Andrew Doble Following New Brighton, I saw John on numerous occasions in York. He used to appear regularly at a small pub called the Winning Post, near the racecourse of course, and it had real atmosphere. In my mind, it tied in with “Mother Country” and “Let The Big Horse Run”. John was always on top form in York and on one occasion in the winter, he walked through the audience from the back of the room wearing a long black coat and I thought, “Oh my god, it is Johnny Cash.” (Laughs) It was John keeping out the Yorkshire cold. He was used to California. He took his coat off and he played brilliantly and it wasn’t until I saw John play live that I realised that not only was he a great singer and had the voice that moved me the most since Elvis, but he was also a great guitarist. He was a great songwriter too, and the songs flowed out of him.
Buffy Ford That thing about Johnny Cash is so funny because Rosanne and John were really good friends and we went to her wedding in New York. We were walking from the wedding down the street to the reception and somebody came up to John and asked him for his autograph. John said, “But Johnny Cash is right over there.” Johnny Cash was behind John but they were coming to my John for Johnny Cash’s autograph. That was how alike they looked and when you saw them in person, their essence was so alike.
Spencer Leigh I do get the feeling that he loved the UK.
Buffy Ford Oh he did, he loved the UK. It was a special place for him to come and all of you were all very special to him. He had fond memories of coming here. He loved that club in York and he loved Scotland very much. He loved Andy’s Turf. Inn. He felt that he had roots here. He loved the beauty, the history and the people. He just didn’t like the food much.
Spencer Leigh Even though he might only be performing for 200 people.
Buffy Ford It didn’t matter. John didn’t look for a big crowd. He was such a humble guy.
Andy Fergus John played the 12-Bar Club in Soho and this place was not much bigger than a living room and they squeezed about 90 people in there and John was cramped in with his guitar and the sweat was running down and yet he thought it was one of the greatest gigs he had ever played and he demanded that I booked him back in there again. Unfortunately, the next time he came in 2003, the Borderline got him and he said, “Why didn’t you book the 12-Bar as that would have been far better?” He loved it – I suppose the closer they were the better.
Buffy Ford There was a club in Edinburgh and it was the most heartfelt experience for us. They had been waiting for him for 16 years. John was playing with Chuck McDermott and the whole club started swaying. They knew the lyrics to all John’s songs. They were crying and I was crying and it was just beautiful. There is a John Stewart connection with so many people. There is an on-line group in America called the Bloodliners. They talk about John and their memories, and now we are going to have the Kingston Trio Legacy Project and we are going encourage everyone to share their stories and put photographs on the website.
Andrew Doble John inspired a community of friends, a community of kindred spirits. We loved his music, we met each other and we kept up contact in many cases. I first came across this many years ago. I bought some of John’s older solo albums from a little record shop in Edinburgh called GI Records, and the first time I bought something from them, I opened the package and out slipped a piece of paper and it said, “Anybody who likes John Stewart is a friend of ours.” That epitomises the spirit. People loved John and then they got together and we all shared in something special through John. He had that soul inspiring side to him which was on top of the wonderful voice and the songwriting and the guitar playing. He had something truly inspirational.
Spencer Leigh He was so prolific. I have no idea whether I have all his stuff as every time he came over there would be Secret Tapes that he would sell at gigs.
Andy Fergus He would only bring over so many cassettes, maybe 100. Sometimes I would get more copies made while he was here, which was much easier when they were CDs. John would say on stage, “I have brought over some tapes but I only have a limited amount and Andy is out there at the bar.” Twice I got knocked over with fans grabbing the tapes off the table. People were stuffing money in my pocket and taking them.
Spencer Leigh Geoff, was he amused by some of the support acts you had?
Geoff Davies Yes, I put him on four times in Liverpool, at Hardman House, at the Haigh Building, at the Irish Centre and at the Picket. He was amused by Gone To Earth who supported him at the Liverpool Polytechnic Haigh Building. There were a ragamuffin lot who looked like they had emerged from a day’s work on the farm with a punk singer with white dyed hair and leather jacket. John had done his soundcheck and he said to me, “Is it all right to leave the gear with these guys around?” He wasn’t sure about them, but he came to like them.
Brian O’Connell The sound was bad at the Picket. While we were waiting for the sound man to fix it, John asked the audience who had come the furthest and someone had come from Norway.
Andy Fergus The sound was very bad at one of the gigs and John was appalled. When the guy said goodnight at the end of the evening, John just punched him.
Buffy Ford He never told me about that! I’ve never seen him punch anyone.
Geoff Davies The sound was bad but everything else was fine. The one in Hardman House was particularly good, with another weird band of mine Fishcake Shake, and we had a good time afterwards drinking in the bar. I found that John and I shared a love of great westerns and directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks and Sam Peckinpah. Most of the westerns are crap but there are a handful of really great ones. He told me had been offered a part in Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. He had the sense and dignity to turn it down because he is not an actor, neither was Bob Dylan, big style! His part was superfluous to the film, but it was a marvellous film.
Buffy Ford You’ve got that wrong. He wanted that part all right and it was the Billy the Kid part. John was so excited that he was up for it and he was a natural actor. Listen to his narratives like “Mother Country”. He thought he had the role and he was very disappointed when Kris got it. Then they thought of the Alias part but Dylan got that.
Brian O’Connell I remember a gig he did in York with Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Peter Rowan. This girl came up to him and said, “I have never seen you before but you are like a biblical figure.” He looked like a prophet and she thought he was amazing. He looked so striking that he was a perfect subject for photographs.
Andrew Doble That was in a brand new concrete venue, larger than the ones in which John normally appeared. He preferred the atmospheric, smaller rooms. It was a great bill but it didn’t quite click. John performed very well indeed but Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt had been at the bottle. They should have been great but they were off form.
Andy Fergus And John wouldn’t share the dressing room with them because they smoked. John had stopped smoking and he wouldn’t tolerate it. So there was tension from the word go. Loudon Wainwright came to one of the shows and Guy and Townes said he could do a couple of songs. I was told to ask John as they thought he might say no to them, but when I asked him, he was fine about it. There was a difference though in working with John and being a friend and a fan. On one of the early tours he ran up a lot of expenses through telephoning Buffy and when I mentioned it, he gave me the money and said quite menacingly, “Don’t you ever question me again.”
Brian O’Connell A friend of mine was a great Guy Clark fan and he had brought some albums for Guy Clark to sign. Guy Clark was so drunk that he sat down and put the albums on his leg and he started signing and carried onto his boot. (Laughs) So he signed his boot, “To Roger and Mary, Guy Clark”.
Spencer Leigh And John would never sign an album as boringly as that. They were works of art in themselves. This is the Kingston Trio’s Seasons In The Sun and he has put an arrow to himself and it says, “To Spencer, From the Fat Kid”. (Laughs)
There’s a fairly gloomy picture of him on California Bloodlines and he has written “Why is this man smiling?”
The three musicians look like desperadoes on the cover of The Phoenix Concerts and he has put “Would you ask these men to dinner?”
I thought that he was trying to look like Clint Eastwood on the cover of Fire In The Wind, but he has put “To Spence, Me doing Bogart”.
On Bombs Away Dream Babies, he has written “To Spencer, From a friend of Stevie Nicks”.
This is from the last time I saw him: it was the year 2000 and the compilation, Gold, had just been released. He wrote on it, “To my old friend Spencer, Many years we ride together.”
Andrew Doble John took part in an album with a group of actors recreating the Chicago Conspiracy Trial. I came out with this and John said, “Where did you get that?” He signed it for me, “Andrew, You’re guilty”.
Spencer Leigh and Buffy Ford
Spencer Leigh When I interviewed him once, I said I loved his vibrato and he said, “I hate it, Spencer”.
Buffy Ford Oh, he did. He really did. He hated his voice in the Trio and his old voice that he used to have with me. He hated his voice on Signals Through The Glass. I loved his vibrato but his voice changed and that is because of his teeth history. Do any of you know about this?
Spencer Leigh No, but tell us.
Buffy Ford John made his own teeth! He was a dentist as well! He would file people’s teeth on the airplane. He would carry articulating paper and check people’s teeth. He would say, “Let me hear your bite. Oh, your bite is off. Let me get the articulating paper out.” He did that to Dan Dugmore on the airplane and he had a big file, one of those big huge files that you could do lumber with. He said, “Open your mouth, Dan” and so Dan opened his mouth and he would start filing his teeth on the airplane with everybody looking. Then he would use the articulating paper and he would say, “Oh, that’s good. Let me check your bite.”
We would get to the hotel and all of the TV stations would go fuzzy and I would get phone calls, “Is John filing his teeth as we can’t get any reception on our TV?.” I would say, “Honey, all the TVs are off. Stop filing your teeth.” He started filing his own teeth because of his bite, he had temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problem. He had perfect teeth and this dentist had to take all his teeth out and build his teeth up and so they never were right and so he started making his own teeth. He would go to dentists and they would say, “Gee, John, you did a pretty good job.”
Andy Fergus He stayed a couple of nights at my house when he was doing some gigs. My two sons were in their early teens and Ian said one day, “There’s a terrible strange noise coming from John Stewart’s room.” Plus he has a wire going out of the window into the car. (Laughs) The file wouldn’t work with the UK power supply and so he had put it in the car where the cigarette lighter was. I knocked on the bedroom door and said, “John; what’s the noise?” He said, “I’m just doing my teeth!”