Who was/is Wynn Stewart ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Wynn Stewart 1954 - 1985
So why didn't it happen for Wynn Stewart? He was as good a singer as any in country music. A pure singer. His peers constantly told him he was among the best, if not the best. If he had lived, it's tempting to think that his role as an architect of west coast country music would have been recognized and he could have renewed and sustained his career much as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard have done. It's likelier, though, that he would have suffered the fate of many of his contemporaries. Denied airplay, he would be playing occasional stints in Branson, close in fact to where he is now buried. Certainly, Wynn Stewart had his chances and saw some success. He was in and out of the country charts for thirty years, but the hits were fewer and smaller than they should have been, and, when people think of California country music these days, they think of Buck, Merle, and Dwight instead of Tommy Collins, Skeets McDonald... or Wynn Stewart.
It's true that in some ways Wynn was his own worst enemy, but the same can be said of Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, George Jones, and many others. Wynn drank and no-showed to the point that he alienated many of those who would have been inclined to help him. Still, industry people liked him. Fans liked him. They saw his talent, and saw that he was essentially a good --if flawed-- man.
Winford Lindsey Stewart was, as he was fond of saying, a bigger name than he was. He topped out at 5' 5" in his socks (5' 7" in his platform shoes). He was born near Morrisville, Missouri on June 7, 1934. His father, Cleo Winford Stewart (born August 19, 1911), and his mother, Golden (born February 1, 1912), were from Missouri. Cleo had thirteen siblings, and, as far back as the Thirties, there was a family tradition of heading back and forth to California as economic circumstances dictated. Cleo's father was killed in an automobile accident in Arizona in 1938 on one of those trips. Cleo was a farmer when Wynn was born, and Wynn had two siblings, Patty and Beverly. Cleo took the family out to Vallejo in the San Francisco Bay area to work at the submarine base during the Second World War, came back to Missouri, and then moved to Los Angeles in 1948. His mother had remarried and was settled in the Florence area of greater Los Angeles, and Cleo settled there too, working as a furniture upholsterer.
Even before the Stewarts left Missouri for good, Wynn had appeared on KWTO (Keep Watching the Ozarks) in Springfield, later the host station of the Ozark Jubilee. "Music was part of Wynn from the very beginning," said his sister, Beverly Mullins. "He used to sing with our aunts in church [a 1969 press release says his first public performance was at age five or six when he sang in church with Aunt Leota accompanying him], but his first love was baseball. We had an uncle, Ken Gables, who was a lefthanded pitcher, and I seem to recall that he got into the record books for something. Uncle Ken told Wynn he had to be a little taller to stand on that mound. Then he got something like athlete's foot in his glove hand, and had to have it exposed to the air." So Wynn started playing the clubs, exposing his hand to cigarette smoke and stale beer funk instead.
Wynn had picked up the guitar at age eight, and, according to Beverly, a salesman for Folger's Coffee saw him at a tal
ent show and liked him so much that he bought him a top-of-the-line Gibson. Wynn's first recording, cut privately on an acetate disc, was made on April 5, 1948. It was Eddy Arnold's hit of the hour, Anytime. Wynn attended Edison Park Junior High School and graduated from Huntington Park High School in 1951, and had very few jobs outside music. An article in 'Country & Western Jamboree' (September 1956) mentioned that he was "until recently engaged as a printer." He was under twenty-one when he began playing the joints, so he couldn't go unless his father chaperoned him, and only then if he stayed on the bandstand.
Carl Moore, a dee-jay in Huntington Park who went under the name 'Squeakin' Deacon,' hosted regular talent shows, and Wynn entered as often as he could. At one of them, he met Ralph Mooney, who would become his steel guitarist, although at that point Mooney was playing lead guitar. Mooney was six years older than Wynn, but they discovered that they'd been to the same junior high school, Thomas A. Edison, in the Flore
nce school district. Later in life, Ralph Mooney would say that no matter how many sessions he made with other artists, he thought of himself for fifteen years as Wynn Stewart's steel guitarist. "Wynn and his dad would come in every Sunday to this talent contest that Squeakin' Deacon held at the Compton Ballroom," says Mooney. "He was called Winford then. He won that talent contest every time. People hated to see him come in. You'd win a wristwatch, and he would come in and show off this arm full of wristwatches. We were destined to meet, I think."
Ralph Mooney remembers Wynn making some demo's, and believes he played on them. "My wife and I lived in Vegas for a while," he says. "Then Wynn called and said he wanted to make some demo's. I was playing lead guitar on those." Presumably, one of those demo's landed Wynn his first contract with the short-lived Intro Records country division of R&B giant Aladdin Records. There was one session in February 1954. The note bends and melisma on the first song recorded, I've Waited A Lifetime, were straight out of the Lefty Frizzell style manual, but Wynn (or Win, as he was billed on Intro) was already giving some hint of his awesome vocal power. The identity of the backing group is unclear, although Ralph Mooney believes he was playing the very busy lead guitar.