From Night One, November 4th, 2015 @ Ferg's
John Stewart's "Spirit of the Road” and my own "Sugar Ditch"
When most people hear the name John (sic) Stewart, they think of the comedian. He's great, of course. But when I hear the name John Stewart, I think of the one time member of the Kingston Trio who went on to an amazing -- but largely overlooked -- solo career. Johnny Stew is probably best known for writing "Daydream Believer" (which earned him, in his own words, plenty of "couch money" i.e. you just sit on the couch and let the royalties roll in) and "Gold" off his "Bombs Away Dream Babies" lp from 1977 which was produced by John Stewart super-fan Lindsey Buckingham or "Liddy Buck" as John called him.
The above selection "Spirit of the Road" is from John's "Sketches from Route 66" album which came out in the mid-nineties. Stew just hit the Mother Road (as 66 is known), took some notes, and then put 'em to song. "Spirit of the Road" is Sketches' opening salvo to get lost to get found.
A few years after hearing Sketches, I found myself on a road trip with Jodi, Faith, and Kwyn. We hired this guy Tad out of Memphis to drive us down into the Delta in his 55 Cadillac. No air-conditioning in August in the deep South! Tad would pull over at filling stations, buy ice, wrap it in a rag, and tell you to press it on your forehead. Didn't do much good but at one of the rest stops, I saw a guy with dreadlocks carrying a painting and asked him to show it me. It was, he said, an illustration of the "Sugar Ditch" in his town of Tunica where we had happened to stop on our way to Clarksdale. "Sugar Ditch" is a euphemism in the Delta for a septic run-off area. I asked the guy if I could buy the painting and he said, "Not this one ... but I've got some prints at home." His name was Ronald Rainey and he got in the Caddy and directed us to his family's funeral home where I purchased the print that would become the cover of John Train's Sugar Ditch lp and somehow inspire that record's stories.
Looking for the Sprit of the Road, indeed. Thank you Johnny Stew!
- Jon Houlon