40 years to finish ONE SONG?
INTERVIEW [excerpt] with acclaimed Music & Art Critic Crow ‘Birdland’ McCaw: I understand that after the tragic events in NYC on Dec. 8, 1980, you wrote a song that evening, then recorded it – and gave it the deep six shortly thereafter. Only now has it been published, so your new STEWARDS ECLECTRIC single isn’t really new, is it? It’s 40 years old! Why didn’t you release the blessed thing back when that news item was current?
The Steward: Why? Because I hated it, that’s why. OK, not the music or the lyrics, not the song itself. No. I hated having to write it. I hated the reason for writing it. Still do. And I was pretty sure back then that no one wanted to hear it. But one of my cohorts at our musicians’ consortium, Sings Two Bears, (precussionist & in-house wise guy), insisted that the artistry of the piece should see the light of day, and when I re-listened I had to agree. I had waited long enough. So we finished it using modern recording tech, and pushed it out for the 40-year observance to see if it would resonate with anybody. After various titles, we ended up calling it simply J. Lennon Blues. To honor that fallen musician and also Beatles record producer George Martin, an audio hero of mine, we used words, phrases and instruments in an arrangement that is a love letter to both, right down to crazy, mysterious backward vocals – all done while crying in our beer. It may be a little sappy, I’ll grant you, but considering the time and circumstance, it was, if nothing else, honest and expressive.
Crow: Yeah, wow, at well over 6 minutes in length, it’s quite the old-school album-type cut. But your digital singles always have two songs or ‘sides’. You're hardly known as a rap artist, yet you claim the flip side is ‘left-handed hip hop”. Just what in the name of Rolling Stone is that? Would you please explain?
Steward: Well, I don't stock my closet with embroidered Nudie suits either, but that hasn't kept me from turning out country stuff. No – I won’t explain. Our lissners aren’t idiots. Whether they’re experienced audiophiles or just curious, they’ll get it. Side B is titled Nonnel J. Blues, and many of them would get it simply from that. It’s a completely new production that trips off the old one. It started with the idea that someone might want to know what the backwards vocals in J. Lennon Blues were saying, and we might provide that in some way. Then it took on a life of its own. Whether our audience or any of my rapper brothers and sisters accept it as hip hop is up to them, but it is meant to honor the genre, however obliquely. We had a lot of fun doing it, which was welcome after finishing the rather depressing A side.
© Reprinted with the kind permission of the publishers of WASTING TIME magazine (Dec. 2020)
Gone to Richard's & Thanks for Stoppin' - Bye
Reaching well back into The Steward’s song archive, Gone to Richards and Thanks for Stoppin’ – Bye actually are from the original cassette tape recordings personally given to a few select bowlers and restaurant staff back then. [See photo of the 'lost' giveaway cassettes in PHOTO/ART GALLERY.] The studio master had been stretched beyond re-use, and the cassttes were thought lost for many years. When the only two remaining tapes known to exist were found at the studio recently, it posed a technical challenge but was deemed workable, so the SE consortium took on the task of bringing these songs back to life in time for this observance. We decided it would be wrong to start a new production; instead, we worked with those rough demos and low quality (slow-speed!) analog recordings, and in doing so, maintained the sound and feel of those times, but added some instruments and voices, made improvements and clarifications, and took full advantage of the many upgrades in music technology since then. We’re proud to make these available now, and hope our lissners, especially local ones – or anybody who ever had a date, ate a great meal, took a cocktail or rolled a big marble at Richard’s Tri-County – might enjoy them. If you do, let us know.
PERSONNEL: On the original recordings, that’s Billy Kelley on piano and T. M. Shorter did the sax and the horn arrangements on 'Gone to…'. The Steward performed most of the other parts and multi-tracked them together. Heard or involved on the reworked productions were SE regulars Fingers Arachnid (piano), Ludwig Von Slingerland (drums), Thaler N. Shorter (reprising his solo sax & horn arrangements), plus Dawn Busz-Rider and Trombone Lefty (making up the horn section), Morey Polfuss, (she’s the recording engineer responsible for the ‘rainbow sounds’ as well as the final mix), The Steward (bass, guitars, vocals, solid pocket hit strike), and of course at the end of Side A, there’s Richard Updike himself in his only known recorded interview.
Call Me Tornado
After the millennial shift, longtime fan and friend S.J.Giffen authored and offered a poem for our consideration, knowing that most of us here were Zorro fans as kids (even though we were too young to understand why everyone was named Don.) Its particular charm was that it gave a first ‘person’ voice to the big black horse, Z’s heroic four-legged companion and an integral part of their missions of justice and mercy. Suzy and I collaborated to create song lyrics from the poem, and Call Me Tornado (Tor-NAH-doh) was born. A demo was made, but it immediately went into archives since other projects took precedent. Recent renewed attention to justice and mercy seemed to call this big, beautiful black entity forward once again – and squarely onto the director’s desk. The piece received the TLC production it deserved, and we’re proud to offer it to you. As usual, it sounds nothing like any of our previous pieces. Music by yours truly and the SE consortium players, lyrics by Steve and Suzy Steward, with love to Walt Diz and Johnston Mac.
Knowing that many engaged in the ag and farm profession play music in the tractor cab or outbuilding, we wanted to present a horse of a different color, and Gran Caballo (Grahn Cah-BAHL-yoh) or Big Horse is that. The 100% instrumental has some elements of …Tornado and adds other instruments, most notably that big, twangy, one-note guitar. We send this out to: the equestrian, the horse lover, the trainer and the wrangler – the roper, the rider, the reiner, the mustanger – for all cowboys and cowgirls at rodeo or on the open range, for all those fascinated by a big horse. Ride on.
Here's to a Soldier of the King
Not long after the ...Tornado demo was made, Suzy and I went cross-country training: Coast Starlight, Superchief, Empire Builder, Surfliner, etc. via Amtrak first class, and one of our stops while playing on the lovely left coast was to attend late actor Guy Williams’ Hollywood Walk of Fame STAR ceremony, August 2, 2001. A famous hotel hosted the event, and a gala reception party followed for Williams’ fans, friends and family plus many of the actors that appeared on the popular and highly acclaimed Zorro TV show – and when in tinsel town, celebrations go into the wee hours. Here is the live, off-the-cuff, one-time-only performance lifted from the mono cassette tape as Steve “The Steward” and his $39 El Cheapo guitar entertain an intimate gathering just around midnight at the Hollywood Roosevelt, conducting a singalong with Sgt. Garcia’s wine drinking song first heard in the episode “Zorro’s Ride Into Terror”.
Heard (beside Steve & Suzy) are many Zorro aficionados, some well known and famous in their own right. Among them were Wendell Vega, (Don Diego’s cousin?), with his sharp fencing energy and perfectly rendered “I-yi-yi-YI!” – and that clear, operatic-quality singing voice is Mary Sheeran (who quite easily aces out The Steward here to win the Henry Calvin Big Powerful Voice Award ). Were it not for these folks' enthusiasm, (and great prompting!), we never would have propped up this archival oldie for ya. (And, hey, if you were there, drop us a line!) ‘Kazoo Girl’ remains uncredited. At the time, I wanted to tell her what to do with that kazoo, [I would’ve gladly placed it there for her!], but now, years afterward, her audio presence invokes a comedy bit worth arguably more than the admission fee – which was, of course, free.
NOTE that this is a STEWARDSONGS exclusive. Since this particular track is not an SE original but a ‘cover’ of the song written by Gil George and Joe Dubin, it is NOT being sold or made available for download or streaming. It is here and on SoundCloud only for the private, non-commercial enjoyment of our fans, friends and lissning audience.
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CHEF'S SERVING SUGGESTION: Regular patrons of this humble audio eatery should initially (or at some time) hear all three of these pieces consecutively, and in the order the players are arranged: 1. Gran Caballo 2. Call Me Tornado 3. Here's to a Soldier... This modest musical snack will cost no more than about 14 minutes. Bon appetite. [OPTIONAL: Consume wine or libation of choice at least one-half hour before combining ingredients.]
Releases from 2019 included “Crossing Across” [instrumental] and “Across a Universe”.
My brother shuffled off this mortal coil unexpectedly in the summer of 2018. His daughter, (my niece), had already established a timeline for her impending wedding, so I felt compelled to write music for the occasion in a style that he would have liked.
The wedding version of “Across a Universe” was played at the reception, with special lyrics for Shawna and Joe. This second version has significant additional instrumentation and new lyrics dedicated to my Susan Joan.
The instrumental version “Crossing Across” was freed up from lyric constraints, allowing for more emotional expression. “Crossing Across” is in loving memory of Gale Albert Steward, a.k.a. ham radio's K3ND, a Zeppelin and Floyd fan, car guy, race fan, Dodge trucker, lefty bass player and devout 4-speaker audiophile. In that SPIRIT, both of these pieces are meant to be played LOUD.
Keep Wakan, yes indeed
"Wakan" is a 5-minute 20-second indie rocker employing various American Native instruments (and also those indigenous to other countries) not traditionally but in a rock setting with guitar, bass, drums and musical saw. Wakan (pronounced wah-kahn) honors that Lakota word for sacred, spiritually big and powerful. Part of the bigger 'Wakan Tanka', which is usually translated to ‘The Great Spirit’, but an alternate is sometimes offered: The Great Mystery. Closer.
This is the SE single version, a remake of the R,D,W album cut. Cameo appearance by bass singer Big Lurch Hooper. Instrumentation includes musical saw by specialist Mr. E. S. Carpenter, and native flute by the versatile Dawn Busz-Rider. Sings-Two-Bears handled native drums, rattles, heavy tomtoms, etc., (and obviously had a pretty great time doing it all; he and the studio had been collecting these for years, and he managed to use every one somewhere in the production at least once!) Multiple basses, but the main bass used was a Coral Jazz 5-fret , a.k.a. ‘SSLIDER’ [the first prototype] with 5 frets, otherwise fretless, designed, built and played by the Director.
Few Words from the Bass Commander...[very few*]
“Postwar Jump” and “March No More” were released in April 2018. We consider these a mated pair, in some hybrid JAZZ genre. (We'll let others figure that out.)
"Postwar Jump" is a quick (2 minutes, 14 seconds!) modern /‘40s jazz number paying homage to the horn arrangements of the vintage Big Bands, while possibly furthering the contemporary philosophy. The piece is described by percussionist and in-house self-appointed name-giver Sings Two Bears as: 'Trombone Lefty with Dook Ellingtun and The Steward .'
"March No More" is nearly 6 minutes of 'roughly-charted' funk/jazz/rock studio jam, and has been described as: 'Herby Handcock Meets Blud, Swet & Phish' . Heroes are where you find them - and come in all shapes and sizes, ages and genders, colors and nationalities. Therefore, "March No More" is dedicated to: James V. Forrestal, Milton William Cooper, Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Penniston, Maria Orsic, Danal Meza, JFK, Ghost Army (23rd Hqtr. Sp. Troops) and all others who have offered themselves unselfishly in service and who will, for whatever reason, march no more.
Composition, horn arrangements and '67 Fender bass action by The Steward. * Both pieces are 99% instrumental - and those instrumentalists include Trombone Lefty, Toots Headstrong, and Lovecchio Armitage on brass, saxman Thaler N. Shorter, the lovely Dawn Busz-Rider on woodwinds, Billy Kelley on piano (March..."), and percussion by Ludwig Von Slingerland and Sings Two Bears.
Those FRACKIN' Songs...!
Here is another mated pair of songs, this time in the country genre.
Guest vocalist Ernest J. Silverback gives a patina’d sterling performance as the old man who made the wrong decisions for all the right reasons in “Frackin’ Fool” (a.k.a “The Old Frackin’ Fool”), a cautionary tale ballad on a contemporary subject. (The description from Two Bears is: 'Mister Carpenter sawing wood with the Oak Ridge Boyz and Texx Ritter's Hay Baler.' ) An interviewer once asked what he thought of his newfound audience. He replied, “Ya gotta love these kids. They’ve learned that everything is connected." Then he added quietly, "They know we are ALL stewards of this place." (But so who is E. J. Silverback? See Q&A.)
Up-tempo “Frackin’ Hoedown”, (a.k.a “Another Frackin’ Hoedown”), brings The ECLECTRIC Music Players together for a barn thumping follow-up to the old man ballad. Under Steward’s direction, veteran instrumentalists Floren deKichen (fiddle) and Mr. E. S. Carpenter (musical saw) team up with new blood as well as old friends from Steve’s 2010 album Ridin’, Drivin’, Wakan... . Within the devilishly angelic ECLECTRIC CHORUS, the voices of Serena Ann Green Eagle and the lovely Floral Clustah are joined by recent standout inductees Li'l Maxie Ripnit on the high end, and the one and only Big Lurch Hooper on the bottom. Also we must mention that the SE ensemble is joined here in the person of Chubbie Pickens on banjo, (and you'll be hearing more of Chubbie's work in the future). Describing ...Hoedown, Sings Two Bears says: 'Sounds like Earl Skruggs' cousin and The Oak Ridge Boyz - and Girlz - all pissed in the barn.'
For strictly artistic reasons, we offer a combined edition available at our distributution sites (and on SoundCloud) where the material is presented as it was originally written, produced, and was intended to be heard. The label loses money on it, but a promise is a promise. “Frackin’ Fool Frackin’ Hoedown” is true to the author’s vision, and a good $ value. This is the 'Storyteller’s Special', and it works the way it was supposed to. Running time, both songs together, about 8 1/2 minutes. If you invest the time to listen, please stay for the end.
NOTE! It would appear that one or both of these songs have ruffled a few feathers: for example, see the entry on Q & A page from 'Deereman66'.
Something like Blues
The solo performance of "Pennsy Train Blues" is unique output from this musicians' consortium. It was an impromptu ad lib studio creation by a very tired artist in the wee hours, a one-shot deal. With one microphone, a few lyric ideas and a white Hendrix Strat, it can be generally blamed on the 2 picture postcards of bluesman Elmore James' six-string guitar (with signature four strings) sent from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Recorded entirely as is in one pass, no editing, no overdubs. It is what it was. In-house wise-guy Sings Two Bears bet the director he didn't have the guts to publish it. He loses.
Meant as a toast to the great old bluesmen, it is also dedicated to the Pennsy RR, the Lehigh Valley RR, Milwaukee Road, NYCental, Erie Lackawanna, and Amtrak and their excellent sleeping car attendants Kartoon Kioshi and the Lovely Grace, and especially to that girl Suzy in the yellow dress. [Album art in PHOTO/ART GALLERY]