Omaha Rainbow : Issue 21
''I've learned not to get my hopes up. In order to survive your brain puts a mechanism in there after a while that says don't hope for anything. If it does, it; if it doesn't, it doesn't. You just say next time, just keep going...
'Mother Country' was number one in Monterey for a month, and Capitol never did anything with it. It was a test market, too, which means there are some areas they look toward to see what's going on there to trade across the country. Number one for a month and they never did anything with it. That is exasperating. Everyone is in the same boat, but when you have something that has been proven and they don't do anything with it, that is their fault...
It's just a song away. There's no real building process. You can do it in a week or it might take eight years...
I think it'd be a lot easier to get up in the morning, the battle's half won by then. You do better gigs, get more time in the studio, reach more people, and your life becomes different. A lot of the dues are over dealing with record companies and things - are changed. You've won and you have much more freedom to do what you want and take the time you need to do it...
There are two great weights to carry as far as I am concerned. One is immediate success, where they are laying for you to mess up next time; and the other is having a lot of potential, when you get reviews saying you 'have a lot of potential,' that's a lot to carry around, you know? You keep trying to better yourself or outdo yourself. It's not the pressure of winning, it's the pressure of almost winning."
As I type this at the beginning of June, John is poised just outside the top thirty in the singles chart of the American trade magazine, Billboard, and close to the top fifty in the same magazine's album chart. I'm not going to tempt fate by predicting how high 'Gold' or "Bombs Away Dream Babies" will eventually rise - I'm just content they have reached where they are after only three weeks on the charts, and it's a stone cold certainty they will go higher.
John has achieved this commercial success in his 20th year in the music business. Can we even get close to the way he must be feeling right now? I began this magazine back in November of 1973. A couple of months earlier I'd tired of waiting for the music press of the world to wake up to John's extraordinary talent and - further inspired by Pete Frame's pioneering work on ZigZag (to which, incidentally, I should offer congratulations on reaching its 10th birthday) - I began formulating my plans for that first issue. Thank God it's totally unavailable now. Mercifully, I only printed 200 copies but, on the other hand, from such beginnings... At least I know how John must feel about mention of his Cumberland Three albums. Anyway, this magazine has stayed unashamedly devoted to John and his music, and with his current success every one of us involved in Omaha Rainbow is - to use a much used soccer quote - over the moon. Makes a change from feeling sick as a parrot!
There must have been plenty of occasions when John justifiably felt pretty low, but it is a measure of the man that he has persevered and, in many cases, had his resolve strengthened by the vagaries of the business he's been involved in. A bit of history... I was involved in correspondence back in mid-1975 with Cort Casady, who was John's manager during his ''Lonesome Picker/Sunstorm'' period on the Warner Brothers label.
"Joe Smith (President of WB) said, in a meeting where we discussed Stewart's move to another label, 'Well, you know Cort, I wish I could say that those artists who have left Warner Bros have gone on to become stars, but they haven't.' I couldn't believe my ears. He was saying that once you left WB you were finished. John and I later made a pact to prove him wrong if it was the last thing we ever did in show business." Cort Casady ceased to be John's manager in 1973, but I have no doubt he's allowing himself a quiet smile of satisfaction.
Incidentally, John has changed managers yet again, having recently signed a management deal with Jerry Weintraub and Management Three. Weintraub is one of America's most influential managers, possibly best known for his work with John Denver. Another man involved in Management Three is Ken Kragen, himself a former manager of John, and currently handling the escalating fortunes of Kenny Rogers. Confusing? Maybe we should get Pete Frame to work on one of his Family Trees to make it all clear.
In fact, I've long wanted Pete to do a John Stewart Tree, though presenting the facts in coherent fashion might be beyond even Pete's considerable talents. And that presupposes we could sort out exactly who and when all these people have passed through John's bands. A 1973 handbill from the Cort Casady days is shown nearby, and there's been a whole slew of changes before and since. Most recently, this has involved the arrival of Wayne Hunt on keyboards; Gary Weisberg vacating the drummer's seat for someone whose name I've yet to discover; and Joey Harris leaving to play lead guitar in his own five man group, Fingers.
A little further on I intend to print the profile of John written by Tom De Lisle to accompany review copies of "Bombs Away Dream Babies." Unfortunately, the petrol shortage in California prevented Lomax Gold from doing the third Tom De Lisle interview to go in this issue, but we're hoping for better fortune next issue.
Before Tom's profile, however, I think it appropriate to quote from an interview I did with Bob Ringe (the producer of Pure Prairie League's classic first two albums) back in 1975... "You talk about somebody like John Stewart, well, you're talking about one of the all-time great writers of our century who has not had a hit record, that's all. He's a great talent and one day, as with Linda Ronstadt or Pure Prairie League or with any talent, he'll have a hit record. It's that simple. It will happen with John Stewart eventually.
It's just going to take the right chemistry of John with the right producer, and the right circumstance, with the right song, and the right record company and that's it. A great talent, John Stewart, phew!"
So on to Tom's profile of John which was written, incidentally, long before there had been any media reaction to ''Bombs Away Dream Babies." Tom is just one of that small band of ''loyal friends and front row dancers'' who must be feeling pretty smug right now....
There comes a time in any long-distance race when a runner must go into his "kick'' lap. It is the moment that a thoroughbred - human or horse - calls on his instict and ability to surge forward and break free, to run at his finest.
John Stewart is a performer who, like few others in the music business, has so intimately known the loneliness of the long-distance runner. Commercial success has eluded many in his trade, but perhaps none has had the unique talents and track record of a Stewart. That is why his fans and friends, and those who have heard his new RSO album, feel so strongly that it is a triumph, a kick lap performance from a truly great and determined runner.
In this new album, "Bombs Away Dream Babies," Stewart has crystallised what he has created and learned in nearly twenty years of writing and performing. He has brought together the best elements of an amazing career and seems to have produced the right product at the right time in a bid for long-deserved rewards.
To label the new work a "triumph'' is to give testimony to the perseverance and talent of one man. (And who, over the past decade or so, has been so "under-hyped" - to coin a term - as Stewart?) But to recognise the power and feel of "Bombs Away Dream Babies" is a testament to the magic of rock music itself, whatever its form.
For Stewart, "rock" may be considered a new and unusual term for his work. Yet after years of seeing his albums filed under "folk," "country," "folk-rock" or "pop" in record stores, it emerges as the best and most derivative label. Establishing that, it is then necessary to point out that with "Bombs Away Dream Babies," Stewart, a man who has suffered from labelling, blasts away at the confinements and prejudices of fast-food thought.
Because "Bombs Away Dream Babies" has a Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance connection that reveals the most diverse of roots, the feel of the album is Presley-to-Kingston Trio-to-Rolling Stones-to-Fleetwood Mac, yet still so uniquely John Stewart.
All these sources rig true. It was as a Presley-admiring teenager that Stewart formed a Pomona, California, rock group called John Stewart and the Furies. In 1961, after a stint as the leader of the folk group The Cumberland Three, he joined the Kingston Trio, then the largest-selling group in the world. With the "retirement" of the Trio in 1967, Stewart went on his own. Since a 1968 album with his wife, Buffy Ford, he has recorded nine solo albums. Those efforts brought him expansive critical acclaim. In fact, a recent poll of 48 worldwide record critics rated Stewart's "California Bloodlines" album as number 36 among the top 200 albums of all time.
Yet for all the acclaim of his unique music, Stewart has been denied commercial triumph. He was labelled a cult performer before the term was devalued by misuse. His unique and highly personal music placed him out of the mainstream of commercial sound in the 1970's. In fact, one observer remarked of him, "Stewart has been a very sober and lonely figure in a very stoned decade."
And that is why "Bombs Away Dream Babies" works so well - the music leaps off the record, it is aggressive and assertive, and it has combined the best of Stewart's talents and sources to score what is certainly an artistic success with what should be a highly commercial appeal.
In many ways the album brings his talents and sources full circle. The artists and friends who helped in recording seem almost providential. There was Dave Guard, founder of the Kingston Trio, whose departure from the group in 1961 opened a door to Stewart. There were Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, ardent Stewart fans and current rock superstars who had once played the grooves off old Trio recordings.
It was Buckingham who, in informal garage and studio sessions, influenced Stewart to revive some of the mid-60s Trio sound and incorporate it into his contemporary work. (The song 'The Spinnin' of the World,' for example, is a Buckingham favourite from the Trio's 1967 farewell album.) In fact, Lindsey has talked of the Kingston Trio influence in the Fleetwood Mac sound. So it seems fitting that he and partner Nicks have played a substantial role in the success of Stewart's new album.
The bigger and broader new Stewart sound is most apparent on songs like 'Midnight Wind' and 'Gold,' while things like 'Somewhere Down the Line' and 'Lost Her in the Sun' remain uniquely and traditionally John Stewart-style works.
Obviously, the listening and record-buying public will ultimately decide what levels of success are achieved by Stewart and "Bombs Away Dream Babies.'' It is impossible to guess or gauge. But for those who have long admired and exulted in John Stewart's music, it is surely enough to hear him at this high level of his career, to see him finally at the elusive point where his artistic achievement should meet a burst of commercial success, to watch him run with the wind like the thoroughbred he is.
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