DALLAS - 1983

When I interviewed Gary Stewart in summer 1983 at 5 am at a house in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite after a gig at the Belle Starr honky tonk in North Dallas he was wired and inspired.

That was despite being upstaged by a Dallas duck landing on him when from a trap door above the stage.

Five years later in spring of 1988, time and life had taken its toll on the legendary honky tonker.

I interviewed him in the lounge of the 16TH Avenue Nashville home office of expatriate Australasians Barry and Jewel Coburn who had just taken over management of Georgian superstar Alan Jackson.

Stewart recalled the human duck but a back injury from a car accident had curtailed his touring and made him a captive interview.

The interviews have been edited and wed to give an insight into his writing and singing - just 15 years before he died tragically at his home in Fort Pierce, Florida.


Q: "You were discovered by Mel Tillis in about 1974."

A: "Yes, down in Okeechobee, Florida. I was playing in a club down there. Mel pulled me over to the side one night and said I think you could so something in country music but you're going to have to write. Start writing - that's the key to the door. I did and came up and wrote some songs and that's what got me here."

Q: "Among those artists who recorded your songs in the early days were Nat Stuckey, Stonewall Jackson, Kenny Price."

A: "Yes, and Billy Walker, Roy Rogers and others. Me and Billy Eldridge were writing partners."

Q: "Billy was a cop?"

A: "Yes, he was a policeman. I went and found Eldridge and said let's do some writing. I've got Mel Tillis in Nashville. We came up and did a demo. On our second session we got three songs cut off it. We got an offer to come up and do songwriting full time. Bill quit the department and moved to Nashville."

Q: "Bill had been playing with you in a band called the Tomcats?"

A: "Yeah, that started out when I was 14 years old. We grew up as teenagers playing in bands in those little honky tonks."

Q: "Any Blues Bros style with the chicken wire?"

A: "No, we did some blues, country, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Jimmy Reed but there were no chicken wire there."

Q: "What about here in Texas?"

A: "No, I never played in any of them with chicken wire."

Q: "When were you discovered by Roy Dea (the producer) it was a tape of Motown style songs?"

A: "Yeah, Motown came down to Nashville. They brought Stevie Wonder, Four Tops and hits they had and wanted them sung over in a country style. So I sang them and took them to publishers to try to get some country cuts on them. They had Henry Hart do it. He thought I could make them sound country. Roy Dea was at Mercury Records - the idea was to get some of Roy's artists to cut the songs. Roy heard my voice and that's what he liked so we got in touch with each other."


Q: "Drinkin' Thing was your first hit?"

A: "Yeah, I tried a few more before that on what is now MCA but before that was Decca. I put out about three records but nothing happened. Then after Drinkin' Thing I had She's Actin' Single, I'm Drinkin' Doubles and Out Of Hand became hits MCA did an album of mine of things they had in the can and the singles they put out earlier."

Q: "She's Actin' Single got the biggest reaction in Australia?

A: "It was the biggest record I ever had."

Q: "And Whiskey Trip was also a great favourite?"

A: "I did some whiskey songs and honky tonk songs. Once you get to doing that and have some success at that that's what people want to hear. If you get off the path most of the time they don't like it. They like what they heard and started liking. Some times you want to do something else but they won't let you."

Q: "Songs like She's Got A Drinkin' Problem And It's Me?"

A: "Yeah I did have some drinking songs. Lord I can remember that but I can't remember the words to it. I haven't been travelling and recording much until recently. I had to take a break off the road. My back is messed up - my vertebrae and my spine is twisted. I can't do any riding in an aeroplane and riding to the gigs. It pinches the nerves in my back and is really painful. I had to quit and just write for a while. I've been writing and found a record company where I could record but not have to tour much."

Q: "You were in Charley Pride's band early in your career as his pianist?

A: "I did that for about a year and a half".

Q: "Also Nat Stuckey's band?"

A: "Yes, he was also one of the first to cut my songs."


Q: "You've had some great names for your bands - The Drug Store Cowboys and The Shin Kickers. What is your new band?

A: "How about Slim Chance & His Cosmic Saddle Partners?"

Q: "You're on the same label as Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, that's pretty good company?"

A: "I like being on Hightone. They work with me, Let me do what I'm capable of doing. I'm having fun again."

Q: "Part of the reason for your comeback is your songwriting with your wife Mary Lou who you wed at 16, you've been married now something like 26-27 years. On this album she has co-written about three songs with you?"

A: "We met when I was 16 and got married when I just turned 17. She's turned into a real good writer. We have a lot more songs we've written together. I've got enough already for a couple more albums."

Q: "Lucretia is one of them?"

A: "Yeah, Lucretia is down in a bar called The Devil's Garden in some land in Florida near Lake Okeechobee. It's land where they grow vegetables. It's so rich smoke comes out of the ground. The dirt is so black it's called The Devil's Garden. I always wanted to put it as the name of a bar in a song. It's a little more than country - on my albums I like to put in a little rock and bluegrass, give them a taste of everything."

Q: "You used Okeechobee on a previous album Cactus And A Rose. It's a very fond area for you?"

A: "Yeah, it's home. It's about 35 miles from where I live at Fort Pierce. Right on the east coast."

Q: "You also wrote Son Of A Honky Tonk Woman with Mary Lou?"

A: "She comes up with some good lines. I started off and she came up with the line 'sure, look how good a bad moment feels.' She wrote a lot more of it."


Q: "She used to sit and watch you and Dean Dillon writing?"

A: "She came up with the line from Single Again - 'Now he's got you and I've got two
divorce lawyers on my back.' She do a line every now and then. When Dean and I got writing she got hold of how it's done."

Q: "You also wrote Rainin' Rainin' Rainin' with her?

A: "I went to a studio and demo a song - a country shuffle, And there was a drummer I had never met - a rock drummer. I laid it down with piano and drums. He couldn't play the shuffle beat. So I just wrote it then on the spot."

Q: "Dylan did a great song To Ramona. Who's the Ramona in your song?"

A: "Ramona is my guitar. I like to write a lot of songs about woman's names, they have a saucy flair. Lucretia, Ramona, Delia, Hey Leona, they're just names to me."

Q: "There are also songs you have written with Mary Lou that haven't been recorded. One is called After One More Drink I Might Remember Your Name?"

A: "No, me and Steve Hunter wrote that. Where did you get that?

Q: "It was in an article I read last night. Sorry I may have confused it with There's Nothing Cheap About A Cheap Affair?"

A: "Yeah, she came up with that title. Steve wrote I Get Drunk. Steve is a friend of mine from Kentucky. His wife Carla sings harmony on the Brand New album."

Q: "You also did some singles for Red Ash Records. We played Roadhouse Romance. Did you get much airplay?

A: "No, that was a time when I had a problem, I was getting headaches, down the right side of my neck. Right eye and neck to back. For about two years I went to specialists. I had back scans, brain scans, monograms. Had to take pain pills - when you take them it dries your throat up and you can't sing. I did three or four records on Red Ash till I found out the problem was my eye, my glasses. They fixed me up and I could sing again."

Q: "You did two albums with Dean Dillon - Brotherly Love and Those Were The Days. But you didn't received the success they deserved?"

A: "The first was thrown together real fast and the second we got time to write all the songs for it. But as a duet Dean and I nothing much happened but we got a lot of songs out of it. It was supposed to be an album of us doing all duets but it had to be out so soon that some were just me singing and some just Dean singing."


Q: "Honky Tonk Crazy - the Dean and Frank Dycus song - received good reaction and was recorded by George Strait. Smokin' In The Rockies was an anthemic type eulogy, what was reaction to it?"

A: "Yeah, on the Ed McMann talent hunt Sawyer Brown did that song and helped them win the prize - it got them a recording contract and it came out on their first album. We cut it and they heard our cut."

Q: "You wrote Empty Glass with Dean and I Owe It All To My Heart with Dean and Tanya Tucker. You wrote other stuff with Tanya also?"

A: "Tanya and I and Dean and Hank Jr wrote Leave Them Boys Alone (and let them sing those honky tonk songs.) It was put out by Hank Jr but he got Waylon and Ernest Tubb to help him out on it. When Waylon put together an album with a bunch of friends he put it on his album as well. Tanya came and wrote with recently when she did a concert near where we live. After the show we wrote a song that she'll record. She's talented in so many ways. She's done acting. She's also a great writer."

Q: "You collaborated frequently with Dickey Betts?

A: "Yeah, Dickey and I have been writing a few things lately. I have been writing with him for six or seven years. We wrote Let's Go Jukin.'

Q: "You also did great, powerful version of Are We Dreaming The Same Dream?"

A: "I love that song. Billy Burnett wrote that song. He was cutting an album at the same time. Chips Moman was producing us both. I said Chips 'let me do it.' I talked him into letting me do it and they put it out as a single. We always did it live as a jam with guitar solos in the middle of it."

Q: "You also cut the Sonny Tackett song Looking For Some Brand New Stuff?

A: "He had written that song for me three or four years ago but my then producer wanted something different. When Roy Dea and I got back together he loved it."

Q: "You also did Guy Clark's Broken Hearted People (Take Me To A Bar-Room?)

A: "Yeah, it was a great double named song."

Q: "Your music is a reflection of your life - how often do you write in bars?

A: "Some times I sat in the corner of a bar and write. That's where I wrote Single Again. It was on a bar coaster. I ran into a bunch of my cousins, about four of them. I said what are you doing in there? It was a strange place for them. One said I'm getting a divorce. I went over in the corner and started writing Single Again."

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