Dave Stewart: the Tourist’s trail

By Christopher Barrett/ Music Week  09/23/11

He has collaborated with everyone from Can to Katy Perry, Bob Dylan to Bon Jovi, yet despite a truly remarkable work rate and wide array of multimedia activity and interests, to many, Dave Stewart remains best known as one half of Eurythmics.

But 2011 could well see that change; 30 years on from the release of Eurythmics’ debut album, In Your Garden, Stewart is having a landmark year, and certainly one that should cement his reputation as one of the hardest-working and creative forces in music.

So far, this year has seen the release of Stevie Nicks’ album In Your Dreams and Joss Stone’s LP1. Both were co-produced and co-written by Stewart and in the case of Nicks’ LP it was the first time that the Fleetwood Mac singer had ever accepted a co-writing partner.

Stewart’s talent for striking the right note with other artists has also seen him form a harmonious, compelling and previously unthinkable union of some of the industry’s most successful and disparate artists.

For Stewart’s new band, SuperHeavy, he has united The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, soul singer Joss Stone, Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman and reggae star Damian Marley.

According to SuperHeavy’s manager and executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment Irving Azoff, SuperHeavy was Dave Stewart’s concept. “He had a vision for several different genres and styles of music coming together. He contacted and collaborated with Mick and they spent the next three years fine-tuning the concept.”

Stewart has ongoing plans involving the eclectic super quintet but the first is the band’s eponymous debut album, which will be released via Universal’s A&M label on September 19.

Then there is the the extensive composition work that Stewart carried out alongside Glen Ballard for the musical stage version of the film Ghost, which opened in the summer. As if that were not enough, around the same time Ghost made its stage debut, Proper Records released Stewart’s first solo album in years.

The recording sessions for The Blackbird Diaries found Stewart in fine creative form. He completed the set in just five days at John and Martina McBride’s Blackbird Studio in Nashville. Working alongside a new band and with guests including Stevie Nicks, Martina McBride, Colbie Caillat and The Secret Sisters, Stewart created a sound that successfully marries his first love, the blues, with country and rock. As its title suggests, The Blackbird Diaries draws heavily from Stewart’s past, including his days with Annie Lennox in Eurythmics.

“It wasn’t planned that way, it was more like necessity being the mother of invention,” explains Stewart. “We had all these musicians turning up every day to play and I am like, ‘OK, I better write some songs’ and I started basing them on moments in time.

“For example Magic In The Blues was written about my mum and dad breaking up and then me hitching down to Birmingham and London and then eventually meeting Annie [Lennox]. I wrote it as if it was an entry in a diary and it worked out really well so I continued like that. The songs just came tumbling out.”

Born on September 9, 1952, in Sunderland, it was 14 years before Stewart first reached for a guitar. A cousin in Memphis had sparked the teenager’s imagination by sending back blues records and it wasn’t long before Stewart was attempting to mirror those raw emotive sounds. But he admits to being far from accomplished at the outset.

“I didn’t have a clue how to play, but these old blues players didn’t know complicated stuff either – they had a great rhythm and stuck around one or two chords – so I started to learn that and how to use a bottle neck.”

Influenced by the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Stewart’s first band, Longdancer, brought him his first brush with success when they signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records. But it was The Tourists, a new-wave band he formed with Peet Coombes and new girlfriend Annie Lennox, that would set the wheels in motion toward him establishing a long and successful career in the business.

Frustrated by their lack of creative input into The Tourists’ songwriting process, it wasn’t long before Lennox and Stewart broke with Coombes to go it alone. “We didn’t write a single song on three albums with The Tourists, we just played Peet’s songs,” recalls Stewart.

The duo formed Eurythmics as a vehicle for their own creative leanings and used collaborators on an ad-hoc basis. They signed to RCA and decamped to Cologne to work on In The Garden.

Released in October 1981 the album was an adventurous mix of synth pop and Krautrock, and featured collaborations with Can’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, plus Blondie drummer Clem Burke. It met with an enthusiastic response from critics, but the public’s reaction was more muted.

With their romantic liaison a thing of the past, Lennox and Stewart concentrated their energies on songwriting and it soon paid off. The release of second album Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) in early 1983 saw them become household names when the title track reached number two on the UK singles chart before topping the US rundown.

“He didn’t care if you were a royal, a movie star, a kid or the help; he included everyone. I love that about him; he encourages artistry in a way that is infectious.”
Jon Bon Jovi on Stewart

Eurythmics went on to record their third album, Touch, which went to number one in the UK, and the band enjoyed a run of six Top 10 singles before having their first number one with There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) in 1985.

Despite the band’s incredible success it took Stewart a while to fully comprehend his new-found level of income.

“I could never understand at the start, nor could Annie, whether we were making money or not. The first cheque we received was taken away because an old manager said he owned the rights. The cheques continued and we carried on living the same way. I remember speaking to our solicitor; I rang up and said, ‘Do you think Annie and I could buy a car?’ We’d made around £800,000 but I couldn’t get my head around it. He said, ‘Mr Stewart, I think you have reason for cautious celebration’. I wasn’t sure how you go about celebrating cautiously.”

Eurythmics became one of the most successful acts of the Eighties, releasing eight hit albums in as many years, before splitting in 1990. They have reformed twice: in 1999 to release ninth album Peace; and in 2005 for their Ultimate Collection set. Lennox and Stewart remain good friends and they are not ruling out another Eurythmics campaign.

“We are interested in doing something again. It would be odd not to, but we have never talked about how or what it might be. Obviously there are lots of opportune moments, anniversaries, et cetera, but we would do something when it felt right and it would have to be very different. We are older now and the way we would perform would use different elements.”

In the years since Eurythmics disbanded Stewart’s remarkable career has seen him take on a wide array of projects, including film and TV productions, photography, extensive charity work, the creation of members club The Hospital, writing a music business book, and even comics, while also finding time to run his own “ideas factory” – the multimedia operation Weapons Of Mass Entertainment.

He has also proved much in demand as a writer/producer whose long list of collaborators includes Tom Petty, Bryan Ferry, Bob Geldof, Bono, Sinead O’Connor and Ringo Starr. Before teaming up with Mick Jagger for SuperHeavy he co-wrote and co-produced tracks for Jagger’s 1987 album Primitive Cool and they worked together again on the soundtrack to the remake of the 2004 movie, Alfie.

Jon Bon Jovi, who collaborated with Stewart when recording his second solo album Destination Anywhere, admires his ability to relax artists and get the best from them. “He gets you to let your guard down and do things you would never normally do,” says Jovi.

Stewart co-wrote Midnight In Chelsea, the first single from Destination Anywhere and Jovi’s highest-charting solo single in the UK when it reached number four in June 1997.

Jovi distinctly remembers the first time he met the former Eurythmic having been invited to a party by Demi Moore and then-husband, Bruce Willis.

“I met Dave Stewart at some crazy English castle that Bruce was renting. It was January in England and Prince Andrew was there with Fergie. Dave got everyone swimming in the pool. By the end of the night everybody was singing and playing and Dave was just like the pied piper. He is just that great bohemian kind of artist who feels that everyone should participate. He didn’t care if you were a royal, a movie star, a kid or the help; he included everyone. I love that about him; he encourages artistry in a way that is infectious,” says Jovi.

Jovi also recalls fondly the free-for-all, inclusive, atmosphere at Stewart’s studio in London. “We would be recording and there was always a crazy Who’s Who of people walking in and out of the studio: Annie Lenox, The Edge, Sinead O’Connor, Natalie Imbruglia, Mick Jagger…”

And he found the atmosphere no less inclusive at Stewart’s LA abode, which he soon recognised to be the very house pictured on the sleeve of the debut LP by The Traveling Wilburys, the super group that featured Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. The album was recorded in Stewart’s house and garden over a 10-day period in May 1988.

“I was really good friends with George Harrison and had worked with Tom Petty,” explains Stewart. “Bob [Dylan] said he would love to have a band that felt as good as The Band, but he didn’t know who it could be, so I said, ‘The only band that could be like that now is the Heartbreakers’. George Harrison was staying at my house, Tom [Petty] would be around all the time and that led to The Traveling Wilburys,” says Stewart.

Dylan and Stewart regularly hung out and jammed together and Stewart drew on one of those informal sessions to create the track Worth Waiting For on The Blackbird Diaries.

“We were really good friends and would meet up and do all sorts of different things like go down on my canal boat through London and make little films. I had about 30 records of us playing together in the kitchen and that one started as a jam session. We ended up in my kitchen playing cassettes of a jam on a ghettoblaster, then playing along and recording into another crappy cassette recorder. I always remembered there was something interesting about that track so when I was in Nashville I pulled it out of the bag and it really fitted the feeling well.”

With the intention of now creating a solo album every year, Stewart has already recorded a follow-up to The Blackbird Diaries which was recorded at the same breakneck pace and in the same studio as its predecessor. Entitled Ringmaster General it is slated for a spring release next year.

“Once you have created something as colossal as this in terms of getting everyone together, you don’t just want to say, ‘Here’s the album’ and disappear; there is something in you that wants to keep the concept of it going.”
Stewart on Superheavy

While Stewart favours working apace, his collaborators are not always used to his swift ways – yet the benefits soon become obvious.

“Gwen Stefani said I taught her how to write a song in 15 minutes,” says Stewart. “We wrote Underneath It All in 15 minutes and that went to number one in America. It can look very random and chaotic from the outside, but soon the managers and artists see that there is a kind of method, which is creating a situation and the feeling that enables the artists to look inside themselves and realise, ‘I am comfortable to do anything here’. Through that often comes lots of ideas and fast songwriting and that is what makes it interesting for me.”

Joss Stone is among the many artists that relish working with Stewart. “First and foremost it is always fun,” she says. “I love his spirit and attitude towards life. If someone was to try to argue that only some things are possible, his ideas and more importantly his actions have proved them all wrong; anything is possible when Dave Stewart is involved.”

Much like with the recording of The Blackbird Diaries, Stewart favoured the idea of letting the SuperHeavy songs emerge and develop while jamming and recalls with amusement Mick Jagger’s reaction to entering the A&M studio without a fragment of a song being in place.

“We just got everyone to turn up at the studio. There was loads of old-fashioned recording equipment and mics everywhere and Mick says to me as he walks in the door, ‘Fuckin’ ’ell, Dave, we haven’t even written any songs yet, what are we going to play?’ And I said, ‘We’ll start playing and it will be okay’. By the end of the first day we had written about seven things between us. We ended up writing about 30 songs that we whittled down to the 16 we mixed.”

Jagger says: “We ran the gamut of all our different styles mixed up, so we got Joss singing, Damian doing toasting, and me singing different styles.” And he was not alone in finding the whole process refreshing.

“The first day I was in a daze thinking, ‘What am I doing? What’s my role?’ and then slowly we started writing with each other, and it was great,” says A.R. Rahman. “It took me way back to my high-school days when I was playing in a rock band, but this one was a real one.”

“On paper it maybe shouldn’t work, but the combination of their voices together makes it work,” says A&M UK managing director Orla Lee. She says that a key focus for her team at Universal co-ordinating the project’s global rollout has been social media, not least due to the project successfully blurring the boundaries between genres and territories.

Stewart, for one, would like to take the project further and launch a festival using the SuperHeavy theme of collaboration, with the band members acting as festival curators

“It would be like Meltdown, but could be anywhere; LA or Mumbai or Jamaica. It would continue the theme of artists from different parts of the world playing together and end up with a SuperHeavy finale,” says Stewart. His plan also involves setting up a tent for fledgling acts under a banner with the band’s tiger logo.

He admits it is early days and that he is yet to present the idea to SuperHeavy’s manager Irving Azoff but Stewart is confident of making something happen, not least due to Azoff’s involvement in Live Nation.

“Once you have created something as colossal as this in terms of getting everyone together, you don’t just want to say, ‘Here’s the album’ and disappear; there is something in you that wants to keep the concept of it going,” he says.

And when it comes to firmer plans, perhaps unsurprisingly given Stewart’s packed past, there is no shortage of them. Along with his charity work for the likes of Greenpeace and Stand Up To Cancer, Stewart has an array of music, film and TV projects in the pipeline.

On the music side he is working with 17-year-old folk-rock singer songwriter Jake Bugg from Nottingham and producing a record with Michael Jackson’s former guitarist Orianthi Panagaris. He has also been working with Dianne Birch, is set to do a duet with Alison Krauss and is planning to record a stripped-down acoustic album with Joss Stone on which he will play guitar, produce and co-write.

Then there is the soundtrack to the Dreamworks animated film Madagascar 3, which he is due to work on in London shortly with Hans Zimmer, and his forthcoming tour with Stevie Nicks. Meanwhile, his comedy TV series, Malibu Country, starring Reba McEntire, has been picked up by ABC for a pilot and Paramount is to release the Ringo Starr biopic The Hole In The Fence, which Stewart co-wrote with the former Beatle.

“He is a magician,” says Jovi of his old friend and collaborator.?And considering Stewart’s ability to balance so many interests and commitments it certainly seems a more fitting way to describe Dave Stewart than “former Eurythmic

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