Ralph Emery, Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart
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Uploaded on Jun 18, 2008
Wynn Stewart: Forgotten Artist: (6/1934 ~ 7/1985): Pioneer of the Bakersfield Sound
Wynn Stewart was one of the leading country music artists who helped develop the Bakersfield sound. His music had a driving beat with a strong and energetic vocal performance. Wynn made superb music during his heyday and released a string of singles that performed respectably, however he failed to remain in the national spotlight. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were both influenced by Wynn's music, but his success never paralleled theirs.
Wynn was born on June 7, 1934 in Morrisville, Missouri. His father, Cleo was a sharecropper farmer, who took the family to Los Angeles California where he worked at the submarine base. A self-taught guitarist, Wynn by age thirteen, had already appeared on KWTO radio in Springfield, Missouri. While in high school, he formed a band and began playing clubs around California. Wynn graduated from Edison Park High School in Huntington Park, CA, in 1951. Except for a short stint working for a printing company, he never had much of a real job. His passion was singing and playing guitar. Wynn entered talent shows in Hunting Park often. At one of the shows Stewart met Ralph Mooney, would later become Wynn's steel guitar player.
In February 1954, Wynn signed a recording contract with Intro Records. During a recording session with the label he caught the attention of Skeets McDonald. McDonald, a godfather of the west coast country scene, arranged an audition for Wynn with Capitol Records. After a demo session, Capitol executive, Ken Nelson, offered Wynn a contract. In 1956, Wynn made several recordings for Capitol, including his debut chart singles, Waltz of the Angels (No. 14, 1956), Keeper of the Key and You Took Her Off of My Hands. McDonald and his orchestra accompanied Wynn on the sessions. Eddie Cochran played on guitar. After two years and several more recordings Wynn left Capitol.
In 1958, Wynn hooked up Joe Johnson, an executive with Gene Autry's Challenge Records Records. They met through songwriter, Harlan Howard. Stewart was one of their first country artists to join the Jackpot, a subsidiary of Challenge. Wynn and Jan Howard (wife of Harlan) subsequently signed a duet contract with the label. Their first single for Jackpot was Come-On, a catchy rockabilly tune. At the time, country music was struggling with the sudden onslaught of rock 'n' roll. Some artist decided to move in that direction, while others such as Wynn tried to create cross-over records. She Just Tears Me Up and Long Black Limousine, were among a few singles that Wynn recorded in that endeavor. However, Stewart had little success with cross-over material. So, he decided to stick to traditional country music. In 1959, Wynn cut Above and Beyond on the Challenge label. Yet, it would be eighteen more years, before he would break into the limelight.
Meanwhile, Wynn scored his first top-10 hit, Wishful Thinking (No., 5, 1959). Ralph Mooney played steel guitar and Gordon Terry was on the fiddle. Wynn followed up with a duet single with Jan Howard called Wrong Company (1960). In 1963, Stewart's bass player, Merle Haggard, charted his debut single, Sing a Sad Song, a song that Wynn wrote, but had not yet recorded.
Wynn cut his final sessions with Challenge in 1963, after which the label folded. Then Wynn returned to Capitol in 1965. Two years later, Stewart soared to the top of the charts with It's Such a Pretty World Today (No. 1, 1967), his only No. 1 single. Wynn followed up with three more top-ten singles. However, after that he dropped from the top forty.
Stewart recorded songs with RCA (1972) and Playboy (1976), yet he failed to maintain a national presence. Wynn's music influenced both Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, yet his commercial success never paralleled theirs. This to a degree may have been attributed to serious West Coast competition, foremost Merle and Buck. Wynn had a legion of loyal fellow musicians and artists. For years after his death, legendary steel guitar player Ralph Mooney would identify himself as Wynn Stewart's steel player. Both Owens and Haggard have cited Wynn as a major influence on their careers, yet somehow, he was not able to achieve the recognition or the super-star status like they did.
Wynn was an important figure in developing the Bakersfield Sound and in that role, he excelled to superstar status. Read a book or article on the Bakersfield Sound and you'll notice like a rusty penny, the name Wynn Stewart, keeps turning up. In 1985, Stewart was embarking on a comeback tour after years of obscurity, when he suddenly died of a heart attack on July 17. For those who fondly remember Wynn Stewart, his unique voice and singing style cannot be emulated.
The Nashville Nevada Band: Wynn Stewart (lead vocals), Bobby Austin (bass guitar), Ralph Mooney (steel guitar), Roy Nichols (guitar), George French (piano) and Peeches Price (drums). ~RJB, Country Music Historian, 8/2010
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