Friends, Music, and Life in General

As some of you may know, I’ve been a minor key in the music business for quite a few years. It started out when I met John Stewart and progressed through about ten years of our lives and then onward to the present day. Working with John was a great experience and led to many laughs and more than a few anxieties. It gave me so much in my life that I would never have experienced if I hadn’t known him. The greatest gift, right there alongside the songs, was the gift of people who I met through his music. In 1999, John, Michelle Stevens and a few others came up with the idea of the Trio Fantasy Camp. I was involved in the first Camp though I didn’t attend. I’ve been to most of them since that time. This year is number 14. Through the Camp I’ve met some friends who will be friends for a lifetime including my best friend in the world, Pedro. And so many others. Some of them Campers, some of them my co-workers and some of the the Bloodliners who come to the Camp every year.

Fortunately for me, these friends also play music and they carry the flame of playing John’s songs and keeping his music alive. Every year I come home from Camp with music from many different people like Ed Callahan, Kate Snow, Tom Lamb, Fred and John August and Tom O’Donnell.

Tom O’Donnell has just released his latest CD so I’m getting a jump on hearing his music this year. Tom has put up a brand new website and the cd is available for a free download. Just go here:

Tom O’Donnell

and music button at the top of the page. His newest  release is called Old Friends. Click the picture and you will go to the songs. You can preview them on the player box on the right or click the titles on the left to go the the download area. I love Tom’s voice and his selection of songs is terrific. I had the pleasure of hearing him sing Cold Missouri Waters in my suite at Camp last year and it was mesmerizing.

Here is one of my all time favorite John Stewart songs. Jeff MacDonald is singing lead with Tom providing harmony.

and here is Tom singing a great song called Down Old Bailey Road written by our friend Fred Grittner. Tom and Fred, in previous lives, were attorneys who had the grace to retire and concentrate on making music:


The Piano Album

There was a time that John Stewart shared a booking agent and, maybe a manager, with Tom Waits. John and Tom were friends and there are some great stories about this friendship.

John was aware that he was sometimes influenced by people that he knew and listened to and, at a certain point in his career he stopped listening to music done by his peers. One of the albums that sat on the shelf for many years was known as The Piano Album. The history behind it is long and nasty and I won’t go into it here. Tom DeLisle wrote some great liner notes for the cd that was released after John’s passing. The cover is also one of my favorite John Stewart pictures; shot by the great photographer (and human) Henry Diltz.

John and I discussed releasing the cd for many years but never quite agreed to do it. He had bad memories of dealing with the record companies during this period and I believe that was the major reason for his reluctance. After his passing, I dusted off the project and took it to Buffy for approval and she agreed that it needed to be heard.

Here is one song from the album. One of my favorites called New Orleans.


Same Old Heart

Some of John’s songs were very hard to categorize. And I know he liked it that way. He always bristled when someone described him as a folksinger but then he’d describe himself as one. My own feeling is that he was a little bit of everything. He could be a jazz stylist, he could do bluegrass, he could do blues, he could do classical (Lousianne), he could do country. But I think what he really liked was being the front man for the World’s Loudest Folk Band.

Here’s a song that illustrates that part of John Stewart. I think it was first on the chilly Winds cd and featured Nick Reynolds and Lindsay Buckingham. Then there was a version on Wires From the Bunker. This version was recorded live at the Turf Inn in Dalry and is part of the Front Row Moonlight cd set as well as being on the DVD from those concerts. It’s just John but he sounds like he has several guitars with him on the song.

I’ve always liked this song and Buffy did, too, as she sung it on her latest cd.

 Same Old Heart

January 19, 2008

For many of us the music died on January 19, 2008. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of John. But for many months I couldn’t listen to his music. Fortunately, that passed and I feel good when I hear a John Stewart tune.

In my office I have John’s vest hung over the back of a chair. Every morning, as I’m stumbling in the dark trying to get to the computer and fire it up for the day, I put my hand on the vest and thank him for the music that he gave to all of us.

Here is Ticket to the Stars. Recorded live in Roscrea, Ireland on August 31, 1999. If you hear a bass guitar on this track it is due to Dave Batti.

Ticket to the Stars


Pullin’ Away or The Wagoner’s Lad?

I always loved the Kingston Trio’s Automatic Copyrighting Machine.  Hey. Find a song that MAY be Public Domain, change a few chords, maybe add a few lines and there ya go! Got yourself a brand new song!

This one is one of my favorites. I don’t think I ever heard John sing it live. This recording is from 1990.

The Trio did it on the Something Special album and some people consider it to be the best song on the album because it has the least amount of strings added to the arrangement. There has been much discussion among Kingston Trio fans concerning Jimmy Haskell’s over-saturation of strings, echo and wind arrangements on Something Special.

The question here is: Which song is this? Is it “Pullin” Away? Or is it “The Wagoner’s Lad”? Or is the Kingston Trio making an old song their own?

Here’s John singing “Pullin’ Away”

Pullin’ Away




Billy Edd Wheeler; Berea, Kentucky and Ain’t Goin’ Home Soon

A few years ago, during a telephone conversation with John Stewart, Billy Edd Wheeler’s name came up. John was a long-time fan of Billy Edd’s and I was way beyond being a fan. He was my favorite songwriter.

Billy Edd wrote some of the songs that carried me through a lot of homesickness when I was a kid and had left the hills. The Coming of the Roads, Coal Tattoo, The Reverend Mr. Black and especially one song that he recorded and released in 1961. It was on the Monitor label and was called Ain’t Goin’ Home Soon.

During our conversation John asked me if I’d send Billy Edd some cd’s of our Neon Dreams releases. I said I would and promptly got them in the mail to Billy Edd. A short while later the phone rang and it was him calling to thank me for the cd’s. Of course, my IQ dropped about 75 points and I made a pretty good fool out of myself. The one thing I did manage to do was tell him that Ain’t Goin’ Home Soon had been a comfort to me when I needed it. He told me that it was one of his favorites, too. A few days later I received from him the  sheet music, the lyrics and a handwritten note. They are now framed and on the wall in my office.

Billy Edd was and still is a country man. He’s been round the world many times but his style and his sensibilities are the same as when he graduated from Berea College in 1955. I grew up 23 miles over Big Hill from Berea.

Billy Edd is also a wonderful artist. I highly recommend having a look at his website

Ain’t Goin’ Home Soon

And here’s the song. Accompanying Billy Edd is Joanie Sommer.

“It Doesn’t Matter What You Say; Does It Sound Good When You Say It”- John Lennon

In March of 2004, John appeared on Folkstage, a radio broadcast from WMFT in Chicago. John did an hour long program and performed many songs from our recently released cd set titled Even the Band Had Fun at Dark 30. Dark 30 is a concert series hosted in Lakeside, California by our friend Jimmy Duke. Jimmy is a great guy and was a great supporter of John and his music.

One of the songs that John did on the broadcast was this version of China Sky. John had been performing it in shows for a few months after having ”lost” it for many years. In this version his playing style is, in my opinion, terrific. He goes off key in a couple of places toward the end but other than that his vocals and his solo styling makes this one one of my favorite versions of a great song.

The quote at the top says it all about this song. People have been analyzing the meanings for quite some time. It just sounds good when he sings it.

China Sky at Folkstage- 2004

Dawn and Kate

Ahhhh Kate Snow. Curly red hair and a laugh that can melt the stoniest of hearts. Kate Snow who never played music with others but sang her songs for herself and then discovered that others wanted to hear them, too. And then discovered that she LIKED to sing with others and did it so well. Kate Snow, the one that everyone wants to sit next to because she can not only talk but also listen.

Kate hung it all out after camp last year and began work on her first CD. She had the songs but she didn’t have the production capability. Fortunately, she did know Fred Grittner. A week in St. Paul, some able additions from Fred and from John August Lee and Kate had a CD called A Promise and A Song. Kate’s songs are personal to her but are universal to many others. I love this CD just as  much as I love Kate. It was hard to decide which song to include here. I chose a track called Dawn because I also love John August’s work on the 6-12 and tenor guitars.

Kate’s CD is available from Cdbaby as an mp3 download or as a CD.

Kate Snow at Cdbaby

and here’s the song. I hope you enjoy it.


China Sky

China Sky, of course, is a great song written by John Stewart. It was a song that John wrote back in the early 80’s and first released on the Secret Tapes ’86 album. It was later included on the Tanforan cd.

Like many of John’s songs, it was one that he let percolate for many years before he decided he liked it. Of course, most people LOVED it the first time they heard it but that mattered very little to him.

Then, in 2006, two of John’s fans met at the Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp and started playing music together. John August Lee, sometimes known as Triofan, and Fred Grittner. John and Fred are both stellar musicians and very able writers and producers. Fred had produced several very good cd’s of his own songs and John is an accomplished banjo and guitar player. The issue they had was that Fred was in Minnesota and John had just moved to the State of Washington. Fortunately for both, Fred had a very good high speed internet connection and John had a trustworthy truck. John and Fred sent digital files back and forth and, when necessary, John would use the truck to get to Minnesota. The culmination was just several months ago when Fred went to John’s house and they pronounced the baby born. The ‘baby’ is a cd called China Sky. It was first released at this year’s Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp and everyone agrees that it’s now their favorite cd.

There’s a little something for everyone here. John recently wrote that he sometimes bought a cd because there was one song on it that he liked. I’d have to say that there is AT LEAST one song on this cd that everyone is going to LOVE. We all have our favorites and I’m no exception. Fred’s song The Floyd B. Olson Blues was my ringtone for about a year. I can honestly say that I’ve heard it a thousand times and I still love it. John wrote a great jazzy piece that he calls Chocolate Souffle and I’m crazy about it.

Then there are the players. Where do you start? Well, there’s the Kingston Trio- George Grove, Rick Dougherty and Bill Zorn all play on the cd. Trio bassist Paul Gabrielson plays on many songs as does Dave Batti and Steven Donaghey. Josh Reynolds adds ‘zen harmony vocals’ on one track.

Then you get to the songs themselves. Tracks written by Fred. A track written by John. A song written by Travis Edmundson and another co-written by Travis and Allan Shaw. And one from our friend Bill Heilmann. And two from John Stewart.

And the track written by Fred called Where the River Meets the Sea. It’s hard for me to write this. The song was written a few days after the death of John Stewart. Fred sent it to me many times as he was fine tuning it and I kept reassuring him that it was coming along and would be a fine song. In all honestly, I was never able to listen to it. My friend Tom DeLisle, was able to hear it at Camp this year and it moved him so much that he recited the lyrics for the audience at one of the evening shows.

544 words are enough. I’m going to leave you with a song from the cd. It’s a John Stewart song called Long Train of Dreams. It was originally released on the Rocket Roy cd and later on several live releases. John tried to shop the song in Nashville but that’s a whole other story.

The cd is available  for purchase here:

China Sky

and here’s the song:

Long Train Of Dreams

Every Year At About This Time…

I come home from the Kingston Trio Fantasy Camp and go through several weeks of sadness. Not because I didn’t have a great time visiting old friends and hearing plenty of music but because I know it will be almost a year before I see them again. This was the 13th Camp. I’ve missed three of them but been involved, one way or another, with them all. I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime and had more fun than anyone should be allowed to have. John Stewart was many things but the number one thing to me will be the fact that he brought so many people together through his music. It is a common  bond that is a beautiful thing that we share.

Every year, at Camp, I look forward to the new cd’s that my friends have done. This year I have three of them that feature the songs of John Stewart. Actually, there are four but the fourth one is another story and will be in another post.

Ed Callahan is a longtime Camper and one of the great guys. And a talented and understated musician. Ed’s voice and his playing are in a style that is his own. I hate it when someone says “He sounds just like…” Ed sounds just like Ed Callahan. Here he is, with his great friend and ex-Camper Jeff Fessenden, singing Moonlight Dream.

Moonlight Dream

And then there is the Toast of Detroit- or maybe he WAS Toast in Detroit- Tom Lamb. Tom was a Camper a few times and wore out his welcome. He wouldn’t go away so he became part of the Camp Band. He’s the guy who organizes and leads the group singing and is the guy who makes sure no one falls off the stage during those songs. Tom can play Banjo and Guitar but who knew he could play the piano, too? He can also sing. He’s married to Sue who is an angel. Here he is singing The Last Hurrah.

The Last Hurrah


And Tom O’Donnell- or as his cd says Tom O’Donnell and Friends. Tom has many friends. He’s one of the most considerate and gentle people I’ve known. It’s just so un-lawyerlike that you have to question whether he’s been an impostor all these years and he was really a veterinarian posing as a high-powered international attorney. It’s all good now, though, because he’s retired and now he and Cathy are living in the US and in the UK. He has friends everywhere he goes. Tom puts out a new cd almost every year and this year it’s almost exclusively the songs of John Stewart. The one that I’ve chosen is Those Who Are Wise. I know that I just posted John’s version but Tom’s voice is so perfect for this song that I had to do it, too.

Those Who Are Wise