Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: John Stewart
Decided to give my sister’s record collection a break for the next few weeks … today we’re going to spin one of my all-time favorites, Cannons In The Rain, a 1973 selection from singer-songwriter John Stewart.
In the early 1970s John Stewart was a leading, although unappreciated, practitioner of the country rock movement. This singer with the booming voice actually got his big break om 1961 when he replaced Dave Guard in the Kingston Trio, one of the best-selling folk acts of the early ’60s. Stewart toured and recorded with them until their breakup in 1967, after which he went solo and wrote songs for other people, most notably “Daydream Believer,” a big hit for the Monkees (and later, Anne Murray). In the early ’70s he signed with RCA, his third label, and cut Cannons In The Rain.
A moody, introspective album, Cannons begins with one of Stewart’s better story songs, “Durango.” What makes it one of his best? Well, it’s true. Movie director Sam Peckinpah was set to make a movie in Mexico about the final days of Billy the Kid, called Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Stewart was up for the lead part of Billy, and after meeting with casting directors and producers, they finally decided to get someone younger for the part: Kris Kristofferson. They tried to offer Stewart another part, of Billy’s friend Alias, but that one went to the guy they hired to do the music: Bob Dylan. Well, at least Stewart came away with his song “Durango.”
This album is about moving along, about living a life without roots, and some of the songs address that subject. “Chilly Winds” is one of these, a simple song with a memorable tune which Stewart co-wrote with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. The song was actually written in 1962 for the Kingston Trio while Stewart was still a member; at that time Phillips was part of the Journeymen folk group. The Trio put it out as a single that year and it appeared on College Concert, the largest-selling release by the Kingston Trio while Stewart was a member. Stewart’s solo version appeared on a 1973 single (with “Durango” as the B-side).
One song off Cannons In The Rain which inexplicably wasn’t a single was the uptempo “Road Away,” another leavin’ song. That was the tune I heard on the radio often during that time, and which led to this album in the first place. Another uptempo track, “Lady And the Outlaw,” begins with some studio tomfoolery but eventually kicks into a credible country rock tune which could have been a bid to get in on the “outlaw” country music trend that was beginning to take off in Austin with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, et. al.
Critically acclaimed but not a hit, Cannons nevertheless kept Stewart at RCA until 1975. He then went with the RSO label and in 1979 scored his biggest album with the Lindsay Buckingham-produced Bombs Away Dream Babies and the Top 5 hit “Gold.” Stewart disappeared from the pop charts after that although he continued to perform until 2008, when he died of a massive stroke. Cannons In The Rain is perhaps the best album from a great singer and songwriter.
Video: “Chilly Winds” combining the Kingston Trio’s version with John Stewart’s solo versionVodpod videos no longer available.