Gary Stewart: Gary Stewart Live at Billy Bob

C. Michael Bailey By

Sign in to view read count
Gary Stewart: Gary Stewart Live at Billy Bob In 2003, when Live at Billy Bob’s Texas was released, I can say without qualification (beyond Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Dwight Yoakam) that "country music" is populated by a group of anemic, rock-a-billy-wannabe punks.

There... I said it! (Perhaps not the greatest music criticism, but certainly the most honest.)

A son of Florida’s blue-collar class, Stewart avoided a lifetime of factory work by presenting songs he'd written to soon-to-be RCA country label leader Jerry Bradley. Mr. Stewart who was composing with Bill Eldridge didn't want anything other than to be a desired Nashville songwriter. However, after a bit of success, and through Bradley's continued encouragement, Stewart took advantage of the opportunity to record on his own.

With his huge, vibrato-laden tenor voice (which sounds a bit like Jerry Lee Lewis, and beats the shit out of Dwight Yoakam's), Mr. Stewart, with Wayne Carson, released 1975's Out of Hand, surely a pinnacle of roadhouse records. Fueled by the hit "She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles)," Stewart gained a certain country music notoriety.

But Stewart never cowed to the traditional Nashville establishment and, as a result, suffered from it. When a major theme in country music is the conflict between Saturday night and Sunday morning, Gary Stewart was all about Saturday Night, and unapologetically so. The Id of "Flat Natural Born Good Timin’ Man" perfectly captures the swaggering country hubris Stewart exposed on "Little Junior" and "Your Place of Mine." Stewart explores a second theme in the perfect, pathetic cuckolds in "She’s Actin’ Single," "Whiskey Trip," and "Drinkin’ Thing." Thirdly, he captures the forbidden love in "I see The Want In Your Eyes," "Out of Hand," and the lost love in "Ten Years of This," Quits," and "Single Again."

Live at Billy Bob’s Texas was an early 2003 addition to the successful Live at Billy Bob’s Texas series, which also includes live recordings by Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Merle Haggard, and David Allen Cole. This was Stewart’s first live recording and in spite of the perfect performance was 20 years too late. The 1980s were not kind to the hard-living Stewart, who had faded from the scene. He bobbed to the surface with a couple of forgettable recordings, but did not fully emerge until after he cleaned up and released Brand New in 1988. By the early ‘90s Stewart retired to Florida, quit recording and was content to play local roadhouses.

Live at Billy Bob’s Texas serves as a superb retrospective of Honky Tonker’s life. Stewart’s band, not identified on the recording is tight and sparkling. Stewart’s vocals are more understated than in his heyday, but his spirit is anything but understated. While still full of fire, his hurtful songs—"Ten Years of This," "Quits," and "Single Again" are heartbreaking. More heartbreaking than this was Stewart’s death at his own hand a month following the death of his wife of 40-plus years in November 2003.

I might suggest the Koch re-re-release of the twofer Out of Hand/Your Place or Mine (Koch, 2001) if one wants to here the prime Gary Stewart, who when these records were made, certainly had the finest tenor voice in all of country music, before of since. But don’t think for a minute that I discount Gary Stewart Live at Billy Bob’s Texas. This disc finds the roadhouse animal in his element, seething and dangerous as ever.

For more information, please see The Smith Music Group .

Track Listing: Little Junior; Flat Natural Born Good Timin

Personnel: Gary Stewart

Year Released: 2004 | Style: Beyond Jazz


More Articles

Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read The Invariant CD/LP/Track Review The Invariant
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 22, 2017
Read Akua's Dance CD/LP/Track Review Akua's Dance
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 21, 2017
Read Daylight Ghosts CD/LP/Track Review Daylight Ghosts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Neuroplastic Groove" CD/LP/Track Review Neuroplastic Groove
by Eyal Hareuveni
Published: August 18, 2016
Read "Everyone Is Everyone Else" CD/LP/Track Review Everyone Is Everyone Else
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 13, 2016
Read "Shipwreck 4" CD/LP/Track Review Shipwreck 4
by John Sharpe
Published: August 16, 2016
Read "Further Explorations" CD/LP/Track Review Further Explorations
by Karl Ackermann
Published: May 23, 2016
Read "Early Americans" CD/LP/Track Review Early Americans
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 22, 2016
Read "Hank Mobley" CD/LP/Track Review Hank Mobley
by Greg Simmons
Published: December 6, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!