Listen closely and you’ll hear the influences that have shaped Stew’s songwriting over the years: the country and folk sensibilities of Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson and Tom Russell; the great story-telling of Harry Chapin, Al Stewart and James Keelaghan; the thematic clarity of Don Henley and Mary Chapin Carpenter; the harmonies and vocal stylings of the British Invasion groups, The Byrds, and the great country groups like Southern Pacific, Confederate Railroad and Restless Heart. And weaving through it all, you’ll hear the unmistakable sound of a 12-string guitar or a great bass line, binding everything together.
Stew is a consummate storyteller who will tell you about the magic that often goes unnoticed in the pursuit of the ordinary and the everyday. His songs reflect the reality of his life, so it should come as no surprise that his lyrics capture the wry and sometimes raw observations of someone who’s been around the planet for a while. As a result, Stew’s songs regularly connect with audiences on a familiar level, bringing laughter and tears to those who have “been there-done that”.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Stew grew up listening to the legendary country artists and rock ‘n rollers of the 50’s and spent a lot of time singing along with the radio. Blessed with a rich baritone and a love of singing just about anything, Stew was also a part of those great Daniel McIntyre High School choirs of the 60’s that performed Bach and Handel and those intricate madrigal cantatas. That classical training produced the affinity for good melody and an uncanny sense of harmony that you hear in his work today.
Stew has been a singer, guitarist and bassist off and on for over 50 years, working solo, with cover bands in Winnipeg, Ottawa and Victoria, playing in various church folk groups in Winnipeg and Ottawa, performing with original music bands such as "Multiplex" and "Doug's Reliable Cars" here in Winnipeg, and finally finding his true home with his close friends and musical soul-mates in "Baltimore Road" since 2004.
Stew is a published songwriter and registered member of SOCAN and the Manitoba Country Music Association, with work on four albums to his credit: his own four-song EP entitled, “Remembering” (2003); the Baltimore Road albums, “Mountains Of Time” (2007) and “Baltimore Road” (2012); and his own solo album, “Written Down: A Storybook” (2015). His work receives regular airplay on the Golden West Radio Network, and has been featured on CBC Radio One. He is currently in the studio working on another solo album and also recording tracks with his band mates in Baltimore Road for another group album, both to be released in the near future.
The road is long, with many a winding turn....
Just one of the many great lyrics that I wish I’d written. A particularly meaningful lyric because it has been a winding and joyful road that I have travelled to arrive at the place in which I find myself, with Baltimore Road. Because, to my amazement, I now write lyrics to songs that both myself and the guys in the band, sing.I can’t say exactly when my journey began. Perhaps as a pre-schooler, listening to my mom sing Scarlet Ribbons to me. Or hearing I Wanna Hold Your Hand playing on the radio as I walked out the back door into the frigid Manitoba winter to attend the dreaded first day of school. Then, there were the pre-teen years when I sequestered myself in my bedroom listening to rock stations, and singing along with every male lead singer, no matter the genre, and no matter the key - - which never matched my voice. I think that’s where I discovered the magic of harmony!
Or perhaps it was my subsequent discovery of the myriad amazingly talented female artists and voices: Peggy Lee, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Ann & Nancy Wilson, Grace Slick, Melissa Manchester, Anne Murray, and my all time favourite, Barbra Streisand. I spent precious hours when no one else was at home, singing to Barbra’s records and trying to sound exactly like her.
There were also the summer weekends spent canoeing on Lake of the Woods singing acappella harmonies with a friend - at the top of our lungs, much to the dismay of the local wildlife.
Also, listening and singing along to my records of Paul Revere and the Raiders, Three Dog Night, Elton John, Barry Manilow, Sheena Easton, Olivia Newton John, Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Trooper, Valdy, Moody Blues, Rita Coolidge (the list goes on). So, all of the above should be included as forming the pavement of my road.
And then I met Wayne. He had a guitar that he could actually play, as well as a repertoire of popular songs to sing. Little did I know that his shy serenades and our eventual duets, would further pave the way for this ultimate journey. Now, I have never figured out how to read music, and as a kid, never learned to play a musical instrument (despite three months in grade 7 band where I pretended to play clarinet - - thank the stars that we moved in January.) However, after only 20 years of chiding from Wayne, I finally got serious about learning some guitar chords!
Truthfully, all I really wanted to do was sing. So, that meant writing my own tunes. But I was perplexed: ‘how do songwriters come up with those amazing songs?’ I started with the ‘KISS’ principal - - play the easy chords, hum a melody as you strum, write down lyrics inspired by the melody and, miraculously - a song - in my key!
I must have done something right because those songs have ended up on Baltimore Road records. Which is humbling, because the musical talent of the guys in this band is awesome. They make my song writing better. And we pride ourselves on doing it right.
Baltimore Road is one of the best things that has happened in my life. And I’ve had a good life, for which I’m thankful. But Baltimore Road is at the top of my list. These guys are my best friends. I’m counting on this winding road to continue, and loving every step along the way.
I was somewhat of a reluctant musician, with songwriting and performing coming rather late in life. Growing up in the 1950s in Winnipeg’s infamous North End, I found that the social environment there was less than kind to any young male attempting to sing or play an instrument. This notwithstanding, I did study the trumpet in high school, eventually becoming first trumpet in the Sisler High School senior band. After my premature departure from high school, I took a rather long hiatus from any further serious musical endeavors.
In the mid 90s my wife, Pam, and I fortunately, decided to overcome our fear of singing in front of each other. It was at that point that Pam introduced me to the concept of vocal harmony. I had already taught myself to play some guitar and a little piano early on, but it was not until the tender age of forty-nine that I revisited the idea of playing music in any serious way. At that time, and with great trepidation, I performed for the first time on stage, along with Pam, and friend Eddie Cassidy.
Us would-be musicians were ‘discovered’ one wintery afternoon in 1997 when singer-songwriter, Marcel Desilets, walked into Eddie’s antique store and overheard us singing in the back storeroom. This meeting was fortuitous as it brought Pam and me into contact with other musicians, including fellow Baltimore Road bandmates, Stew Fay and Tom Ploquin. Much to my surprise, these musicians preferred playing their own original songs rather than cover tunes. The idea of writing original music inspired Pam and me to join the Manitoba Independent Songwriter’s Circle to learn the craft of songwriting. We wrote our first song together, Shelter of You, in April of 2000.
August of 2004 saw the genesis of Baltimore Road when, on one summer evening, the four founding band members gathered for the first time in Stew’s basement to see if there was a possibility of forming a group. Within only a few minutes of singing for the first time, all four voices miraculously found their sonic parking spaces in the harmony stack. I remember this event as being a nirvana type of experience. Interestingly, those initial vocal placements have changed little from that first moment, and over the years have been honed to form Baltimore Road’s unique and celebrated signature sound.
My musical compositions encompass a wide variety of musical styles. Although the music of the 1960s, especially the Beatles, have had a large influence on my writing ( e.g. Look Around), I was also been greatly influenced by the songs of the 1920s to 1940s (e.g. Incurable Romantic, Saturday Matinee), which my mother had introduced to me at a very early age. Although I never made any effort to style my music after any of the great musicians of the past, you will definitely hear some ‘channelling’ going on in this respect. For me, the art of singing, playing and songwriting is a work in progress, with no end in sight.