Dave Crossland

2/7/08 - John Stewart: Hero, Mentor and Friend

2708 - John Stewart Hero Mentor and Friend
As many of you all know, I hit the road in January for a three-week tour around America's West and Midwest.  Two days into it, I got a call and learned that my friend and greatest musical hero had suffered a stroke and, short of a real miracle, there was no way he was going to make it.  That was a really tough day.  I was playing a gig in Denver that night and I opened my second set with a mini-set of his songs.  The next morning my phone rang again.

The papers and the music rags describe him as a member of the Kingston Trio and author of "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees, who had a top-10 hit in the '70s with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.  Some of them mention that he knew horses, befriended astronauts, and toured with Bobby Kennedy during his ill-fated run for the US presidency in 1968.  But as wild and funky as those accomplishments are, they don't get to his greatest stuff.  Johnny Stew wrote a zillion songs and was probably the most freely creative person I've ever met.  Most people have to work at keeping in touch with whatever muse it is that brings gifts of song or any other kind of art.  With John, it was more like all he had to do was turn his head and pick up the conversation where the two of them left off.

I first encountered the Maestro completely unawares.  When I was a kid, my dad would invite all these people over for music parties at our house.  And at some point, late in the night, a certain kind of magic would start to happen.  Someone would start a song, and slowly, each grownup in the room would get this faraway look in their eyes.  They usually ended up standing in a circle, singing song after song in one great medley that lasted for hours.  They were songs about people and their stories, about letting go of things that were dying, and taking on what lay ahead.  They were songs about us.

I had no idea that all those songs were written by one person until I got to college.  And when I first started driving back and forth across the country for gigs, I kept a pile of his tapes in the car and listened to them as I watched the American landscape roll by.  It was inspiration for the road.

So imagine how I felt on the night of June 5, 1998, one day after my birthday, and 30 years to the date after RFK's assassination, when I had an gig opening for my greatest musical hero ever.  He liked my set, and 2 songs into the second half of his show, he called me up onto the stage to play with him.  Next thing I knew, Appleseed Records was flying me out to California for a couple weeks to crash the House of Stewart and record an album at the home studio.

All that's just the music part.  The real deal for me is that John took me in at a time when my own life was pretty messed up, and reminded me how to believe in dreams again.  He gave me encouragement, he kicked my musical butt when I needed it, and I learned more from him than I imagine he ever knew.

Maestro, you ride the wild horses now, and we will miss you for a long, long time.