Who Is John Stewart and why record an album of his songs?

Since I was a kid, learning guitar in a small Midwestern city, I’ve known and loved the music of John Stewart. While most people might recognize his big hit with Stevie Nicks, the Monkees’ cover of Daydream Believer, or his early years with the Kingston Trio, what awakened my imagination were his countless songs that captured facets of American life like no other songwriter I’ve known.

I didn’t discover John’s work through the usual channels: radio, records, or YouTube. I grew up with hippies crashing my dad’s living room for all-night music parties. They’d play blues, ballads, old folk songs, and early rock ‘n roll –until the moment came, late in the evening, when the room would pause and shift. A familiar guitar riff soon started up, and a look came over everyone’s faces as the song rolled into a medley, sometimes lasting hours. These were stories about people, about America. These were songs about us.

In college I discovered that they were all written by one person, John Stewart.

I first met John when I opened for him at a club in Massachusetts. He liked what I did and brought me onstage for his second set. We clicked instantly, and played for hours that night. Next thing I knew, I was recording and touring with him.

John was an observer of the world who had to say something. Though he had done it, he shunned the idea of manufacturing hits for the popular music machine. In fact, John’s commercial successes may have overshadowed his best and most enduring work, a musical scrapbook of the American experience that is especially relevant now.

As the world blisters into the 21st century, we are at once more interconnected and more isolated from each other than ever before. We’ve got right, left, red, blue, talking heads, a remote, and lots of channels. But do we know the neighbors? Each other’s stories? And what ever happened to those faces in the old photographs?

Like the paintings of Andrew Wyeth or the photos of Walker Evans, the songs of John Stewart capture an American essence. He left this world not long ago and it is my hope, with this collection of songs, to shine a greater light on his contribution.