Thursday, May 28, 2020

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Happy Birthday Gary Stewart

Honky-tonk crooner Gary Stewart, one of the strongest new voices on country radio in the mid 1970s, would have been 75 today. 

Happy birthday, Gary!

Born in Kentucky, Stewart's family moved to Florida when he was a teen. He started playing in country and rock 'n' roll bands and writing songs. 

Stewart had a high, soulful voice with a tremolo that couldn't help but pierce your heart. It's on full display in his best known for two songs, both sung from the perspective of a cuckolded alcoholic.

The first, from late 1973, was called "Drinkin' Thing."

A few months later, he followed this with a song with an only-in-country-music title: "She's Acting Single, (I'm Drinking Doubles)."

Stewart didn't write these. They were penned by Wayne Carson, who also wrote The Box Tops' "The Letter" as well as "Always on My Mind," recorded by both Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley.

But Stewart had his first taste of national success through his songwriting.

He was playing a gig at the Wagon Wheel saloon in Okeechobee, Florida, where he had a chance meeting with one of his honky-tonk heroes 

"And there in Okeechobee, in walks Mel Tillis, Stewart said in a 1992 interview with the Phoenix New Times. "He took me aside and said, `You're good, son. But the key to getting there is writing.'"

So with his bandmate -- and police officer -- Bill Eldridge, Stewart wrote several hits for country stars. starting with Stonewall Jackson, who recorded their "Poor Red Georgia Dirt" in 1965.

In 1969, Cal Smith recorded Steart and Eldridge's "You Can't Housebreak a Tomcat."

But after Stewart's mid-70s success, things started going downhill for Stewart. He broke his leg in a car wreck in 1980. He told the New Times, "The damned doctor set the damn thing about 60 degrees out of whack. It didn't heal right, so the new doctor had to saw the damn thing in half and reset it. ... Now my one leg is a half-inch shorter than the other, and it always hurts like hell."

He already was fond of drugs. But his chronic pain increased his chronic consumption of painkillers.

According to a 2017 story in Oxford American:

His consumption of uppers, Quaaludes, and prescription painkillers became even more prodigious, and bleaker. He was hospitalized for overdoses at least three times. After a few ill-conceived duds in the early 1980s, RCA dropped him in 1983. 

Stewart's only son committed suicide in 1988, which devastated the singer,

But by the end of the decade he began recording agin for the (late lamented) independent label Hightone. He did three albums for the company between 1988 and 1993.

On Nov. 26, 2003, Mary Lou, Stewart's wife of 43 years died of pneumonia. Just weeks later, Stewart ended his own life.

In closing, here's "Ten Years of This," a song that Stewart co-wrote with Wayne Carson. According to the Oxford American, Bob Dylan told Stewart "he couldn’t stop playing it, over and over again. "

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