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TALKING MUSIC: part 5 of The Bloodliners Festival

Spencer Leigh & John Stewart

Norman Warwick listens in on an INTERVIEW WITH AN ANGEL

It was very much a bitter-sweet highlight of what I laughingly look on as ´my folk music career.´ Some five years after Colin Lever and I, as Lendanear, had written and recorded Cup Finals Every Night we had seen it placed in the Lomax Gold Chart by Peter OBrien in his Omaha Rainbow, his John Stewart appreciation magazine. That placement had been seen by American artist Jeff McDonald who then covered covered another song, Old Black Guitar Case off our Moonbeam Dancing song.

When , he subsequently toured  the UK to promote his Smack Dab In The Middle album, Jeff stayed at my place throughout his short tour and together we took part in a recorded conversation with presenter and author Spencer Leigh (right) for his show on BBC Radio Merseyside. Two nights later Jeff played a live gig at the radio station in front of an invited audience and generously invited me and my pal Pete Benbow to perform with him. The three of us included California Bloodlines in a short set of half a dozen songs. The beauty of the moment was tarnished slightly by the fact that Colin and I had ended Lendanear only a few weeks earlier, and missed out on an event that would have meant as much to him as to me.

Nevertheless. performing a song by John Stewart, the man I considered to be the greatest songwriter in the world, accompanied on guitar by Pete, the man who had introduced me to Stewart´s work with his versions of California Bloodlines, alongside a man who had opened shows with John Stewart and who ended this show by inviting Pete and I to join him on a rendition of that song remains the most exciting experience of my life.

Norman Warwick listens in on an interview with


“Spence, how are you?  It’s John Stewart here.”  It was 12 noon on Monday 20th April 1998.  “Do you want to come to York for an interview?”  With a speed unknown to myself, I left my Liverpool home and met John at his hotel at 4pm.  He’d been there for just one night but the clutter suggested that he had been there a week.  He took a picture of me with his digital camera and sat on the bed, next to his guitar and his latest sketches.

John (left) was in the UK for appearances in Dalry, Scotland and York.  Over the Bloodlines website, Bob Elliot had asked for questions for John Stewart and he had passed them to me.  I grouped them, added some of my own, and conducted the interview you see below.  My thanks are due to the following Bloodliners for their contributions: Tom Adams, Alan Adrian, Mark Austin, Ron Beffa, M.Butters, Catherine from Santa Cruz, David Eric, Pat Finn, Roy Fritz, Rod Geddes, Tony Gurney, Cara Laidlaw, Leslie from New York, Lonesome Dan, Kent Martin, Peter Pearson (Now a regular contributor to Sidetracks And Detours and a columnist in its weekly PASS IT ON  supplement) and , Terry Ransom and Dave Sundberg.  Thanks also to Bob Elliot, Andy Fergus and Chris Lawrence.

Whilst we were talking, I told John that Michael Heatley and I had included ‘Armstrong’ in a new book, ‘Behind The Song: The Stories Of 100 Great Rock And Pop Classics’.  When the book was reviewed on Radio 2’s ‘Reading Music’, one critic dismissed it for its choice of songs.  “They can’t be great songs,” he said, “I’ve never even heard of John Stewart.”  Just because someone hasn’t heard a song doesn’t stop it from being great, but I repeated this to John.  “That’s it,” said John, “My whole life is a quest for anonymity.”

We continued from there.

Spencer Leigh:  Could this be an interview with an angel?

Stewart:  Not in the furthest stretch of your imagination.

What prompted that song?  Was it the film, ‘Interview With The Vampire’?

No, I’ve always written about angels – right back to the 60s – and I was musing what it would be like if you actually met an angel.  You would ask them questions, and the song came from that

Why did you record it with Buffy Ford?

Well, somebody had to be the angel.  When I did it the first time, it was just me, but it was obvious that it should be Buffy.  The song’s like a little play and it’s from a musical that I’m still working on, ‘Johnny Flamingo On The Blue Dream Road’, which is about a guy looking for his innocence and his youth on Route 66.  Buffy plays an angel, which is one of the characters in it.

Do you feel apprehensive about doing a musical?  Look what’s happened to Paul Simon?

Well, I won’t be doi Ford (right) ng it on Broadway for millions of dollars but that does give one pause for thought.  I’ve done the show a couple of times with my wife Buffy in America but I’m still not happy with it, so it is still in rewrites.  We did it on Route 66 once in a little old theatre in Williams, Arizona with a 50s car and such, which was great.  I’m going to do it in very out of the way places until I know it’s right

When do you think there will be a full production with dialogue?

Oh, there’s dialogue already but I’m going to add some more characters.  As a musical, it would be nice to have dancers and big numbers, but I’m interested in going a more introspective way like ‘Our Town’, ‘The Fantasticks’ and ‘The Spoon River Anthology’.  To be honest, I’m still trying to find which way I want to go with it.  Certainly, I will not be dancing myself!  Of course, the more people you add, the more it costs so that has to be a factor.  A musical either works or it doesn’t as Paul Simon found out, and if it doesn’t work, the whole thing doesn’t work – it’s not like one song doesn’t work.  I love the challenge but it is very difficult.  I’ve been working on it for a year and a half and it may be a lifelong project, I may never get it to my liking.

And why ‘Johnny Flamingo’?

I don’t know, it was just a moniker I came up with.  I just like the rhythm of ‘Johnny Flamingo On The Blue Dream Road’.  The pink flamingoes are one of the great pop icons of America in the 50s, and I thought the name, Johnny Flamingo, had a great ring to it.

You always take a lot of care over titles.  You’d never call an album just plain “John Stewart”, would you?

Oh, no.  (Laughs)  It’s the music of the words that I love.  The music of the words is what it’s all about.

The Pete Seeger (left) tribute, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’, has just been released here.  How did you get involved with that?

Appleseed is a new label started by Jim Musselman and when he asked me if I would like to be part of it, I said, ‘Of course I would’.  Pete Seeger is one of the first folk players I heard and it was a Pete Seeger songbook with banjo lessons that got me playing the five-string banjo.  Pete has always been an idol of mine.  I still can’t be around him without being somewhat tongue-tied.  I was told that Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Ani DiFranco were going to be on the album and I assumed that they would be doing updated versions of these Pete Seeger songs.  I wanted to do mine very traditionally and one of my favourite songs off ‘The Weavers At Carnegie Hall’ is the field-holler called ‘Old Riley’ with a frailing banjo.  I did it with just banjo and bass and it’s gotten some good reaction.  It was a logical way to go, but I’m the only guy that did a traditional version of anything on that record, so at least it stands out for that reason.

Did you like the way that Bruce Springsteen did ‘We Shall Overcome’?

Yes, I did but having been involved with the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, I had a problem with him personalising it, making it a love song.  It is the anthem for a movement but Springsteen has always been known for making songs his own and he did it very well.  It was just that little tweak of the screw that did it for me.  I love the version of ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ by Tommy Sands.  That is the best version that has ever been recorded.  It is just chilling, isn’t it?

A few years ago you recorded with another of your heroes, Johnny Cash.

Yes, and ‘Get Rhythm’ was a song I did in high school.  It is one of the strange manifestations of the electronic age that I never even saw him to do the song.  I sent a DAT down to Nashville and he put on his part and sent it back.  I didn’t meet him until Rosanne Cash’s wedding, first time I’d ever met him, so I did a duet without ever meeting him, but it was close enough for me.

Did you discuss it on the ’phone with him first?

No, no, I discussed it with his people.  Johnny wanted to do it but it kept getting pushed back and finally he decided to do it, but I never spoke to him, no.  I sent him a version with me doing the verses I was going to do and a blank space with the instrumental for him to sing and a note, ‘Sing this, and I’ll sing it with you’ on the final recording.  It works very well.  I always thought that our voices would go well together and they did.

I could imagine it as part of a Highwaymen project.

hah,, that’s my fantasy, to be one of them!  I am always getting people saying that I look just like Johnny Cash – people think I am Johnny Cash, for God’s sake – or Gary Shandling, who is a Jewish comedian.  There is a similarity, but there is no one who looks less like Johnny Cash than Gary Shandling.  When I got introduced to Johnny, I said, ‘People either think I look like you or Gary Shandling.  Does anyone ever tell you that you look like Garry Shandling?’  He looked at me as though I had a monkey on my head, it didn’t register at all, so I said, ‘Nice meeting you’. 

While we’re on cover versions, you recorded Tim Hardin’s ‘Lady Came From Baltimore’.  Did you know Tim ? (left)?

I met him but he was impossible to know – for me, at any rate.  He didn’t seem to like me much but he was a person who didn’t like a lot of people, a brusque fellow but a great writer.  ‘Lady Came From Baltimore’ was one of my favourites (sings).  I love the way the melody and the words fall, that and ‘Black Sheep Boy’.  I was glad I got to do it.

When it comes to your own songwriting, which comes first – the words or the music?

The phrase, the idea for the song comes first.  I have a new song, which has become one of my favourites of all the ones I have written, ‘Who Stole The Soul Of Johnny Dreams’, and it was just a phrase that popped into my mind, and I thought, ‘Oh, I have to write about that.’  The phrase and the idea usually come at the same time.  Sometimes a musical phrase will suggest what the melody is but I don’t ever write the words and then the melody, or vice versa.  It is always hooked on this nucleus that was the inspiration for it.

Do you always write the songs with your own voice in mind?

Well, I couldn’t write a song for Celene Dion – I know it just wouldn’t work.  I’ve never written songs with anyone else’s voice in mind, but I have never thought of them as for my voice.  There’s a song on the new cassette, ‘Wilderness’, that I wrote for Buffy to sing.  It’s for ‘Johnny Flamingo’ and I know her voice so well that I know exactly what is going to work with it.

Do you write your songs at one sitting?

The best ones come at one sitting.  The ones on the new cassette were written as I was recording them.  They were coming so fast that I couldn’t get them down.  I had gone through a drought of seven or eight months without writing a note and all of a sudden, the dam broke, and that’s when it is the most fun.  Those I have laboured with for a long time may work, but it’s the ones that just explode that I tend to like best.

Did the drought bother you?

Yes!  It bothered me greatly and the more it bothers you, the harder it is to write.  You have to accept it and let it be.

Your most famous song is ‘Daydream Believer’, which is now a phrase you see in newspaper headlines.  Did you invent the phrase or take it from somewhere?

It’s mine.  I had certainly never heard it before and it has become a pop phrase now.  The whole phrase, “Oh, what can it mean to a daydream believer and a homecoming queen”, just came right out.  I had a melody rather like Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’, (sings) “I am here, I am gone, I am living with a song”, and it was nice, the words were nice.  I had that for weeks, and then all of a sudden the chorus came to me, “Cheer up sleepy Jean” and I thought that I would take the melody from the other song.  Then I wrote the story, “If I could hide ’neath the wings…”  So the melody to the verses was floating around on the back-burner.

It has recently been revived by the boy band, Boyzone.

Oh good, the money is always a year behind so I’ll have that to look forward to.  The Four Tops’ version of ‘Daydream Believer’ is amazing and someone sent me a sitar version on an album of the weirdest tracks in the world and it was hysterical.  ‘Daydream Believer’ on a sitar is just awful.

You originally wrote “And now you know how funky I can be”.

Right, and RCA would not let Davy Jones sing ‘funky’, so it was changed to ‘happy’. 

The Monkees were a happy little band and it has been ‘happy’ ever since.  Chip Douglas was an old friend of mine who was producing the Monkees and he asked if I had any songs that would be suitable.  I had written ‘Daydream Believer’ two months before and I had taken it to Spanky And Our Gang and We Five and they had turned it down.  I thought it might work and I hadn’t recorded it myself as I was just leaving the Trio.  I didn’t think too much of the song but I thought the chorus was catchy.

Do songs come from newspaper stories?

Yes.  (narrates) “There was a story in the ‘San Francisco Chronicle’ that of course I forgot to save.”  I save them now.  If I see anything I like in a newspaper, I rip it right out.  The TV news is a goldmine of song ideas.  A lot of it I wouldn’t want to write about but there is so much material from all over the world now.

What about ‘Bad Rats’?

That was from an article I saw in ‘Time’ magazine where a laboratory was doing tests on rats.  When the rats were still in their cages, they could only be killed humanely with chloroform.  But if the same rat got out of the cage, they could kill it any way they wanted ’cause it was a ‘bad rat’ – they could step on it if they wanted to.  They defined them as good rats and bad rats as to whether they were in or out of the cage, and I thought, ‘That’s fodder for a song as it is the way that we think of each other.’  I am totally mystified at Christians killing each other – they have the same God and the same Bible.

That’s on ‘Bullets In The Hour Glass’ and the song next to it is ‘The Man Who Would Be King’.  You’ve taken that title from a book.

Yeah, and look at the cover of that CD.  When I first saw it, I said, ‘Those are not my eyes.’  The record company liked the photo but as my eyes were shut, they substituted someone else’s eyes.  ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ is the title of a book and movie too, starring Sean Connery.  The title is so generic to the American presidency and whoever would assume the crown, the once and future king and all that.  I try not to take titles from elsewhere.  What other ones have I lifted?

You’ve often written about the American presidency.  Have you been inspired by President Clinton and his sex scandals?

No, no, there’s nothing there for me.  You could write a funny song but I hate funny songs.  We are so preoccupied with other people’s sex lives.  We forget what it was like with George Bush: the economy was in the pits and the country was really depressed.  The economy has never been better than now and everyone is doing pretty well.  Clinton hasn’t done anything but raise the economy, and that’s good enough for me.  His wife seems to be doing okay with him, and yet these women come along who want to be media stars.  Most of Europe think we’re being silly about it.  I don’t think he is a great president, but he is a great people person and so leave him alone.  I won’t be writing a song about his dalliances, no.

Don’t you like funny songs that are written by others, say Tom Paxton? (right)

No, I just don’t like funny songs, period.  I don’t know why.  Oh, Lonnie Donegan I loved.  I loved ‘Does Your Chewing-Gum Lose Its Flavour On The Bedpost Overnight’ and ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’.  (Laughs)  They were hysterical – and brilliantly written.  I love Tom Paxton as a person, he is one of my favourite guys.  I love his spirit, but I just don’t like those songs.

Maybe you’ve just answered my next question: why have you never done a children’s album?

I have written songs for my grandchildren and I’ve sung them to them, but I’ve never felt that I’ve had the handle on doing a children’s album.  There’s a guy in America called Raffi, and he is huge.  You listen to his children’s songs and you think, ‘Come on, that’s easy to do.’  I have tried to write something like that, but it is hard to be so clear and so simple that you can connect with kids.  There would be nothing worse than releasing a children’s album and having children hate it.  (Laughs)

And you’ve never done a Christmas album.  What’s the reason for that?

Well, Buffy and I have recorded a Christmas album which will be out this year.  We wanted to find the right songs and we wanted it to be very traditional. Buffy does a great version of ‘Silent Night’, and there’s ‘What Child Is This’ and that great old folk song, ‘Virgin Mary’.  I love ‘I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day’, which Belafonte recorded it in the 60s.  I have written a new Christmas song and we have done the album with just one guitar and a few strings.   I love when Christmas comes around and you start hearing those songs again.  We might play a Christmas album in July because they are such great songs.

What do you particularly like about them?

Yeah, Christmas songs have the biggest chords of any song, they just jump off your guitar, they are the big church chords, big hymn chords – G, C and then E.  The big A chord and the D, they are heroic and they swell.  They would be corny with other songs but with carols and hymns, they are so singable and so uplifting..  Talk about timeless, they never get old.  ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ will not be on the album.  We wanted to have a mood that says Christmas, and Buffy has such a marvellous lyrical voice that I can sit back and let her do most of the work.

Why did you call Buffy ‘Angel Rain’ in one of your songs?

I give everybody code names.  She was Angelrain. Arnie ‘Wideload’ Moore is another.  All my friends have codenames.  They just pop out.  I’ll have one for you, Spence, my man in Liverpool.

You call yourself the ‘Monkey Boy’ in one of your songs.

Well, I’m Johnny Dreams now, that’s the latest.  I had very big ears when I was in grammar school and they used to call me Monkey Boy, which was a knife in my heart.  I shall always remember that.  I wrote the song and so the thing you’re ashamed of is now worn as a badge of honour.  It no longer owns me, I own it.  ‘Hard times for the Monkey Boy’ – I love the sound of that.

If someone hears ‘Monkey Boy’, he mightn’t understand the reference.

Doesn’t matter, I’m a firm believer in mystery.  The more mystery in a song the more it intrigues people.  It is fun to figure it out.  There are so many code lines that I have put in songs that if people put them together, they would really know who I was, but I laugh as they go right past them.  I have revealed so much without ever having come out and said, ‘Well, this is me here’.  You know the adage – hide it in plain sight.

Have you ever written songs that were too personal or too painful to release?

(Pause)  Yes, there is one I wrote about my first love and my kids when they were growing up.  We were divorced and it was too personal and I didn’t want to put it out.  I love Eric Clapton and I am so impressed by his bravery in writing about the death of his son, but I can’t stand listening to songs like that, they are too sad.  ‘Tears From Heaven’ and ‘Little Man’ tear my heart out.  It is wrenching stuff and it has nothing to do with entertainment.  If I saw Clapton in concert, I would go ‘Oh my god’ – I couldn’t go ‘Very nice’ and applaud.  It is amazing that he can do that, but it must be very healing for him.

On the new cassette, there is a song about Princess Diana, ‘Turn Of The Century’.

Yeah, I wrote it as I was watching the funeral, just as I wrote ‘Armstrong’ as I was watching him land on the moon.  I wrote it as a documentary as it is such a sentimental topic.  I didn’t want to come on like her brother.  It was such a moving time and the song has gotten a huge reaction, but last night a couple of English people said I shouldn’t sing it.  Maybe it is a little controversial – (quotes) “We must love one another, again it is heard, From Mother Calcutta who embodied the words, Humbled and shamed by the head of the Queen, As she passed by Diana as if in a dream.”  I watched the Queen bow her head as the monarchy had got such flak for the way they had handled it.  I didn’t make that up.

As a performer yourself, did you feel for Elton John (left) on that day?

I thought he was in a very tough place and he and Bernie did an incredible job in making that work.  Maybe she should have had her own song but it could have been tripe.  When you are that much involved and the world is in such shock, you can write something that you think is terrific and it really is awful.  I had a song on a Kingston Trio album called ‘Song For A Friend’ that I wrote for JFK when he died and it doesn’t hold up at all.  I forget words all the times, there are just too many songs to remember, and to be on worldwide TV, to be at the funeral of a friend and to be in the spotlight with a song that you have never sung before and to pull it off is remarkable.  I have great admiration for him being able to do that.  He has a great flair for the ridiculous but there is also great substance there.  I’m not sure Keith Richards feels the same way – he said that Elton was always writing about dead blondes!

One of your recent songs, ‘I Remember America’, is like a rap, looking back on old times.

I wrote that song for myself and didn’t think I would be doing it on stage.  It comes from having children and realising that there are so few places in America to be safe anymore.  It has become part of the fabric of America.  I did it once in a club and it had such a devastating effect that I kept on doing it, but many people say it is too nostalgic and too right-wing.  There have been arguments about it on the Internet, which is great, I love that.  A friend of mine, Fritz Scholder, who is half-American Indian and half German, paints Indians as they really are in reservations – fat and drunk, not the heroic Indians of the past, and when he had his first show, he said, ‘Some hated me and some loved me, but they couldn’t deny me.’  I love that, and that’s what I hope happens with some of my songs.  A fellow said ‘Who Stole The Soul Of Johnny Dreams’ was very disturbing, and I said, ‘Good, it’s supposed to be.’

A few years back, I remember you announcing that this was going to be your last tour, but you keep coming back.

Well, those old tours of the past have stopped.  I couldn’t start in London and drive all the way and do those towns anymore.  It  was partly jet-lag, but it wore me out.  It’s not that I don’t love playing for the people, I do, it’s just that I can’t do those drives.  As an American, I almost have heart failure every time I drive along one of your roads.  You are on the other side and the roads are so narrow and I’m going, ‘My god, there’s another car coming’, so I’m a nervous wreck by the time I get to the gig.  I’m a vegetarian and it’s hard to find things to eat here -and when I go to Ireland, it seems that everyone smokes.  I have asthma and by the second show, I can hardly breathe.  The people who are most into my music are the people of the UK and Ireland, so I will never stop coming.  There are plans to do something in a London theatre in September and perhaps I could also do something in Edinburgh and Ireland.  Anything but those long drives.

What are your memories of the UK dates you did with Peter Rowan, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt?

Well, it was no surprise to anyone when Townes died.  No-one could believe that he had lasted so long, and if anybody was on a suicide, kamikaze mission, it was Townes Van Zandt.  He and Guy Clark totally lived up to their reputations, and they were like one person.  They would do the show together and would be falling down drunk.  Their audience loved it, they’d come expecting that, while my audience was wondering what they’d walked in on.  We didn’t connect other than as writers, and friends a bit.  Townes’ idea of humour is to tell you some heart-wrenching tale of someone in his family dying and then at the end, he’s teasing you.  Real funny, Townes, great story.  I was blown away by his writing, his songs are seamless, you can’t see where he did the writing.

Can you be more specific about that?

When you watch a great actor, you can’t tell he’s acting.  You look at a great painter and you wonder how he did it, he’s covered up his tracks.  Same with song-writing.  I love Leonard Cohen, his songs are brilliant but you can see the writing, you know he’s worked on the lines.  With Townes, you didn’t see the writing, it was like he was making it up as he went along.  When I first heard his songs, I thought, ‘That’s nice’, and if anything, Townes Van Zandt’s songs were not nice.  ‘Nice’ is like a card you get on your birthday from your aunt.  Then I listened to the words and it sounded like he was making it up, but it was brilliant.  He is one of the most under rated songwriters I’ve ever heard.

What about guitars?  You’re not someone who sticks to the same guitar so is a guitar just a tool for writing really?

Yes, it is.  I hear songwriters say that there are no songs left in this guitar.  It is the darnedest thing but it’s true.  You get a new guitar and the songs will start coming.  I don’t know what it is, maybe the vibration of the sound.  I’ve got two new guitars at the moment and I’m always looking for the magic guitar.

What do you do with the old ones?

Sell them or trade them.  Some I keep.  I might use them for different sounds on a record.

Would you think of donating the guitar you wrote ‘Daydream Believer’ on to a museum?

It was stolen at an airport.  It was a beautiful Martin D-28 and I never would have given it away.  The one thing I wouldn’t take on the road is my Kingston Trio banjo, which I got in 1960 and played on every Kingston Trio album.  An insurance assessor told me it was worth $17,000 and if I’d took it on the road, it would cost $100 a trip.  I don’t want to take the chance.  Martin has come out with a Kingston Trio signature set – the remade Vega banjo, Bobby’s Martin D-28 and Nick’s tenor guitar.  We all signed them, and it was $10,000 for the set.  The banjo was beautiful, better than the original, so I take that on the road.

Do you do a lot of painting and sketching now?

I am always sketching and taking photographs.  I’m usually writing or painting but I rarely do them together.  I’m not thinking of songs while I’m sketching.  I will sit in diners and cafes and sketch the people across the room.  It would be too intrusive to say to someone, ‘Sit down, I want to sketch you’ and of course, it mightn’t work out.  Bobby Shane is such a big Fritz Scholder fan that he even framed the directions he had written for a restaurant.  I asked Fritz to do a sketch of Bobby on the placemat and it looked nothing like him.  Fritz couldn’t have cared less – he picked up the placemat and handed it to him.  Buffy and my son Luke were in Paris last week and we all went to a live drawing class at the Academy where Picasso and Matisse drew.  The room was steeped in tradition and I may get a song from that – it was so romantic.  It was a high to be with those Paris artists, but I was delighted to see that none of them were that much better than me.  That was a kick for the old confidence.

You have moved from Virginia to California.

Yeah, Novota, California.  Luke graduates this year and is going to move out on his own, so maybe we will go down to Santa Barbara.  I’d love to move to Arizona but I don’t think Buffy wants to live there.  I want to get out of Northern California.

Do you ever go to Nashville to sell your songs?

Yes, but it is a disaster, an absolute disaster.  I have a terrific publisher, Bug Music, but there is no room for my songs in country music now.  There’s a publisher in Nashville called Woody Bomar, who has Little Big Town Music and owns every album I’ve made.  He’s a big fan but even he says, ‘I couldn’t sign you, John.  You don’t write what they’re doing here.’  I listen to country music now and think it is awful.  There are some Vince Gill songs I like but on the whole, I can’t connect with the ‘hat’ songs.  I did some writing with the guys down there but it was so fabricated.  It is writing to make money.  There is no heartin the stuff.

You recorded a song called ‘Women’ with Rosanne Cash, which could be seen as your feminist anthem.

I have a condition called ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder – and one of the symptoms is living dangerously.  Most people who have it drive racing cars or motorcycles or they go sky-diving or bungee jumping.  Mine is to do things on stage that no-one should ever do.  I sang ‘Women’ for the first time in Texas at the Kerrville Folk Festival with an audience full of cowboys and hats, and it went down a storm. I was so pleased that ‘Women’ went over so well as it was such a dangerous song at that time.  I love dangerous songs – ‘Christ And The Devil’ is a dangerous song and it’s a rush to do it.  It can go wrong.  We played a gig opening for the Pleasure Barons and the audience were just animals – beer-swilling animals.  We often open with ‘Lost Her In The Sun’ but I went for ‘Songs Of All The Angels’, which is the slowest ballad I know as it was the most dangerous thing to do at that time.  I wasn’t going to pander and I wasn’t going to try and get ‘em because I knew I couldn’t.  They were talking and yelling all the way through.

There really is something called ADD?

Yeah, it’s very real.  I found out I had it four years ago.  It is very treatable but my mind is like a remote control for a TV, it usually won’t lock on anything.  When you have ADD and you lock on something, you are so into it that if you are jarred out of it, it fries your nervous system.  You cannot hold a thought at all.  It’s a hideous thing but it is very common.

You’re also part of a new band, Darwin’s Army.  What is that?

It is an idea I’ve had for ten years.  I wanted to have a folk group that would not only do traditional songs but would also do newer folk songs that people might not think of as folk like ‘Reason To Believe’, ‘The Boy In The Bubble’ and ‘Silver Wings’.  At first I tried to do it with Chuck McDermott and Buffy.  We had one rehearsal, but Buffy and Chuck were like ten year olds, laughing and making faces, and I said, ‘That’s the end of the rehearsal, this is too silly.’  Finally, Buffy and I decided to do it with John Hoke and I fell in love with the name, Darwin’s Army.  Someone referred to a town in the South as Darwin’s Waiting Room, and Darwin’s Army sounded so strong.  I called three different labels and told them about the idea, and all three wanted to sign us without hearing any demos, which was amazing.  Most of the times they want to hear the songs and I’ve never ever had a label sign me on just an idea before.  We have done an album for Appleseed which will be out in June.  It’s a really good album.

Which of your songs are you most pleased with?

‘Who Stole The Soul Of Johnny Dreams’ -one of the latest ones, but it’s always that way.  I feel that ‘Mother Country’ and ‘The Pirates Of Stone County Road’ are completely original, I have never heard any song like them, and I think I really was able to craft ‘Cody’ but this new song is so minimal, it has so much mystery and yet it is so clear.  I love it and I am so happy that other people seem to like it.  I can usually find something wrong with them but I haven’t with that one.

You must have written one of the first e-mail songs with ‘Davey On The Internet’?

I love Bloodlines, the bulletin board that we have on the Internet, and I love the immediacy of e-mail.  A lot of people write into Bloodlines and I get immediate feedback from people who like my music.  I had a title for thirty years, ‘Judy On The Intercom’, (sings) and I thought, ‘Someday I’ll write that’, but it never worked.  Dave Batti said, ‘It’s Davey on the Internet’, and I wrote the song in ten minutes.

Do you put any music on the Internet?

Yes, I put 30 seconds of a new song, ‘Dogs In The Bed’ on Bloodlines, but I don’t know if anyone ever went to it.  I also put a bit of Rosanne and I singing ‘Price Of The Fire’ at a club in New York but again, I never heard anyone mention it.

You can tell how many people have visited a site.

Yeah, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.  (Laughs)  Some things I just don’t connect with.

John Stewart, thank you very much.  I hope this hasn’t been a hard time for the Monkey Boy.

Not at all, the time has passed very quickly.  Thanks for all those questions and I’ve got a name for you: Spencer “Murrow” Leigh.


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