Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 5 September 1939; d 19 January 2008, San Diego, of an aneurysm) Singer, songwriter, guitarist; grew up in Southern California. He made 16 albums on seven different labels in 20 years, concentrating mostly on Americana and love songs with little commercial reward; then formed his own Homecoming label and carried on, with many loyal fans around the world.

He led the Cumberland Three on Roulette '60, with John Montgomery and Gil Robbins (b 3 April 1931, Spokane; d 5 April 2011 at his home in Esteban Cantú, Mexico; later a member of the Highwaymen, and father of actor Tim Robbins). The Cumberland Three made LPs Folk Scene USA and two volumes of Civil War songs, one for the North, one for the South: an imaginative idea for the record business of that time, or any time. Stewart was a member of the Kingston Trio '61-7; made I Only Came To Dance With You '66 with Scott Engel on Tower, also wrote 'Daydream Believer' for the Monkees '67. A proposed group with Scott McKenzie and John Phillips didn't come off; John Stewart And Buffy Ford '68 (reissued as Signals Through The Glass), solo California Bloodlines '69 (regarded as a classic by many), Willard '70 were all on Capitol; the underrated The Lonesome Picker Rides Again '71 and Sunstorm '72 on WB; Cannons In The Rain '73, two-disc The Phoenix Concerts '74, Wingless Angels '75 and In Concert '80 on RCA. Fire In The Wind '77 was the first on RSO, fifth of solo LPs to make the lower reaches of the charts; he picked up an electric guitar and made hit singles '(Turning Music Into) Gold' (no. 5) and 'Midnight Wind' (no. 28) with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, pushing Bombs Away Dream Babies '79 to no. 10 in US LP chart; third RSO album Dream Babies Go Hollywood '80 was still in the top 100 LPs. Blondes '82 was on Allegiance (a different version on Polydor in Sweden), Revenge Of The Budgie was a mini-LP on Takoma with Nick Reynolds from Kingston Trio days.

Good songs still pouring out of him prolifically, he tired of deals with others' labels and joined the ranks of roots artists forming their own: sampler The Gathering (with tracks by Stewart, guitarist Bruce Abrams, girl duo Heriza and Buffy including Buffy Ford, now his wife), Stewart's Trancos and instrumental Centennial all came out on Homecoming '84; in '85 one of his best (say the fans) The Last Campaign included songs from his period campaigning for Robert Kennedy in '68. Also cassette-only The Secret Tapes '85 (an 'official bootleg') and The Trio Years '86, new versions of songs written and performed during the Kingston Trio period, again with Reynolds participating. Punch For The Big Guy '87 on Cypress had guests Rosanne Cash and Nanci Griffith. In the UK Sunstorm reissued Stewart albums; See for Miles reissued California Bloodlines '87 with 17 songs (some from Willard). Punch The Big Guy '87 on Cypress included duets with Cash, who covered his 'Runaway Train' on her King's Record Shop '87; he duetted with Griffith on her album Little Love Affairs '88 (on his 'Sweet Dreams Will Come'). Airdream Believer '95 on Koch International was a 30th-anniversary set of remakes, with slick production. Bear Family reissued on CD an expanded California Bloodlines, The Complete Phoenix Concerts and combined Cannons In The Rain/Wingless Angels.

He had suffered mini-strokes, probably in his sleep, and was told in mid-2007 that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, but he carried on working and doing quite well, leaving an album in the can. He died in the same hospital he was born in, suffering no pain, with Buffy and the children around him.