John Stewart, arguably the greatest American songwriter since Wood Guthrie, left us one year ago. During his life, he wrote more than six hundred songs about America from the viewpoint of the “wingless angels,” those who drove the trucks and did the jobs that kept the country alive. He’s best known for being a member of the Kingston Trio (1961–1967).
The Trio were a nightclub act who performed at places like the hungry i, Sahara Tahoe, etc. If you are interested in hearing what they sounded like live, try Once Upon a Time. You can find that album and others, here.
Here’s I’m Goin’ Home sung by Nick Reynolds1, Bob Shane, John Stewart.
As great as the Kingston Trio were (and they were great), he was much more than that. You can hear a little of what I mean here. His songs were recorded by The Monkees (Daydream Believer), Rosanne Cash (Runaway Train), Nanci Griffith, Joan Baez, The Beat Farmers, The Four Tops and others.
America has lost its voice and a piece of its soul.
With apologies to Don Maclean, the music died at 7:30 AM on January 19, 2008.
John Stewart (September 5, 1939 – January 19, 2008) was an American songwriter and singer, best known for being a member of the Kingston Trio (1961–1967). He was much more than that.
He wrote about America from the viewpoint of the “wingless angels,” those who drove the trucks and did the jobs that kept the country alive.
I will say that I did not know John Stewart except through his songs and brief encounters. In 1971 (my oh my how the time does fly), I (and others) talked with him when he came to Santa Monica College to talk about the songwriting experience. Still, I went to some of his concerts and shook his hand every chance I got. I’m not a fully-fledged “Bloodliner” (named after his California Bloodlines album), but I have about half of his albums and named my golden retriever “Stewart” as a tribute.
According to Tom DeLisle on Chillywinds.com, “He recorded over 45 solo albums following his seven years in the Kingston Trio, 1961-67” and in a career that spanned over fifty years he “wrote more than 600 songs.”
John told the story of how The Monkees wanted to record a song he wrote in 1968 before leaving the Kingston Trio. The Monkees wanted to record Daydream Believer. But, the song had a problem—a word. See if you can find it.
You once thought of me As a white knight on his steed But now you know how funky I can be And our good times start and end Without dollar one to spend But how much, baby, do we really need
The Monkees wanted to substitute “happy” for “funky.” John didn’t know if he wanted to do that; he’d written “funky” in the lyrics after all. As we know, he finally allowed “happy” to be used instead. Daydream Believer is still being played today and in his words after getting his first royalty check, “happy’s working real good.”
Or better still, play one of his songs. That’s what I’m doing. Every single one I have. Here’s John’s hit, Gold.
After posting this in January I went looking for more music for my library. Years ago I had listened to a live recording of the Kingston Trio featuring John. The double album was called Once Upon a Time. I finally found it at the Kingston Trio Store. You can order it and other Trio songs here.