The John Stewart Collection—Shelf Three


(Image from the CD insert for Deep in the Neon)
[Dave Batti and John Stewart—sketch by J.S.]
Years of Long Letters from a Good Friend

In 1980 John Stewart had reached a pinnacle of his studio craft with the Dream Babies albums. So he took it all apart and rebuilt the racing engine of his music from the pieces. In 1990, he reached a new height for his live sound, after spending nearly ten years rebuilding a group of backup and band musicians, honing his craft, and thinking about some very serious things. Should we have been surprised that he took it all apart again and went back to basics? But the arbitrary six-year span of time on this shelf that followed was very special, even for him.

In the 1950's, the kids in the neighborhood around Capitol Lake in Pierre, South Dakota, used to hang out in the autumn evenings around the west side of the formal steps to the Capitol Building, after all the workers had gone home. There was a horse chestnut tree there. As twilight slid back further into our days and homework increased, there was some sort of "safe zone" under that tree. Some things almost became ritual. Somebody would quote Ogden Nash on the Village Smithy and we'd all chime in on the last lines. We'd talk about the things you talk about when the group is straddling that thin border between Junior and Senior High. We'd shuck the green casings off the windfalls from the tree and put them in the jacket pocket where you kept chestnuts.

Part of the ritual came to be checking out the feeling that night. Who was there, what had gone on, what it meant. We didn't know the term "group dynamic" yet. We were too simple for that. But we knew big stuff when we met it, and there were especially special evenings there on the grass. Some of them included an outsider. Joe Foss was the governor of the state, and sometimes he would walk down the big steps by himself, step off onto the grass to say hi for a minute, and then walk off into the dusk—alone. Sometimes he would walk past on the sidewalk and nod. Sometimes he didn't seem to see us. We didn't say anything to him on those nights.

What came next would vary with who was there. Some could be counted on to use the word "hero." Somebody would always say "Ace." The skinny kid with the glasses would talk about how many planes he had shot down and other statistics (although we really didn't know that word yet either). He was tall...and handsome, although we wouldn't have used that word...and rugged in some strange, glowing sense of the word. We didn't know what his extraction was, and he was too special to investigate, but the Irish kids in the bunch claimed him as their own—he did have that look—and some things just naturally need to stay unresolved. Somehow, you felt richer on those "Joe" nights. The one thing that nobody ever said was, "I'm going to be like that when... ." Because we knew somehow that there's only one of some people, and nobody else can ever be like them...

Some of the chestnuts got drilled and strung, and you played "killer" with them...but never there under the tree they came from. And some of them seemed to talk to you a little bit. Those you carried, and let them get polished to that special glowing gloss that said they had been in your pockets for a while...and rubbed with your thumb while you did other things and thought other things...

Now you, kind reader, probably think that the point of all that is to say that John Stewart is like Joe Foss, in that nobody can ever be like him, either. And that's true. But the real point is the horse chestnuts.

The albums on this shelf, again, allow us to look into part of his process. Songs appeared on cassettes made from tracks that he had laid down at his home, or alone in a studio somewhere, and then it's as if he was running his mental thumb over them, polishing them to a sheen while he was working on other stuff. And sometimes a quick series of notes, or the feel of a piece, or a mood or a word, would surface in a later composition. And sometimes he would take the song out on the road and push it through some smoky bar and grill while a tape ran, and put the mood of that night in there with it...and then release the tape, practically raw, so you could share in the experience. Who else does this?? Who else has that kind of faith in their fans?

And you wonder why his fans feel special...

Deep in the Neon
John Stewart Live at McCabe's

1991 Homecoming Records release on CD
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the CD)
  Cover Art and Drawings by John Stewart
  Lettering by Henry Diltz

This is a live, two-man show recorded at McCabe's in Santa Monica in June of 1991. That's right. Immediately after the incredible, backed-by-a-full-band high water mark of Neon Beach, John Stewart went back out on the road with just Dave Batti on bass and stripped everything back down to the running gear.

As so often happens, Tom DeLisle said it best. "...With the recent Neon Beach he fielded maybe his best big group sound yet. Now the guy comes full circle with Deep in the Neon, back towards a cleaner, simpler sound...and it is just as intriguing, as captivating...and maybe the best sound that has evolved out of his amazing careering career.

He has captured here, AGAIN, something very evocative, very fine...with his new playing, his new singing, and the subtle backing of the agreeable Dave "Dave" Batti. With another Dave along on this leg...the spirit of his legendary mentor Mr. Guard..."

It is tempting to say that this album is for aficionados only, but there is at least one song here that is so clean, so elemental and so important that—all by itself—it is worth more than we have paid for a lot of complete CDs. And there's something else...there are days when some of us get a craving that can only be satisfied by listening to this one...usually in the car for some reason. There's a little of bit of magic mixed in here somehow. Part of it may be the asides between and during the songs, but there's more to it than that... Maybe it's just the free-floating stuff left over from Neon Beach.

It will only be said that if you have begun to get hooked on John Stewart and the journeys he shows us, you need to add this one to your collection. We are willing to bet that you cannot play "Paths are Many" just once. And you will never hear "July, You're a Woman" and "Daydream Believer" quite the same way again. Or put on your "Fear the Bunny" T-shirt without a small, secret grin or two...

The songs: 
1.   Strange Rivers
2.   Runaway Train
3.   The Man Who Would Be King
4.   American Nights
5.   Paths are Many

This one alone is worth the price of the album. This is a nitro-fueled two-engine dragster, disguised as an Austin-Healy Sprite. This is the essence of something, stripped down to the bare essentials...not one extra note...not one extra word... It is inventive, essential, affirming, rueful and hopeful and—above all—absolutely honest. NOBODY can listen to it just once. And if that's not true, we probably don't want to meet them...

6.   The Wheel Within the Clay
7.   Irresistible Targets
8.   July You're a Woman
9.   She Believes in Me
10. Grace of Rain/Dealing With the Night
11. Daydream Believer
12. Never Goin' Back Medley (Including)
       Do You Wanna Dance
       All the Lights
13. Shady Grove
14. Escape of Old John Webb
15. Where Have All the Flowers Gone
16. California Bloodlines

(The image is from the back cover of the CD)



Bullets in the Hour Glass
1992 Shanachie Records release on LP
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the CD insert sleeve) 

For those of us who were still operating on the—"sure feels like time for another John Stewart album, guess I better start checking the bins and racks where the music stores keep him..."—theory of life, this thing hit like a rocket. We had bounced from Punch the Big Guy in the studio in 1987, to Neon Beach Live in 1990, and now back to the studio for this one.

Sometime, after you have those three albums, figure out what you were doing in 1987, 1990 and 1992, and what was going on in the world around you, and play them back-to-back-to-back. Then try to tell us that this guy hasn't been building his own rugged island in the ocean of music, while too much of the rest of the world was just watching TV.

If you were part of the self-selected few who were going to his appearances and keeping up with the albums that didn't make it into the racks at the music stores, you got some real treats here. Four of the songs had first appeared on Deep in the Neon. Then he had carried them in his pocket with the horse chestnuts, and when they glowed just right, he took them into the studio with his friends and put them on this album. Four more had started out on the Secret Tapes ('86 and II) and been through the same process. Two were revisited from Neon Beach. And what some of us think is a one-song, one-album-only mountain of its own called "Wheel Within the Clay" came quietly storming out of nowhere...and plugged us back into our humanity...and still echoes in our minds...

The songs: 
1.   Irresistible Targets
2.   American Nights
3.   Looking for Jack
4.   Women
5.   The River
6.   Seven Times the Wind
7.   Dealing With the Night
8.   The Wheel Within the Clay
9.   Bad Rats
10. The Man Who Would Be King

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



Teresa and the Lost Songs
1992 Homecoming Records release on cassette
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the cassette sleeve)
  Cover Photo by Luke Stewart
  Mother Teresa by John Stewart

In the words of John Stewart himself, from the liner notes to the cassette issue, "TERESA was written this August (1992) at the Omega Institute in New York State where I was teaching a song writing course. I was asked to bring the paintings of Mother Teresa I was doing to display in the dining hall. After being up for a day the executives asked me to take them down as: '...they didn't want people thinking that was what Omega is about.' I always thought of Mother Teresa as a great human being like Ghandi, not a symbol of the Catholic Church. Anyway I was not pleased. I wrote this song in about thirty minutes and sang it there one night in a show I did with Tuck and Patti. The place went crazy and they called more attention to the Mother than if they had left them up. The power of songs..."

The "lost songs" on this album include things he wrote between the late '60's and early '90s that never quite got recorded, or got put on tape and then thrown into the big box that showed up on Tom DeLisle's front step one chilly morning, as noted above. We'll let Mr. DeLisle take it from there, from the insert notes to the expanded reissue CD in 1997:

"They are masterpieces, small and perfect works of art, these tunes. They, and the hundreds of other Stewart songs, heard and unheard, found and lost, are the essence of his work, his legend... They remind us of how grateful and fortunate we are to have them, and him... He is the best of singer-songwriters; we the most avid of listeners. The songs are the air; we're the birds. And there's a nice symmetry to all that."

What more can be said?

The songs: 
Side One
1.   Dead Snakes
2.   Lilly and Joe
3.   Annie Born and Died
4.   Across the Milky Way
5.   Songs of all the Angels (Not included on CD re-issue)
6.   Teresa

Side Two
7.   Looking Back Johanna
8.   Wings of Saint Michael (Not included on CD re-issue)
9.   Seek a Newer World
10. Crows Landing
11. Remembering the Sun

(Additional tracks on the CD re-issue)

--  A Woman Rides the Beast
--  Cooler Water, Higher Ground
--  Liddy Buck

(The image is from the cover of the 1998 CD re-issue)



the ritual of the light

1992 Homecoming Records release on cassette
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the cassette sleeve) 

Every few years, John Stewart seems to decide to forget lyrics and try to tell his stories with instruments alone. This time he went into a studio in Georgia with a different group of musicians than usual, and some obvious ideas about mental processes and history and neglected roots. This is what came out. A lot of folks don't even know it exists, since it was published by Homecoming Records as a cassette that didn't make it into a lot of music stores.

You can call this a meditation tape, or an album of "Gypsy" or Traveler-themed instrumentals, or a startling display of musicianship, or... What you cannot call it is insignificant, because once you've listened to it, you will hear snatches of notes and moods and styles from this work in Stewart's more accessible songs that come after. This one will give you a chance to be really boring, even in the informed company of other Stewart fans. If you give it a chance—and more than one listen—it may just take you down some internal paths, and into some very dusty books, as well.

The songs (order is from the CD reissue):
Side One

1.   Spiritus Illumini (Opening)
[added on CD]
2.   Savanah Afternoon (Under the Bridge)
3.   Gypsy Heat
4.   Slow Dance/Gypsy Moon
[resequenced on CD]
5.   (Journey) Through the Darkness (The Ritual of Light)
[resequenced on CD]

Side Two
6.   Meditation (The Angels Hour)
--   Gypsys at the River
[not included on CD]
7.   Redemption (The Journey Home)
8.   Spiritus Illumini (Closing)
[added on CD]

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

The original Crow Sounds 1992 issue of Savanah is out-of-print. The 2001 CD re-release is now also out-of-print.


John Stewart—American Originals

1992 Capitol Records release on CD
Produced and compiled by Todd Everett

 (Cover image is from the CD)

This is a compilation of songs from John Stewart's early releases on Capitol, spanning songs from the Kingston Trio years, the Signals Through the Glass album with Buffy Ford, and his initial solo albums.

For those just beginning to explore the music of John Stewart, or to build a collection, there are probably better compilations, including Earth Rider from Raven Records and Gold from Wrasse Records. But for those who have crossed the line into serious fan status, this compilation belongs on the shelf because of the inclusion of the two songs from Signals Through the Glass—unavailable elsewhere on compact disk, and the singles versions of "The Lady and the Outlaw" and "Armstrong"—both recorded in 1969 and produced by Chip Douglas. These originals will not only add depth to your collection, but will also heighten your appreciation for the mention of Douglas' name in Stewart's introduction to "Daydream Believer" on Deep in the Neon.

And it's that kind of hidden history (some might even say esoterica) that we love around this place.

The songs: 
1.   If You Don't Look Around
2.   Chilly Winds (Intro)
3.   Chilly Winds
4.   Holly on My Mind
5.   Mucky Truckee River
6.   California Bloodlines
7.   Mother Country
8.   The Pirates of Stone County Road
9.   Lonesome Picker
10. July, You're a Woman
11. Shackles and Chains
12. Never Goin' Back
13. Willard
14. Oldest Living Son
15. Clack Clack
16. Friend of Jesus
17. Great White Cathedrals
18. Belly Full of Tennessee
19. The Lady and the Outlaw
20. Armstrong

(The image is from the back cover of the CD)



Rocket Roy in the Real World

1993 Homecoming Records release on cassette
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the cassette sleeve) 

Everyone has probably spent some time daydreaming about time travel. Where and when would you go? Would you want to watch, or get involved?

If some of us could pick our opportunity to be a virtual "fly on the wall," we would lurk in a studio in Charlottesville, Virginia for the month of October, in 1993, and maybe follow some highways west to the Pacific in the time just before.

During that one month, in that one year, John Stewart went into a studio, pretty much by himself, and recorded two albums—Rocket Roy in the Real World and Escape to Arizona— 25 fully realized tracks! He created every bit of sound on them except for background vocals by Buffy Ford Stewart and some captured words from others. In one month... And he even did the art...

Taken together, these two albums are so far beyond popular music that it is liking comparing the whole town of Pukwana to one, single Lincoln Log. This is literature in some strange and powerful way. And history, and essay, and something that somehow hints at future media without a picture tube... We'll get to Arizona in a minute. First, there's Rocket Roy to consider...

In a way, this one is the "pirate from Stone County road" looking at life 25 or 45 years later. In a way, it's an American citizen of the world peeling off our blinders and quietly screaming, "Look at this..." in our mind's ear. In a way, it's audio verité, with found sounds, and mixed sounds, and spoken words and special effects and musical instruments and touching lyrics and the kind of insights and truths you only get from good friends. It's moving and tragic and thoughtful and sad and just about every other emotion that goes with informed nostalgia, clear eyes and tempered remembrance.

Do you remember a moment when you walked out of a movie in an old-fashioned theatre—out of the dark and into the light of an afternoon, perhaps—and you couldn't quite figure out what was real for a second? When you had to do that mental downshift from someone else's vision back to your own? And the light seemed a little surreal? Rocket Roy can do that to you.

It is great art.

Like all great art, these tracks will change you. Let's be dead serious here—these two albums should be required listening, in a group setting, in every real American Studies program.

With all that said, there is something else that should be pointed out, even though it has gotten some of us in a little trouble in some circles. John Stewart's albums need to be listened to while driving, at least at some point. That's not just our opinion. But if you are of an age that you can remember a time before television, and what state Our Gal Sunday was from, and both Inner Sanctum and The Creaking Door—if you've ever spent time on a reservation, or in the neon trout streams between the post front gate and the pawnshops and strip clubs... And if you've ever driven from Norfolk to Louisville through the mountains and felt cleansed by the sun and the rare air, or let the Badlands bake the gunk off you before refilling your spiritual tank in the Black Hills...then you should know that a friend of ours once had to pull off the Interstate in the middle of Rocket Roy Plus, because he didn't trust himself to drive just then. This is the uncut stuff. Some of us should listen with another good friend the first time.

How many "popular" artists give you that...or even trust you with it?

The songs (the order is from the CD reissue): 

1.   Prelude
2.   Long Train of Dreams
[added on CD re-release]
3.   Slaughter Lane
4.   White Babies and Roses
5.   One Grain of Sand
[added on CD re-release]
6.   Blaze and Diego
7.   The Ghost of the Superchief
8.   Radio Days
[added on CD re-release]
9.   Moonlight Dream
[Re-sequenced on CD re-release]

(Image is from the reverse of the cassette sleeve)



10. I Remember America
11.  Living in the World
[Re-sequenced on CD re-release]
12.  Mass Evacuation of the Promised Land
13. Who Stole the Soul of Johnny Dreams
[added on CD re-release]
14. Tasteless Glory
15. Hopeless Utopia
16. Rivers of Light
[added on CD re-release]
17. Reprise

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


Escape to Arizona

1993 Homecoming Records release on cassette
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the cassette sleeve) 

This is the companion piece to Rocket Roy in the Real World. If that one is "outsight" this one is insight. If that one broke your heart, this one will soothe your soul and put you back under the wheel. Up until now, if you wanted it—and you should—you had to get it on cassette. It had never been released in any other form. In 2008 that is scheduled to change, and Neon Dreams will release the album in Compact Disk format.

It is such a keeper.

This little tape contained the first seeds of songs that would become staples in live appearances later, a reprise from the much-neglected Trancas LP, and two songs that are good enough that they would appear on the retrospective album that would arrive in a couple of years.

It also contains some "stripped-down-to-the-frame-and-engine" tracks that are nothing short of classics. Seriously—this little goodie contains some songs that are as good or better than anything from John Stewart's RSO studio period of popularity. It is hard to imagine how "Fame," "Escape to Arizona," "Redemption for the Man" or others could possibly be better if they got pushed through the kind of process and production that gave us "Lost Her in the Sun" or "Midnight Wind" or "Lady of Fame" or "Odin." But it is fun to wonder...

The songs: 
Side One
1.   People in the Mirror
2.   Ghost Inside of Me
3.   Radio Slaves
4.   Escape to Arizona
5.   Fame
6.   Comfort Me

Side Two
7.   Future Earnings
8.   World Goes Rollin'
9.   Redemption for the Man
10. China Dancer
11. The Shadows of the Angel's Wings

(Image is from the cover of the Neon Dreams CD issue)


Chilly Winds

2004 Neon Dreams re-release on CD
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the CD)

This compact disk contains all tracks from two previous albums, 1983's Revenge of the Budgie and The Trio Years from 1986. There are a thousand stories in this material that are still being told. When the disk went out of print, a lot of people worried that they might be lost. Neon Dreams came to the rescue. There's a book or two in this one. 

The original albums were discussed in the materials for Shelf Two of the Stewart Collection, above.

Click here to read the comments for Revenge of the Budgie.

Click here to read the comments for The Trio Years.

Bill Bush says it very well in the liner notes: "These songs have caught up with us, reborn with a new sound and interpretation that make them as relevant to our ears today as they were the first time out."

The albums were all but made to be combined, representing not just the three year bridge between their issue, but reaching back over twenty years in the association between Stewart and Nick Reynolds. As a bonus, we have been treated to John Stewart's own studio production. 

As Bush also wrote, "...I still regard this collection as the quintessential studio album with Stewart using the board like a giant painter's palette..."

The album contains a number of certain-classic tracks, not least of which is the first recorded release of "Dreamers on the Rise,"— a virtual theme song for many among Stewart's legion of serious fans. Any serious collection of his music must include this album!

The songs: 
1.   Hit and Run
2.   Those Who Are Wise
3.   Road to Freedom
4.   Run the Ridges
5.   The New Frontier
6.   One More Town
7.   Lock All the Windows
8.   Green Grasses
9.   Chilly Winds
10. Children of the Morning
11. Buddy Won't You Roll
12. Dreamers on the Rise
13. Cheyenne
14. Living on Easy
15. Hiding in the Shadows
16. Angel on the Road Shoulder
17. Same Old Heart

(The image is from the insert for the original Trio Years cassette.
All the original songs, together with all songs from Revenge of the Budgie
are included on the Chilly Winds CD issue.)

Chilly Winds was re-issued, in its entirety, by Neon Dreams and has since gone out-of-print.



1994 Homecoming Records release on cassette
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the cassette cover insert) 

Meanwhile, in the world of the John Stewart fans who were still shopping the hidden corners of record stores that ordered-in his "major label" releases, the last album we had seen was the incredible Bullets in the Hour Glass, in 1992. By 1994 and 1995, you could begin to sense another one out there, and the number of trips to the bins increased. If you got lucky, you found this one in the import version, or heard about it and waited for the special order to come in. If you didn't, it came along a couple of years later.

Whenever you got it, it was like a stiff shot to the chest. It ran the "publicly" issued string of absolute keepers to four, in under 10 years. Four killer albums...that's more than some people with mansions can claim in a career, and four doesn't even cover the bottom of this guy's bucket...! And he was still evolving, still writing songs like no one else, still crafting music in a market where "thrown together for four guys under 20" was the norm. If a lot of us had known where to send the fan letter, we would have had to pay the freight rate.

Another memory—

I was doing some computer work in the basement of somebody's house on a small reserve west of Winnipeg, when one of those Manitoba blizzards came thundering down out of the Arctic. All the radio stations had been giving the temperatures in Celsius, so for the week or so before, all I had known was that it was either cold, damn cold, or too cold for profanity. Now the wind was hitting about 50 or 60 somethings, the seals on the windows were humming, you couldn't see 30 feet and I was told it was 40 below. When I asked what that was in Fahrenheit degrees everybody started laughing. That's how I found out that at that temperature it's the same number of degrees on both sides of the border.

A friend from the reserve had been working along on the computer project and at some point I threw Bandera into a computer CD-ROM drive and played him "Ghost of the Superchief" and "I Remember America." He looked at me in stunned silence, shook his head, put on the heavy version of the Manitoba Native Firefighter Coat and walked out into the storm. About an hour later, he came back with icicles in his eyebrows and said something like "DAMN! Now what were we talking about?" So I played him "Waiting for Saints" and "Monkey Boy" and then we took a four-wheel drive into town for some Italian food. We listened to classic Rock and Roll tapes on the long drive both ways... Later I got him his own copy of Bandera. We're still friends.

The Bandera cassette was an apparently "home-brewed" release for sale on a tour of the United Kingdom. It had a different song order than the list below and two different tracks. During the tour, a live show was recorded at the Turf Inn, in Dalry, Scotland, at which John Stewart was backed by the Scottish Band "Lies Damned Lies." That recording was released in 1994 on Feegie Records, and was then re-released on Folk Era in 1998. The song order below is that of the two CD releases.

We have no idea how often Lies Damned Lies (Eddy John, Steve Butler, Dot Reid and Charlie Irvine) had played with Brother Stewart before this night. We have no idea how much of this was rehearsed, and how much of it just happened, like the night that magic struck at Trancas Bar in Malibu and Neon Beach unfolded. Someday, maybe we'll find out. Until then, the plan is to assume that this is more PFM, and we are all the luckier for it...

The songs: 

1.   Keeper of the Flame
2.   Evangeline
3.   Miracle Mile
4.   Slow Dance
5.   Liberation Day

(Image is from the CD insert for the original Feegie release)




6.   Ghost of the Superchief [Replaces "Desert of Dreams" from cassette]
7.   I Remember America
[Replaces "Little Rock" from cassette]
8.   Monkey Boy
9.   Dink's Blues
10. Waiting for Saints

(The image is from the front of the insert to the 1998 Folk Era re-release). 


25th Anniversary Tribute to the First Man on the Moon

1994 Homecoming Records release
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the insert to the 2001 Neon Dreams rerelease CD) 

This one is for the true collector. It contains some aural history and two John Stewart songs. "Armstrong," we have been told, was written the day of the moon landing in the summer of 1969, and was on the airwaves in about a week. It has appeared in various versions on other of his albums, but this may just be our favorite version—it has some kind of special ring to it. So far as we know, however, this is the only place you are going to find "The Witness," written 25 years later. "Witness" is more than just special. It is almost six minutes of spoken word, philosophy and perspective, with a musical background that is absolutely unique to this collection. It is the Pirate from Stone County Road and Rocket Roy looking back on something terribly significant and putting down a small time capsule for all the Daydream Believers. That's all we're going to say here...

The cuts: 

1.   JFK's Vision—Special address to Congress 5/25/1961
2.   Armstrong—John Stewart (3:04)
3.   One Small Step—Neil Armstrong on the moon 7/20/1969
4.   The Eagle has Landed—From Tranquility Base on the Moon
5.   One Small Step—Extended version
6.   Launch from the Moon—7/21/69
7.   The Witness—John Stewart (5:57)

(The image is from the back of the CD insert)

The original Homecoming Records 1994 issue of Armstrong is out of print, as is the 2001 Neon Dreams re-release CD.


John Stewart and Buffy Ford—
Live at the Turf Inn, Scotland

1995 Homecoming Records release on CD
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the CD cover insert) 

In 1968, John Stewart and Buffy Ford went into a studio and recorded Signals Through the Glass. It is now one of the most sought-after albums you can't find. In the twenty-five years following, some of the very most memorable songs on his albums have had her soaring voice in a backup role. We dare, for instance, any fan to play "Cody" in their head without going immediately to Buffy's voice on the last chorus. A lady we really respect around here has said that Buffy Ford makes John Stewart sound more like John Stewart when she sings with him. That makes a strange sort of sense to us. And then, nearly thirty years later...

We turn to Tom DeLisle's liner notes, once again: "On the evening of November 4th, 1994, John and wife Buffy Ford Stewart took the backroom stage at the Turf Inn in Dalry, Scotland, and dazzled a rapt audience of about 100 delighted fans with a rare and memorable two hour live performance.

The show had been intended as a farewell touch to John's Scot-English swing, and a thank-you bow to Turf owner Andy Fergus and the eager Stewart aficionados who had jammed his club for four John-only concerts the previous week... John, Buffy, one acoustic guitar, a perfect November night in Scotland. All captured on Live at the Turf. "Magic" was the term everyone used when that night was done. Listen to this recording, and you'll understand."

The songs: 

1.   Bringing Down the Moon
2.   Cody
3.   Midnight Wind
4.   The Four Marys
5.   Dreamers on the Rise
6.   Pick a Bale o' Cotton
7.   Bolinas
8.   Big Horse
9.   California Bloodlines/Chilly Winds
10. Arkansas Breakout
11. East Virginia
12. Monkey Boy
13. Miracle Mile
14. The Water is Wide
15. Sing My Heart Away
16. Cannons in the Rain
17. The Last Campaign
18. Across the Milkyway
19. The Pirates of Stone County Road


Airdream Believer
A Retrospective

1995 Homecoming Records release on cassette
Produced by John Stewart

 (Cover image is from the CD cover insert)
  Photography by Louis Saunders

This isn't really a compilation, although it looks like one at first glance. What it really is, is a revisit to some of the classic moments and songs from John Stewart's history. After all, there are songs on this "retrospective" that reach back 30 years to his time with the Kingston Trio, but the recordings were done in 1994. And, in addition to the classics, there are studio treatments of songs previously available only to the hard-core fans who had been snapping up the "home" recordings on cassette at concerts and through the mail.

It had been something like 25 years since we first heard "July You're a Woman" (at least those of us who missed Signals Through the Glass). No one can do a better job of describing the moments since than the indefatigable Tom DeLisle (from the insert notes):

"An English music reviewer in 1994 stated that John Stewart is the greatest songwriter of our time. Really? Really.

This will be news to some. He is a singer who has fallen into the seams of American pop culture...folk after the boom...a cowboy before the rhinestones...country before it was cool...rock when disco ruled. He has been sober when the crowd was stoned, funny when everyone was taking themselves SO seriously, loved the Mother Country when disdain was hip, committed to the long haul as the National Attention Span degenerated into minutes then seconds.

He has stood tall for 30 years. It has all been upstream. He has persisted when pressures mitigated against going on...stubbornly clinging to a personal vision when the trend-seekers were running hither and yon..."

So here are some classics...redone and redressed and rethought...with Dave Batti— our quiet hero— on bass, Steurt Smith on various guitars and other instruments, Jim McCarty and Roland Machine on drums, Mike Dontoni and the man himself on keyboards, and vocals by the absolutely irreplaceable Buffy Ford Steward—with a little help from folks like Johnny Cash, Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane, Roseanne Cash, Nanci Griffith, Sarah Hickman and a small host of other friends...

If you have started building a John Stewart collection, please don't fool yourself that you can leave this one out because you have most of the songs on other albums. For one thing, you will miss the sheer joy of "Get Rhythm"—with another American legend, Johnny Cash. For another, after listening to the way some of these are done—stripped down, sometimes slowed down, re-phrased and refreshed—you may find yourself thinking that you didn't really appreciate everything that was there before. You may even find yourself thinking that some of these are the definitive versions—at least until he does them another way...somewhere down the line...

The songs: 

1.   Lost Her in the Sun
2.   Midnight Wind
3.   Get Rhythm
4.   Justiceville
5.   Daydream Believer
6.   July You're a Woman
7.   Shadows of the Angels Wings
8.   Dreamers on the Rise
9.   The Reverend Mr. Black
10. People in the Mirror
11. Gold
12. Armstrong
13. The Ghost Inside of Me
14. I Remember America

(The image is from the back cover of the CD)


Gold (A Compilation — 1969-1988)
        [with three songs from 1995]

1999 Wrasse Records release on compact disk
Compilation by Peter O'Brien and John Tobler
Executive Producer—Mike Gill at C-Dreams

 (Cover image is from the CD cover insert) 

This is the closest thing that exists to a "Best Of" John Stewart. It's not a "Best Of" however...it's a compilation of some truly inspired choices from his major label output between 1969 and 1988, with three songs from Airdream Believer thrown in from 1995.

It is a dandy place to start, if you are just tuning in to Radio Free Stewart. But please don't think this is all the good songs from these years, let alone all the good songs. There is an on-going debate among the serious members of his fan base, as to the best way to introduce someone to John Stewart for the first time. This is the short answer...

The songs: 

Disk One
(From California Bloodlines)
1.   California Bloodlines
2.   Omaha Rainbow
3.  Pirates of Stone County Road
4.  Mother Country
5.   July You're a Woman

    (From Willard)
6.   Julie, Judy, Angel Rain
7.   Oldest Living Son
8.   Great White Cathedrals
9.   Willard

    (From The Lonesome Picker Rides Again)
10. Freeway Pleasure
11. Touch of the Sun
12. Bolinas
13. Crazy

    (From Sunstorm)
14. Kansas Rain
15. Light Come Shine

    (From Cannons in the Rain)
16. Durango
17. Anna on a Memory
18. All Time Woman
19. Road Away
20. Armstrong/Spirit
21. Cannons in the Rain

Disk Two
(From Wingless Angels)
1.   Hung on the Heart
2.   Some Kind of Love
3.   Josie

    (From Fire in the Wind)
4.   18 Wheels
5.   The Last Hurrah

    (From Bombs Away Dream Babies)
6.   Gold
7.   Lost Her in the Sun
8.   Midnight Wind

    (From Dream Babies Go Hollywood)
9.   Wind on the River
10. Night Man
11. Wheels of Thunder

    (From Blondes)
12. The Queen of Hollywood High
13. Jenny was a Dream Girl
14. Angeles (The City of the Angels)

    (From the Nanci Griffith album Little Love Affairs)
15. Sweet Dreams Will Come (with Nanci Griffith)

    (From Punch the Big Guy—1987)
16. Runaway Train
17. Midnight of the World

    (From Airdream Believer—1995)
18. Shadow of the Angels Wings
19. Daydream Believer
20. I Remember America

(The image is from the inside of the back cover of the CD)



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