Dana Keller and I go back quite a few years. We met through photography and have remained friends through music. Dana and Laurie Jennings Oudin are musicians and road warriors. They winter in Florida and travel the western US in the summer. They travel in a motor home and do gigs in RV parks, public libraries, coffee houses and private homes. Besides being stellar musicians they are also talented writers who draw on their life experiences for their songs. Laurie has written several songs about her experiences in teaching music at a women’s prison. Many of Dana’s songs have photographic references.
Earlier today I was talking with an old friend about photographs that showed what we were like over 40 years ago. Her comment was that they were a powerful record of who and what we had been.
In the late 1800’s the photographer Jacob Riis referred to daguerreotypes as a “Mirror With a Memory. Dana took the phrase and made a great song from it. Which you can hear now:
Here’s the link to Dana and Laurie’s website. If they are anywhere near you I highly recommend that you hear them play. They are two of the best of us.
[/audio]Back in the late 90’s John Stewart’s internet group, the Bloodliners, released a tribute cd of John’s songs that were performed by the Bloodliners. As I recall, it was Michelle Stevens idea. Mark Cashman, who is no longer with us, produced the cd. There are eighteen tracks and I think they need to be heard again.
So, here they are. Some of the names will be familiar; Jeff McDonald, Bill Heilmann, John August Lee, Mike Butters, Spencer Lewis. Others are gone from us; Steven Donaghey and Mark Cashman. And John.
Spencer Lewis has been a friend for many years. Many of John Stewart’s east coast fans know Spencer but he hasn’t been to the West Coast for quite some time. Spencer lives in Vermont and if Vermont had a Musical Poet Laureate it would be Spencer. His recorded works are complex song poems featuring him on guitar and fiddle and friends on keyboards and bass.
A few years ago he released a great cd called Open Road. Open Road had a little different sound than his other cd’s. I was really happy when he told me that he would be covering John’s song, The Chosen, on the new work. I’m not sure that one was ever covered and, in fact, I don’t think John performed it live very often.
What brings me to think about Spencer today? My friend Rick Godwin and I are trying very hard to bring Spencer to the Americana Folk Music Camp in 2018. Spencer is a great teacher as well as a superb musician and we’re hoping to get him, his guitar and his fiddle into the Hospitality Suites and into the various music rooms.
John’s last released album was called The Day the River Sang. That wasn’t what it was supposed to be. We were working on an entirely different concept and had raised the money to do it via a crowdfunding program. Many of the Bloodliners and other fans joined in to raise the money for the recording. It happened that at the same time we were doing this John began to write songs. So, rather than go with our original plan and distribute 500 copies to the fans who had underwritten the project, John went to Jim Musselman at Appleseed Music. Jim had released several of John’s cd’s in the past and not incidentally, helped John financially when John needed the help the most. (Just a note: Support Appleseed when you can. They have a great lineup of artists and Jim Musselman is an anomaly in the music biz. He cares about the artist).
There are some great songs on the cd. Jasmine has turned out to be one of John’s most covered songs though still far behind Daydream Believer in sheer numbers. My favorite song on the cd is also one that I love to play. I butcher it and I know John would give me the dog stare and then laugh at me if he could hear it.
Steven Donaghey is gone. Some of you knew Steven. For those of you who didn’t know him; I’m sorry for your loss. Steven was one of the most loyal and complicated friends that anyone could ask for. Steven was known to many as a bass player but he was much more than that. He loved cats, he loved to flirt, he loved to drink coffee at bodegas and he loved to smoke unfiltered Camels. Most of all he loved his friends.
Steven was a Detroit boy but he found his home in New York City. He played for many years with Barry Manilow and had four gold records. He played many gigs with John Stewart on the East Coast and in Ireland and Scotland. He was fixture at the Trio Fantasy Camps for many years and was loved by all Bloodliners and Fantasy Campers. He later played with Jay Black and more recently with the Fred Norris Band. Steven lived in Brooklyn in his last years and he was the guy that the hipsters in Brooklyn wanted to be. Steven played with a lot of the younger artists that were coming through the Brooklyn music scene.
Steven was my friend and I mourn his passing as do the others who knew and loved him.
There aren’t many songs that feature Steven on vocals. Here’s one from the Bloodliner’s Liner Notes cd that was done some years ago.
It’s been seven years since John used his ticket to the stars. His influences are still here, though. Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of him in one way or another and I know that both Tom DeLisle and Dave Batti share this with me.
It’s been said many times and by many people that John wrote “the soundtrack to our lives”. I’m not sure he was ever comfortable with this comment as he was never comfortable with fans who made too much of his work.
Over the past years I’ve thought quite often about what John wanted out of life and wondered if he ever got it. His talent as a writer was indisputable. His work as a musician was obvious. He was a good visual artist; something that he may have enjoyed even more than music. He loved gadgets. He loved children; and especially HIS children. He loved to travel but he was lazy. He wanted comfort and someone to hang out with. He would talk about music with you but not his own music. He was always fascinated by other people’s lives and could ask questions that most people wouldn’t ask. Not because he was prying but because he was truly interested and the filters that most people have weren’t in his DNA.
He could be very unsuspecting of other people or he could be very wary of them. It depended on the day and the tides. He could be the most loyal friend or he could be like a stone in your sock.
Seven years gone, now, and the music is still piled up and waiting for us to listen to it. Thank you John.