Friday, March 06, 2009

Remembering John Stewart...
...a singer-songwriter of note...

Probably one of the biggest breaks songwriter John Stewart ever got, was becoming a member of the Wildly-Popular Kingston Trio, when founding member Dave Guard left. Stewart made quite a few albums with the Trio, and fit in well with them. Stewart did say, though, that he always felt like an 'outsider' in that group. The Kingston Trio finally broke up for good in the late 1960's, but in 1967, he got another good break...a great break, actually...the year was 1968, and The Monkees recorded "Daydream Believer", and one of the first things I noticed about the record, when I first got it as a kid, was the name "John Stewart" in the writer's credits on the label.

I never could figure out what "Daydream Believer" was actually about, other than perhaps being in a good mood, things going well, and so on...but it was a Really Catchy Song, and became the Monkees' 2nd (and last) Number One Song. In the mid-'70s, Anne Murray also recorded "Daydream Believer". It's gotta be nice to be the author of a good song which people have chosen to record and record again...not to mention getting those Songwriter Royalties. In 1969, Astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon. John Stewart wrote a song about it. The Title was "Armstrong". It got radio play, although it didn't chart especially highly. But it had some great lyrics...

Black boy in Chicago, playin' in the streets
Not near enough to wear, not enough to eat
But he stopped to watch it, on a July Afternoon
He saw a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon.

Young girl in Calcutta, barely eight years old
The flies that swarm the marketplace will see she don't grow old
But don't ya know she heard it, on a July Afternoon
Heard a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon.

Rivers gettin' dirty, the air is gettin' bad
War and hate are killin' off the only Earth we have
But the whole world stopped to watch it on a July Afternoon
They saw a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon.

Singer-Songwriter John Stewart...he was 68.

And I wonder a long time ago, somewhere in the Universe
They watched a man named Adam...walk upon the earth.

At the very end of the song, you can hear Neil Armstrong's recorded words, "That's one small step for giant leap for mankind". And that song has always given me the shivers, every time I've heard it. It's next to impossible to find the original version of John Stewart's "Armstrong"; it was issued on Capitol Records in 1969 and was only released as a single. A couple years later, Stewart re-recorded it on an album he recorded for RCA Victor. But it's that original version that Grabs Me Every Time. In the later 1970's, John Stewart recorded a couple of albums for RSO, and had a minor hit, "Odin (Spirit On The Water)", which is also a Very Good Song. So it's here that I choose to remember John Stewart. A relatively unknown musician, perhaps, but also a Very Good Musician who touched a lot of people. Including me.

I found out about John Stewart while looking up an article which concerns Peter Tork, who you might remember as being one of the Monkees. Turns out that Pete has a rare form of cancer which occupies the Head and Neck. He's had an operation so far, and after a recovery period, he'll undergo radiation...

A fairly recent photo of Peter Tork, whose real last name is actually Thorkelson. Get plenty of rest, Pete...

Peter actually got his start in Folk Music. Later on, he answered a casting-call ad for The Monkees, and that's how he became a member. Pete's friend, Steve Stills (yep, of the Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash) suggested he try out. Stills had bad teeth, so he didn't get the audition. Pete wrote several Monkees' songs, including the end theme which was used in the "episode closing" during the second season of the Monkees' TV series. Pete was typecast as the "goofy" Monkees member, but he was a serious musician, playing bass and keyboards for the Monkees, and I suppose, since he was a folksinger, he plays the guitar a bit, too.

Pete didn't sing a whole lot of Monkees' songs; his clear voice can be heard on "Your Auntie Grizelda" (from 'More Of The Monkees'), "Shades of Gray" (from the 'Headquarters' album), "Words" (from 'Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones' album) and in a song from the Monkees' movie, "Do I Have To Do This All Over Again", from the 'Head' soundtrack. Peter was also the first Monkee to leave the group. The Monkees have gotten together periodically through the years, many times without Mike Nesmith (the Monkee who wore the Green Wool Hat), although in 1995, All four Monkees put together a one-episode Reunion program which appeared on national TV, and along with that, they recorded a new album called "Justus". Pete sings one song on that album and co-wrote a couple more.

I suppose Bob Dylan might call this a "Simple Twist Of Fate"...researching an article on former Monkee Peter Tork, which led to another article about a guy who wrote one of their biggest hits. Strange, how things work sometimes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's impossible for people of this generation to truly appreciate John as they should. Little is said about him, his tunes as a solo artist or with the Kingston Trio gets any airplay, but he was so brilliant that those of my generation, the 60s will never forget him. His song "Gold" is just as good as it gets. If you have come across this article and haven't heard John before, listen to him. His music will knock your socks off!

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truly unique, unclassifiable artist. Many memorable melodies with thought-provoking lyrics. In concert he was unsurpassed, telling a story that led into the next song.

3:19 PM  

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