O Captain, My Captain: One Question with M. Stewart

Stewart, Llewellin, Boo MacLeod, & Russell at The
Ranch during the Stadium Blitzer sessions (1997)

TheGourdsNews: Could you talk a little bit about how you came to know The Gourds and maybe how you sized them up at the beginning there; what were your first impressions, did you have a particular vision for their career? did they meet/exceed that vision?

Mike Stewart: Alas the early Gourds. I did not find The Gourds, Rob Patterson did. He came to me and said "You gotta see these guys The Gourds". I had known Kevin slightly from the Picket Line Coyotes. While I was managing True Believers, they opened a few shows. The Coyotes were a loud band and they rocked hard. The Gourds, however, were wooden/acoustic/brushes/harmony. When Rob took me to see them, I realized I knew the drummer Charlie Lewellin, and he lobbied pretty hard with me and the band to get a recording.

I was very busy at the time, Munich Records America start-up, building a house, teenage daughters, etc., but somehow we kept squeezing in hours recording in my newly finished living room on my Otari 8-track, with some borrowed mics and pre-amps from Stuart Sullivan.

My initial impression of The Gourds was that they could be the coolest band I ever would work with, which turned out to be true. Looking back now, it is easy for us all to see what I hoped would be true of them: prolific storybook roots related songwriters that could make you dance, cry, tingle with fear or just laugh out loud.

This is what I saw: Jimmy the kooky character/actor/colorful story contriver, who played the bass with his whole body and knew more about Rock history than anyone I ever met; Kevin the guy whose songs and heart stepped firmly on ground in his tiny nimble feet, and played the mandolin somehow like Angus Young; Claude the cherubic voice who could not really sing or play the accordian, which were BIG plusses in the unique sounds that came out of him; Charlie, ahh Charlie-brave man really, kept his Brit-pub culture spirit at every moment.

Did they exceed my early vision? Yes, though commercially, no. Perhaps market success as expectations are never more than just expectations and hopes.

Other than commonly used reason, I can't really say, and I don't know why some bands roll into big success and others don't. It is not fair, but what is? On the other hand, there are hundreds of bands who would die to have the solid career of The Gourds. In their band life they make a living, they make their fans very happy. In their private/family lives they raise their children and whirl 'round well in the dance of real life.

I admire The Gourds for their honesty and musical rawness. I do not admire bands who wish and pretend they are something other than what they are. I am happy to know The Gourds so well, they have enriched my life deeply. The addition of "slow-hand" Max and Keith were magical, powerful, wise choices...I bring them into other sessions when I can because they are both clever and heartfelt players. As I recall, the personnel transitions were special, painful and a lot of emotional work, just like the rest of life.

Oh well, looking back on the early days makes me both joyful and melancholy. I can remember laughing at Jimmy's Cuban Gangster rep hard enough to die, then wanting to box his ears at 4 in the morning 'cause he wouldn't let me go to sleep. I can remember such engaging conversations with Kevin, I would wish they would never end. I can think of Claude's hilarious banter that was the perfect heartening thing for many moments. I have fixed Max's banjo or fiddle or amp during shows, gotta keep him going, eh? I have realized more than a few times that Keith knows more about music than all of us and is a great father. I argued with Jimmy about recording Gin and Juice, then watched him turn around and hour later and magically create the Ziggy track. I have played music with Kevin, and can't believe it took me so long to talk them into using electric guitars! For the record, I begged them to use electric guitars and amps from the 1st Ranch sessions...

Special thanks to Jimmy Smith (photo) and Kevin Russell for contributing to this piece.


  1. It's always great to get a perspective from the inside! Keep up the good work!

    Maya Trujillo Hunter

  2. Fantastic. Perhaps the best one yet. Keep up the good work.

  3. goodstuff. there is a slowly hardening bittersweetness overtaking the entire gourd-weltanschauungskrieg. it seams sew...


  4. Thanks for the interview, very insightful!

    Mike Nolen

  5. I love the one question interview concept and it's great to hear from someone back in the bands' early days. I also enjoyed the reference to the Ziggy Stardust track as it remains one of my favorite cuts from the first time I heard a recording of the Gourds.