Monday, January 21, 2008

The Kingston Trio's John Stewart R.I.P.

John Stewart, former member of The Kingston Trio and composer of "Daydream Believer," passed on Friday after suffering what was apparently either a massive stroke or brain aneurysm. He was 68 years old.

John Stewart was born September 5, 1939 in San Diego, California. He took up music early in his life, learning both banjo and guitar while still young. He composed his first song at the age of ten. Stewart graduated from Pomona Catholic High School. His first band was Johnny Stewart and the Furies, which toured southern California in the late Fifties. They would have one regional hit with the song "Rockin' Anna." Following the break up of The Furies, John Stewart would form the folk group The Cumerland Three with Gil Robbins and John Montgomery. Their most notable achievement would be a two disc album of songs from the War Between the States called Songs from the Civil War.

In 1961 founding member Dave Guard left the Kingston Trio. John Stewart was brought into the group to replace him. With Stewart as a member, the Trio began to perform more original songs, including songs written not only by Stewart ,but by such up and coming composers as Tom Paxton and Gordon Lightfoot as well. With folk music giving way to the British Invasion and then psychedelia, the Kingston Trio disbanded in 1967. It was that year that Stewart wrote what may be his biggest hit, "Daydream Believer," for The Monkees.

In the late Sixties and late Seventies, Stewart would continue to write songs and record. And while his albums did not sell well, they were released to a good deal of critical acclaim. His best known album, California Bloodlines, was released in 1969. His most successful album was arguably Bombs Away Dream Babies, on which he collaborated with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood, was released in 1979. The album produced the hit "Gold," which went to #5 on the Billboard singles chart. In addition to continuing to record for the remainder of his life, Stewart also composed songs for artists ranging from Rosanne Cash to Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Although much of his latter work was not always commercially successful, it was always critically acclaimed. There can be no doubt that John Stewart had an impact on the music world, both as a solo performer and as a member of The Kingston Trio. He saw the Kingston Trio through what can be argued were their most creative years. And he also left a legacy of solo recordings afterwards that are very well respected in folk music circles. While he may be best remembered as the composer of "Daydream Believer," the truth is that he did so much more during his career.


Bobby D. said...

I saw him mentioned on a music blog, and I guessed I missed out on who he was, or his music talent anyway.

Interesting that he had Buckingham and Nicks working with him, and that he wrote Daydream Believer. Now I want to hear some of his solo stuff.

Terence Towles Canote said...

To tell the truth, I hadn't kept up with his solo career either. I mostly know him as part of the Kingston Trio when I thought they were at their best. And as the writer of Daydream Believer, of course.