To the baby-boomer generation, John Stewart’s name is synonymous with the Kingston Trio, whose early ’60s hits like "Tom Dooley" and "Greenback Dollar" brought folk music from the coffeehouses to the concert halls, campuses and radio playlists. To the mid-’60s teenyboppers, John was the pen behind the Monkees’ #1 hit, "Daydream Believer." To rock fans in the ’70s, John was that friend of Fleetwood Mac’s who had a Top 5 single, "Gold," and a Top 10 album, "Bombs Away Dream Babies," featuring Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. In the ’80s, John was part of the "do-it-yourself" movement, recording and releasing albums for his own label. Today’s kids are chanting, "Cheer up, sleepy Jean," thanks to the new eBay ads. And throughout his solo career, now nearing four decades, John Stewart has been revered by fellow musicians and music fans as a pioneer and ongoing force in what’s become known as the Americana genre, a tougher, more rootsy tributary of the singer-songwriter movement.
Born in San Diego in 1939, John wrote his first song at the age of ten. In high school, John formed a band that played Elvis, Little Richard, and Buddy Holly covers. He shifted to folk music while he was in college, and two songs he wrote were recorded by the original lineup of the Kingston Trio. On the advice of the Trio’s manager, John formed the Cumberland Three, a Trio-like band.
When founding member Dave Guard left the Kingston Trio in 1961, John was the obvious choice as his replacement, contributing banjo, guitar, and, most importantly, his songs. During his seven-year, 16-album tenure with the group, they recorded more than two dozen Stewart originals, including "One More Town," credited by Paul Simon as the inspiration for "Feelin’ Groovy." John also performed on many of the Trio’s best remembered songs, including "Greenback Dollar" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."
John took part in the March for Freedom in Selma, Alabama in 1965 and campaigned for his friend Robert Kennedy during the latter’s mid-Sixties Senatorial campaign. In 1968, John would again join Kennedy’s campaign, this time in his tragically curtailed bid for the US Presidency.
During his final Trio days, Stewart wrote "Daydream Believer," which soon became a mammoth hit for the Monkees (as it would for Anne Murray in the late Seventies, and as it has again arisen in an eBay TV ad campaign). In 1968, John recorded his first post-Trio album, Signals Through the Glass, with singer Buffy Ford, his wife to be. His actual solo debut album – 1969’s classic California Bloodlines, recorded in Nashville at the same time, and with some of the same musicians, that Dylan was cutting his back-to-the-roots Nashville Skyline – was subsequently named one of the best albums of all time by a Rolling Stone critics’ poll.
Many more Stewart records were to follow, as were innumerable cover versions of Stewart compositions a startling assortment of singers, including Nanci Griffith, Joan Baez, Kate Wolf, Harry Belafonte, Robert Goulet, Pat Boone, the Beat Farmers, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Rosanne Cash (who scored a late-Eighties #1 country hit with his "Runaway Train").
In 1979, John returned to the charts himself with "Gold," the first of three Top 20 hits from his Bombs Away Dream Babies album. After a follow-up album failed to duplicate those successes, John founded his own label, Homecoming, in 1984 and has since released numerous albums of his own and other artists. Signed by Appleseed Recordings in 1999, John has recorded three albums for the label prior to The Day the River Sang. Still touring, still writing, still singing and recording to his own high standards and our own high hopes, he’s John Stewart, "a man who hasn’t lost his enormous faith in people and who earnestly but eloquently compresses more than four decades of dreams and regrets into his songs" (Rolling Stone).