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Author Topic: Michael Stewart  (Read 2476 times)

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Offline Stuart

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Michael Stewart
« on: October 13, 2007, 01:12:32 PM »
I just read that Mike Stewart (aka Backwards Sam Firk) died of a heart attack on Thursday, October 11, 2007.

Offline waxwing

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Re: Michael Stewart
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2007, 03:00:11 PM »
I got permission from Stewart Michelson to copy his post from the PWBG here:

Michael A. Stewart, who recorded under the name Backwards Sam Firk,
suffered a heart attack and died on October 11, 2007. Backwards Sam
had recorded as backup guitar behind Yank Rachell and others on
several LPs, and made two of his own for Adelphi records, the second
being a duet album with me. We also produced a guitar duet CD on
Physical Records.

In the pre-war blues context, Backwards Sam is, or should be known as
one of the last, and arguably the best of the "kids" who learned,
first hand, from the old blues players, as they were rediscovered in
the 1960s and 1970s. He was particularly close to Mississippi John
Hurt, Hacksaw Harney, and Henry Townsend, although he played with many
others, and impressed them all. In the same context, using his real
name, Michael ran Green River Records, trading 78 rpm records as well
as building a well-renowned collection of blues, gospel and foreign
78s. That business is likely to be maintained by his son, Jesse.

It has long annoyed me that Michael's first wife, Carol Rosenthal, is
listed as a blues character in Eric's Blues List, for her
part-ownership and marginal participation in Adelphi records; whereas
Michael himself, who provided the musical direction for that company,
has not been listed. Adelphi, by the way, is next to Takoma Park in
Maryland, just outside Washington, DC. The name clearly indicated a
rivalry---I trust a friendly one---with Takoma Records, as Backwards
Sam Firk was a musical colleague of John Fahey, a Takoma Records founder.

Michael A. Stewart was born on September 18, 1943, which means he
died shortly after turning 64. He leaves his wife Kathy, and his two
children Carolina and Jesse. Although perhaps I benefited more than
anyone else from playing guitar duets with Backwards Sam Firk, no one
who had that opportunity could ever forget it. He was, simply put,
masterful. More than technique, he had taste. And more than
technique and taste, he had originality. From his mentors and from
records he did not so much copy notes as learn sounds and how to make
them. What we might call country blues styles. He played old-time
blues as if he was living in the 1930s, as if this was the music of
his day. For him, it was. To visit him was to be immersed in a world
of 78 rpm blues masterpieces, piano perhaps even more than guitar.

He will be buried in western North Carolina, where he spent both his
first and his last years.

Stephan Michelson
(Delta X)

Very sad tidings.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
CD on YT

Offline Johnm

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Re: Michael Stewart
« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2007, 11:40:47 AM »
Hi all,
I moved this topic over here from the Jam Session, for the passing of Michael Stewart is definitely a loss to the Country Blues.  I met him only once, just about a year ago, though I had known of him by reputation for many years via Nick Perls, who had told me that Stewart could play "anything" in the Country Blues".  I don't know that that was true, but I do know that on the day I met him, Michael Stewart played absolutely convincingly in the style of Henry Townsend, Big Joe Williams (something you almost never hear anyone other than Big Joe do) and Jesse Thomas.  He told me at that time his current enthusiasm was the slide work of Sam Collins, though I didn't hear him play any of that.  His love of the music and knowledge of it were a joy to witness.  He was a wonderful player.
All best,
« Last Edit: October 14, 2007, 02:30:22 PM by Johnm »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Michael Stewart
« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2007, 01:33:28 PM »
I never met Mike Stewart, but I always felt that he was in someway connected to what I was listening to. Back in the early 70s, I noticed that his name would pop up as one of the contributors to the notes to the Yazoo LPs. Then I learned that he had a couple of records out. I picked up the first, "True Blues and Gospel" and later the second, "Deadly Duo." There was a certain unpretentious, fun-loving--but at the same time serious--quality about the records. There were also the clever notes--and of course, he and Stephan could play. Their recent CD, "What You Think This Is," is more of the same. "Hawaiian Hotel" is a real gem (or perhaps a "real piece of work"), IMHO. Joe Bussard recorded Mike as well, and several cuts are contained in the "Fonotone Records" box set.

Over the years when talking to guitarists I would often ask, "Have you ever heard of Mike Stewart?" I was surprised when more often than not, they replied that they hadn't. Needless to say, I would remark, "you should listen to this guy."

So when I read Stephan's post to the PWBG yesterday, I couldn't help feeling a sense of loss. I guess it is a reminder that through our love of this music--the country blues--we are tied together by a shared passion. As I said, I never met Mike Stewart, but he sure will be missed.

« Last Edit: October 14, 2007, 01:36:22 PM by Stuart »

Offline BlindSockeyeSalmon

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    • Sugar in the Gourd: Old-Time, All the Time
Re: Michael Stewart
« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2007, 09:01:44 PM »
Just seeing this sad bit of news...

I've long wondered where the name "Backwards Sam Firk" came from. Backwards, "Sam Firk" is "krifmas" which sounds a bit like "Christmas" but I don't know what the significance of that would be. Anyone know?

I used to have a neat mimeographed catalog from Mike's 78-to-tape "label," Wayhi.

Old-Time, All the Time

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Michael Stewart
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2007, 11:27:01 AM »
Mike Stewart
Blues musician who rediscovered the past

Tony  Russell
Guardian  Thursday November 8, 2007

The many veteran  blues musicians who were hauled from retirement in the 1960s and 70s attracted a  cadre of young white players bent on learning from them. Some used that  knowledge chiefly to further their own careers, but others used it in the  service of their tutors by accompanying them at engagements and on recordings,  glad to be able to buttress their sometimes fragile performances. The  guitarist Mike Stewart, who has died of a heart attack aged 64, belonged to that  second group. Although less well known than contemporaries  such as Al Wilson of  Canned Heat or John Fahey, he spent a greater part of his life working quietly  and supportively with older blues artists who liked and respected  him.

Fahey was notorious among record collectors for a jesting attempt,  early in his career, to pass himself off as an old-time bluesman called Blind  Thomas, and it may have been in a similar quirky, self-mocking spirit that  Stewart adopted the professional name of Backwards Sam Firk. "My dad used to  call me Backwards Sam because my initials are MAS," he explained. Fahey's little  joke was perpetrated on recordings for Fonotone, the private label of the eccentric Maryland record collector Joe Bussard. Stewart also recorded for  Bussard in the early 60s, on his own, with Fahey and in impromptu  groups.

Stewart's pseudonym came to wider notice in the late 1960s when  he was associated with Gene Rosenthal's Adelphi Records, an independent blues  label based in Silver Spring, Maryland. The first item in its catalogue was  Stewart's album The True Blues & Gospel of Backwards Sam Firk, consisting  of  scrupulous interpretations of repertoire learned from Mississippi John Hurt,  Bo Carter, Big Bill Broonzy and other blues masters of the 1920s and 30s. A  couple of later albums were duets with guitarist Stephan Michelson, alias  Delta X.

Adelphi conducted several field trips to blues locales to trace and  record half-forgotten musicians. Stewart was always on hand, whether to jog the  performers' memories by playing them their own music, learned from rare  78rpm discs, or to provide accompaniment. In Memphis he played with guitarist  Richard "Hacksaw" Harney; in Chicago with Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, David  "Honeyboy" Edwards and Big Joe Williams; and in St Louis with pianist Henry  Brown and singer-guitarist  Henry Townsend. Harney and Townsend were favourites  of his, as was Mississippi John Hurt. He also worked with Nick Perls' Blue Goose  label, accompanying the singer and mandolinist Yank Rachell.

From the 1970s onwards Stewart made his living as a dealer in rare records. He was a keen  scavenger, one of the first in the field, for old discs of what would later be  called  world music, some of which he shared with his customers in a  fascinating  series of cassette compilations. In 1991 he returned to the state of  his birth, settling in Mill Spring, North Carolina. In those years he was less  publicly  active as a musician, to the regret of many. According to his old  friend  Michelson: "He was, simply put, masterful. More than technique, he had  taste. And  more than technique and taste, he had originality. From his mentors  and from  records he did not so much copy notes as learn sounds and how to make  them. He played old-time blues as if he was living in the 1930s, as if this  was the music of his day. For him, it was."

His first marriage, to Carol  Rosenthal, ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife Kathy and their  children, Carolina and Jesse.

Michael Stewart, musician and record  dealer, born September 18 1943; died
October 11  2007


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