Ignored Obscured Restored
I’m writing to you today from southern California, so I thought I’d feature a recording that conveys the SoCal vibe.
I’ve selected “Gold” by John Stewart.
Stewart was born and died in San Diego. In between, he was a key member of the Kingston Trio – replacing original member Dave Guard. Stewart was hired by the group to write songs, sing, and play banjo and guitar.
After six years with the Kingston Trio, he wrote “Daydream Believer” which became a #1 hit for the Monkees in 1967.
Next, he began a career with his singing partner, Buffy Ford, who became his wife in 1975. They remained together for the rest of his life. After one album together he was off on a solo career, launched with the release of his critically acclaimed album, California Bloodlines (1969).
Stewart continued to record at a pace of about an album a year, but most of them languished in obscurity – until the release of 1979’s Bombs Away Dream Babies. Bombs Away… was co-produced by Lindsey Buckingham, who was hot off the success of Fleetwood Mac’s classic Rumours. Buckingham also sang and played guitar on the recording; Stevie Nicks sang too.
Bombs Away… featured “Gold;” the song that anchored the disc and reached #5 on the pop charts. The cut has a mysteriously dark feel. The bass gallops along, punctuated with electric piano, guitar and, sparse drumming.
The lyrics tell the cynical, satirical tale of an LA musician trying to make it in “the Biz.” The refrain “Drivin’ over Kanan, singin’ to my soul / There’s people out there turnin’ music into gold” captures the desperation of the singer.
Stewart deserved more commercial success than he attained. He had many influential and more successful friends in the music industry that held him in very high regard. For instance, his 1970 album, Willard, featured James Taylor on guitar and Carole King contributed vocals and keys. This was at the height of their success leading the early ‘70s singer/songwriter movement.
Roseanne Cash thought of Stewart as a mentor and recorded his “Runaway Train” on her 1988 album King’s Record Shop. It was a #1 hit on the country charts.
So today I salute John Stewart and his contributions to the musical history of southern California.
Enjoy… until next week.