with California Bloodlines and ended with the Dream Babies albums would have been two careers for a lot of artists. John Stewart was just getting started. And he would take the willing among us along on the ride, even when the sunrise highways turned into graveled ruts and potholes, and then he would work those sounds back into the music. The world was about to get very strange, indeed.

And looking back now, a lot of us know deep in our hearts that it would have been a very tough trail indeed, without those long, priceless letters from a good friend who didn't know our name...and didn't need to.

 The songs: 
Side One

1.   Hollywood Dreams
2.   Wind on the River
3.   Wheels of Thunder
4.   Monterey
5.   (Odin) Spirit of the Water

(Image is from the back of the original album)   

Side Two
6.   Lady of Fame
7.   The Raven
8.   Love Has Tied My Wings
9.   Nightman
10. Moonlight Rider



Forgotten Songs of Some Old Yesterday
1980 RCA release on LP
Various songs produced by David Kershenbaum, Nik Venet, Fred Carter Jr.

 (Cover image is from the LP)

This is a compilation album issued by RCA in Great Britain. It includes songs from three previous RCA releases, as noted. "Wheatfield Lady" is assumed to be the single released by RCA, since it is not the version from The Phoenix Concerts. "Rodeo Mary" was previously unreleased. 

The songs: 
Side One

1.   Wheatfield Lady (Single version??)
2.   You Can't Look Back (From The Phoenix Concerts)
3.   July, You're a Woman (From The Phoenix Concerts)
4.   Let the Big Horse Run (From The Phoenix Concerts)
5.   Cody (From The Phoenix Concerts)
6.   California Bloodlines (From The Phoenix Concerts)
7.   Mother Country (From The Phoenix Concerts)

(Image is from the back of the original album)   

Side Two
8.   All Time Woman (From Cannons in the Rain)
7.   Anna on a Memory (From Cannons in the Rain)
8.   Armstrong (From Cannons in the Rain)
9.   Cannons in the Rain (From Cannons in the Rain)
10. Hung on the Heart (Of a Man Back Home) (From Wingless Angels)
11. Road Away (From Cannons in the Rain)
12. Rodeo Mary (Previously unreleased)

The original album Forgotten Songs of Some Old Yesterday is out-of-print and has never been issued on CD.

Click here to continue with the albums between 1980 and 1990.

Click here to return to the Record Shelves.  

Click here for links to
discographies, biographies,
interviews, art by John Stewart
and a whole lot more (in the upper right panel).