1-CD with 28-page booklet, 18 tracks. Playing time approx. 77 mns.
Thanks to DJ Bill Campton, John Stewart's music was big in Phoenix in 1974, so producer Nik Venet had Stewart take a band there and record a 'live' album of hits and some new songs at the Phoenix Symphony Hall in March 1974. Backed by a hot band from Los Angeles, Stewart proved himself a crowd-pleaser, and the resultant 18-song album is a looser and more animated country rock collection than Stewart's studio albums. Titles include Wheatfield Lady, Kansas Rain, Roll Away The Stone, July You're A Woman, Cody, Freeway Pleasure und Let The Big Horse Run.
It was such a scene. Nik Venet once
again - living on the edge with Nik Venet. Phoenix had always been
terrific to me. There was a disc jockey there, Bill Campton, who was
a big fan. He was the top jock in town and played my records as if
they were hits, so for the people of Phoenix they were hits. I was
bigger than Elton John in Phoenix at that time. I could sell out the
biggest auditorium there overnight. They bought my albums, turned out
in their thousands and went bonkers. It's an example of the power of
radio. That people don't know what they like, they like what they
Nik Venet said, "Let's go to the
place where they love you the best and record a live album. We'll
rehearse it, we'll go in, we'll record two days, no problem." I
usually went out with just bass and drums so it was quite an
adjustment to make. We rehearsed for four days, which wasn't enough,
we should have had more. I'd been out on the road and just got in
from Denver - got in that day and began re-hearsals a few hours
later, after which we flew to Phoenix. There wasn't a lot of time to
We had two gigs arranged. Recorded the
first night, everything went wrong and we got nothing at all,
absolutely nothing. That left us with one night to record a double
album. One night, one take on every song. We were a little anxious!
Anyway, just for protection, we went in that afternoon and recorded
some stuff without the audience being there. But it was alright on
the Saturday evening.
We went in and luckily we got what we
got, though the organ wasn't plugged in so the organ you hear is
leakage into another guy's mike. It was totally crazy but out of some
twenty-four tunes we managed to get twenty which were usable. There
were no overdubs, absolutely none. Nik said, "It's a live album,
warts and all. You're not going to, fix it." If he'd let me do
that I'd be fixing it still...
Article properties: John Stewart: The Complete Phoenix Concerts (CD)
John Stewart's talent has sustained a musical career that has spanned the past thirty years. A beginning with the Cumberland Three was followed by seven years in the Kingston Trio. On leaving them he immediately provided The Monkees with their biggest hit, Daydream Believer. His own output has been prodigious; twenty albums including the 1979 Top Ten Bombs Away Dream Babies which included the worldwide hit, Gold. As recently as November 1988 Rosanne Cash scored a number one country hit with his song, Runaway Train, and yet ... he remains a cult artist, revered by a few and unknown to the majority.
This cult status can be traced back largely to the first of the two Capitol records found here. 'California Bloodlines' was recorded in Nashville in 1969 across the street from where Bob Dylan was recording 'Nashville Skyline'. It was producer Nik Venet's, idea to record in Nashville. "I just felt that the combination of John's songs and their playing would be a winner. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that John should record live, standing there with the band. The way I saw it a road singer shouldn't be allowed the mechanical freedom or luxury of adding his vocals to a completed track - it would destroy so much of the spontaneity." John Stewart could not have been happier with the musicians he found in Nashville. "On those sessions their playing was inspired - they played their hearts out for a number of reasons, not the least being that they were so glad to be participating in something other than straight country western music." His on the record tribute to them can be heard on the final track, Never Goin' Back. "When I started to reel off their names they couldn't believe it.
They looked at each other and broke out smiling and the energy just grew and grew - you can hear it on the track." And as you listen you should realise the whole album was recorded in live into the two-track recorder. Another of Nik Venet's decisions. "It was a gamble because once recorded you couldn't adjust the level of an individual instrument in the mix, but if you get all the balances right in the studio, and if you're certain of the competence of everybody involved, then the dangers are minimised - and if it works you can get a beautifully clear and natural recording." The follow-up album a year later contained songs every bit the equal of those found on California Bloodlines, but the recording of Willard in Los Angeles with producer Peter Asher was the opposite of the approach adopted by Nik Venet. "He dubbed on his vocals when all the musicians had gone off home.
When he went into that studio and sat down with the headphones on to sing over those almost clinically perfect back tracks, he lost all the rough edges that, to me, characterise one of his best assets ... they were seeking too much perfection." It is a technique that has served Peter Asher very well over the years, notably with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, and there are plenty of Stewart fans who will not hear a word against the music and singing to be heard on Willard. John's own estimation of Peter Asher's approach? "Very clinical, very methodical, very unspontaneous but very efficient. A few things were done as with the whole of 'Bloodlines', with me singing with the musicians, but it was pretty much built up in the standard form of recording. For what it was it was very well done. He's a real craftsman in what he does. I just didn't feel that the two styles fitted together. James (Taylor) is a precise kind of singer, he did a great job with him. My forte is not that kind of perfection." This CD release gives us all the opportunity to hear these recordings with new clarity and insight. Twenty years on, California Bloodlines still excites and moves me. Great songs and great playing.
For all its perceived faults, the strength of the material on Willard makes it a valuable companion piece. On these recordings John Stewart has evoked the heat and spirit of rural American and makes us willing companions on his travels. Peter O'Brian - Editor/Publisher of Omaha Rainbow Magazine - March 1989