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Great White Cathedrals by John Stewart


Rhonda B

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In honour of Easter Weekend.. a short but powerful song by the late great John Stewart. A lone acoustic guitar with a few chords from an autoharp, is all it takes with his magical voice. Thank you for your gift of music to the world...still unheard by so many.❤️

 

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1 hour ago, Kirk said:

I tried to find the lyrics to this song and nobody has them! From the little exposure I've had to his music there seems to be a certain spirituality to his songs. Thanks!

Yes Kirk!  His lyrics are most definitely spiritually-laced from his Roman Catholic upbringing. They are very deep and thought- provoking. LC has gently pushed me into the world of John Stewart's music and there is no turning back for me. The spirituality aspect has kept me hooked. I am impressed that you even have this small amount of exposure. Here are the lyrics to "Great White Cathedrals" :

 

Great White Cathedrals

Written by John Stewart

Was it you all along, good  Jesus,

 Were you all along the right way?

 Oh, you told me you were,

But the writing was blurred.

The people who told me, they twisted your words,

Saying burn, child, burn,  

When in your name will they learn 

That you can't buy a soul

With his silver and gold?

And a sway-backed old jackass was all that you rode,

As the bells still peal  

In the great white cathedrals

Of people forgetting to feel.

Was it you all along, green meadow, 

Were you all along my true home? 

Your grass sure was cool,

With your high mountain pools

But out on the highway, I became like the fools

Saying burn, child, burn,  

When in the world will I learn 

That you must stay alive?

In the cities you die.

And old mother nature just fights to survive,

As the bells still peal  

In the great white cathedrals

Of people forgetting to feel.

© John Stewart, All Rights Reserved

 

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On 4/8/2023 at 7:39 PM, James said:

Nice, good for the soul type music.

P.S. Rhonda, and / or LC, please give me a couple studio albums of his I should buy. I want to test the waters. Thanks in advance.

James would you be open to a few suggestions via YouTube?

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It's ok Rhonda, I looked into him some, and went ahead and bought these albums:

Lonesome Picker Rides Again

Sunstorm

Bombs Away Dream Baby

I also bought 4 more K Trio albums....their 1st 2 and the first 2 they did with John Stewart.

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3 hours ago, James said:

It's ok Rhonda, I looked into him some, and went ahead and bought these albums:

Lonesome Picker Rides Again

Sunstorm

Bombs Away Dream Baby

I also bought 4 more K Trio albums....their 1st 2 and the first 2 they did with John Stewart.

Good for you James! Such a good decision to also get those Kingston Trio albums. It gives you a good base of where John Stewart started. Did you just recently order them or do you have them already ? I can speak for The Lonesome Picker Rides Again  as I know  5 of those songs and "Bolinas" is one of the songs that got me started on John Stewart and "Daydream Believer" is on there of course.

Sunstorm,  I know two songs "Kansas Rain" and "Cheyenne" love them both especially Cheyenne.

And of course Bombs Away Dream Babies  I know every single one of those songs...favourite being "Lost Her in the Sun" ( also a HUGE  favourite of LC)..really good choice! I feel very inadequate even talking about this when LC is the master of everything John Stewart so I will let him speak for himself.   He has an overwhelming amount of information to share.  Again, good going on purchasing those albums James.  👍

Rhonda B.

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First, I should say to Rhonda: Great work uncovering "Great White Cathedrals." As a few know, I've been doing a "John Stewart Master Class" (I say that with a smile) for Rhonda since around early 2022. She had seen a few of my references to JS here and asked for some recommendations. I figured I'd send her 10 or maybe 20 of my favorite JS songs as posted on YouTube. Fourteen months later, we haven't stopped yet. We are now up to nearly 170 songs — and, I dare say, Rhonda digs all she's heard so far. (Any clunkers among the 170, Rhonda?) I haven't been going in chronological order, or from "favorite to least favorite"; I've just been forwarding songs that are in heavy rotation on my own playlists for one reason or another. 

John's music has a very spiritual undertone and a unique and distinctive style that's best described as "Americana." He's really a poet who happens to write songs that work their way into your subconscious. Or maybe he's really a composer who writes lyrics that work their way into your subconscious.  

Either way, I can't get enough. John is probably 80 to 90% of what I listen to these days, and it was even more in recent years. Seriously. His music has pulled me through the hardest of times, and I'm grateful for that. And I'm grateful to Rhonda for asking about him because she has "forced" me (in a good way) to go through John's 500-song catalog and revisit it and really study it. The reviews I've sent her are detailed, and she rewards me with even more detail — especially in the area of musicality and technical songwriting points. She is, after all, a music teacher. So in my "Master Class" lessons, I'm both professor and student. 🙂

More to come as a prelude to my long-overdue James response....

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So, I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all — I just know what I like, and John Stewart's music is at the top, along with the Beatles. And part of the appeal here is that I knew John, having met him in the late 1980s while I was editing a music magazine. I gave him some positive reviews, but man, looking back, I didn't know a fraction of what I know now. The man was a genius — an American treasure that too few people have heard. I wish I could turn back the clock and write about him, knowing what I know now, for my magazine's readership (which was well over 250,000 — I don't remember exactly).

Even with my own limited JS knowledge in the late 1980s and 1990s, there was clearly something about his music that spoke to me: it's soulful and insightful, intelligent and philosophical. I know it's not the kind of music that appeals to the masses — as I said to Rhonda on another thread here, it's not for everyone. (Maybe just "The Chosen.") (Lol — inside joke for Rhonda. He has a song called "The Chosen" that can seep into your soul.)

The way John originally stood out to me was via a 1979 rock concert. He was opening for Chicago, and I love Chicago, so I went to see them. Most times, you don't care so much about the opening act, but... John's then-current hit, "Gold," featuring Stevie Nicks, had grabbed me. So I looked forward to hearing him at least do that song, plus "Midnight Wind."

I don't remember his opening song that night, but I have a clear memory of the second: He played a remarkably moving version of his own "Daydream Believer." That was an epiphany for me. A song I'd always considered a happy pop tune was actually a deep and poignant and sad number. As John himself would explain, the song was about the post-honeymoon days when "sleepy Jean" and the daydream believer wake up to realize, "Is this all there is?" Hence the line "Now you know how funky I can be," which was changed by the Monkees to "Now you know how happy I can be." 

After that concert, I bought Bombs Away Dream Babies and loved it. Still do. Even now, it's my favorite JS album among his 50-plus. More on that in the next post.

It was in 1987 —by then in my music editor role — that I received a press copy of Punch the Big Guy, which I still love as much as Bombs Away Dream Babies. Even that was a bit of kismet. To put it in context, our magazine offices got flooded with promo copies of CDs — probably hundreds every week from all different labels, large and small, in every different category. I had a staff of five or six editors, so it would have been easy for Punch the Big Guy to get lost in the CD flood, diverted to someone else's desk and tossed into the "don't have space to review" pile and stashed in a drawer forever.

As it was, Punch the Big Guy came directly to me, along with a press release and note that John was performing near my town in a couple months and available for interviews. So I set one up, and that's when I got to meet JS. He actually was kind of Johnny Cash-ish — tall and full of this humble charisma, but he also with an incredible wit and sense of humor.

After that, I arranged to see John on his East Coast trips as often as possible (but never enough!). He died unexpectedly in 2008, and he is sorely missed. But his catalog of music is unreal — worthy of repeat listening and (per my "Master Class" with Rhonda) much analysis and re-analysis.

Still more to come....

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Finally, on to James: Good going! You can't go wrong with JS albums — all of them have killer moments. I'm more partial to his 1980s and beyond work, but his 1970s albums were and are important recordings. Quick takes on the solo JS albums you got: 

Lonesome Picker Rides Again (1971): Two albums earlier, John put out California Bloodlines (1969), which was impeccably recorded in Nashville with some truly stellar musicians with Nic Venet (Beach Boys fame) producing. Most definitely, make that your next one. It's a classic, often called the first folk-rock album by music writers (but I think that's almost too narrow of a tag). After that, he did an underrated album called Willard (produced by Peter Asher of Beatles fame), and then came Lonesome Picker Rides Again. This one is notable for his first studio version of "Daydream Believer," and as you've heard by now, he had some fun with it on the outros. I also love the opening track, "Just an Old Love Song" and the thematic closing tracks, "Wild Horse Road" and "All the Brave Horses."

And, of course, it's got "Bolinas," which is very high on Rhonda's "favorites" list. It was one of the earliest I shared with her, and it really connected. John shares the mike with his soon-to-be-wife, Buffy Ford, in describing the plight of a small California town Bolinas. It's a very arresting song, and the way John and Buffy harmonize is beautiful. As I said to Rhonda, I love the way John, with his deep and rich voice, is so careful not to overpower Buffy's sweet voice. 

And... there's "Little Road and a Stone to Roll" — I love this track. It's one of John's most soulful songs. I believe he was referring, in a way, to his departure from Capitol after that label dropped him. In a broader sense, if I could quote what I said in an email to Rhonda, this song reminds us that "maybe we're all cavemen at heart: We just want a safe and warm place and the ability to pursue our dreams. Yet sometimes even we forget about our most basic needs in pursuit of more, more, more."

I should note that the album title is a reference to an awesome song on his California Bloodlines album: Don't miss "Lonesome Picker."

Sunstorm (1972): This one came right after Lonesome Picker Rides Again. John was no longer recording in Nashville, having settled moved his studio work to California. Overall, I would have had Sunstorm later in my recommendations for getting into JS. It's an underrated but strong record, and one that early JS fanatics swear by. If I had responded more quickly, I'd have put a dozen or more JS albums ahead of this one.  

That said, there are tracks here worth studying, including the opening track, "Kansas Rain," one of my favorites and a song that well-represents John's folk-rock/Americana style, with some characterful falsetto-ing contained within.

The Sunstorm album also features another of my all-time JS favorites, "Cheyenne" — probably in my Top 20 JS songs. Rhonda and I have agreed that we're not sure he's talking about the place or a woman named Cheyenne. That alone makes it worthy of study. This is a song John would revisit and take to different musical places later in his career. (Specifically, he turned it into a rousing romp in the 1980s during a session that didn't get released until after he died. That version is on the brilliant album Wires from the Bunker.)

Others that I dig here include "Sunstorm," a breezy country-tinged ballad, and "Light Come Shine," another easy-on-the-ears ballad. 

One track that will seem odd is "An Account of Haley's Comet." (Rhonda, spoiler alert, as I haven't routed this one to you just yet.) This one is a partially-spoken-word story recited by his dad, a horse trainer in California, backed by a music track that's decidedly early-'70s-sounding. (It's interesting that he involved his dad in this record; if you go by certain other songs in his catalog, John had a contemptuous relationship with his dad.) 

Bombs Away Dream Babies (1979): See next post. 

 

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This one needs a separate post, it's that great....

Bombs Away Dream Babies (1979): This is John's most accessible album, thanks to three Top 40 hits: "Gold" (which reached No. 5), "Midnight Wind," and "Lost Her in the Sun." The album came on the heels of a threat from an RSO Records exec to write some hits or he'd be bounced from the label. Man, did he deliver. 

A key was: John had a friend named Walter Egan, who had a big hit called "Magnet and Steel," produced by Lindsey Buckingham with Stevie Nicks on background vocals. He ran into Walter at a club while John was writing the album, and they were talking about Buckingham. Walter encouraged John to contact him for some collaborative work, so he did. Turns out Buckingham is a huge fan of both Kingston Trio and John Stewart; in fact, he said he learned to play guitar by listening to old Trio albums. So, Lindsey ended up co-producing the album and bringing Stevie in for background vocals. Lindsey also played some guitar on the album, though it's worth noting that it's John's lead guitar on "Gold." 

All three of those hits are still killer to me all these years later, especially "Lost Her in the Sun." Man, what an authentic and imagistic description of the heartbreak that comes with getting tossed aside like a bag of potatoes. "You carry that scar when you know what lonesome is..." While "Gold" and "Midnight Wind" reflect John's direction for the immediate future, "Lost Her in the Sun" has more of a connection to his earlier days. It's such a melodic and moving pop masterpiece that I have it as a co-No. 1 on my all-time JS song list, sharing honors with "China Sky." 

But this is more than a three-hit album. It's also got a perfect ballad called "Somewhere Down the Line." As I wrote to Rhonda, "If stress relief were a song, it would be 'Somewhere Down the Line.'"

And... there's also an Elvis-inspired song called "Runaway Fool of Love." The story goes that Elvis Presley's manager asked John to write a song for The King; John complied with this rockin' little number. Alas, Elvis never recorded it, so John finally did it on his now, just a couple years after Elvis died. The kick for John was that he learned Elvis used to sing one of his songs, "July You're a Woman," backstage when he warmed up for concerts. John was a huge Elvis fan.

Every song I've mentioned so far is on Side 1 of the LP. Side 2 has multiple gems that are often overlooked because Side 1 is  so strong. There's a song where John sounds PO'd ("Over the Hill") — probably at the pressure applied by record labels and their blood-thirsty, hit-hungry execs. There's also a notable duet with Lindsey called "The Spinning of the World" — a song they performed together for a Kingston Trio reunion special on PBS in the early 1980s. You can find their performance on YouTube. And, there's an album-close ballad that simple and stunning: "Hand Your Hear to the Wind."

I write too much! 

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22 hours ago, Rhonda B said:

..... I feel very inadequate even talking about this when LC is the master of everything John Stewart so I will let him speak for himself.   He has an overwhelming amount of information to share.

 

Told ya!!  Lots to read here James and anyone else interested in knowing a little bit more about John Stewart's music.  LC is the master when it comes to John Stewart. The fact that he's met him, interviewed him and saw him perform live, adds to his passion about the music.

  And no, I have not found any clunkers so far in the John Stewart catalog. There are  many songs I am more drawn to than others, as would be the case with any list of songs. Oh, and I see some songs that I have not been made aware of yet. So, for anyone interested in coming out of their comfort zone and learning about and listening to a different  genre of music this is a good place to start.  It may not be for everyone.

  Thanks LC for all the background info. 

Rhonda B.

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