The Past With A Personal Touch: Gary Stewart

Hank Beach (L) with Gary Stewart (R)

Gary Stewart, was an ole Kentucky boy like myself; however, Gary Stewart was a unique artist. One of a kind. He could sing higher than anyone I ever knew. Gary could sing high tenor to Bill Monroe and you would never see a vein in his neck stick out or his face turn red. He was known as the world’s greatest honky-tonk singer and he sang tenor for me on many of my recording sessions.

I met Gary Stewart in 1969 when I came to Nashville after my tour duty with the United States Air Force. I walked into Jerry Bradley’s Forrest Hills Music Publishing Company right behind the famous RCA Studio “B” that was located on 17th Avenue South. Gary and his friend Bill Eldredge would come up from Florida and write for Jerry and pitch their songs to artists on Music Row. They liked me and I them. We wrote some songs together and became friends.

I believe Jerry Bradley and his father Owen Bradley owned the famous Bradley’s Barn in Mt Juliet, Tennessee, and when time came for us to make some demonstration recordings of our newly written songs, we would do that at the Barn. Bradley’s Barn was known all over the world as a great place to record. It was out in the country away from Nashville. I heard it was once actually a barn that was transformed into a recording studio. Everyone liked to record at Bradley’s Barn, and so did I. Gary was a good friend for years even though our careers went in different directions.

I at one time wrote a column for the Macon County Times, a newspaper out in Lafayette, Tennessee. When Gary later took his life, I wrote my last article for that newspaper. I would like to share that article with you at this time.

 Honky Tonk Country Singer Takes His Own Life

Gary Stewart lost his wife, Lou, in death, in November,2003, and it was so devastating to him that he took his own life. His body was found in his home in Fort Peirce, Florida, Tuesday, the 16th of December, 2003. He was 58 years old. Gary married Lou when he was 14 or 15, and they had been together 43 years. Police investigators said he died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, so they didn’t suspect foul play. In 1975, Roy Dae produced Gary’s “Out of Hand” album for RCA Records. Gary had three top 10 hits from that one album. “She’s Acting Single And I’m Drinking Doubles”, “Out of Hand”, and “Drinking Thing.” When I first met Gary, he and his friend Bill Eldredge were writing songs for Forrest Hills Music, a publishing company owned by Nashville industry executive Jerry Bradley. We three hit it off and wrote many songs together for Jerry’s company. I was fortunate enough to get a NGM recording contract before Gary, but I knew it was just a matter of time before he too would follow. Gary sang tenor for me on many recordings and I believe he could have tenured Bill Monore, the great (high singing) bluegrass king.

One of the hardest things to do in Nashville’s country music circles is to get a song recorded by a major artist on a major label and keep for yourself all the writing and all the publishing. When Gary Stewart recorded my song, “Memories Swim In Whiskey (They Don’t Ever Drown)” on  RCA, he understood that all the royalties would be coming to me and my company, Stickbuddy Music Publishing. With Gary’s help and insistence, I was able to do the impossible on Music Row.

Gary was a great songwriter. He co-wrote “Leave Them Boys Alone” for Hank Williams, Jr.’s album, “Strong Stuff,” and “Brand New Whiskey” for Brooks and Dunn. Gary wrote numerous songs for other artists in Nashville also. The last time my wife, Edna and I, were together with Lou and Gary, we took them on an afternoon shopping spree in Nashville. They were like two kids in a candy store. With Gary’s new success, they finally had the means to buy things without money worries. When we drove them to the airport that afternoon for their trip home to Fort Pierce, I was wearing a classic old, raggedy bleached-out denim jacket, and Gary wanted it. He offered a hundred and fifty dollars for it, I told him no. He pleaded, “Hank, I’ve got to have that jacket”, so I finally took it off and gave it to him at no cost. He always loved that old jacket. Now, I’m six foot three, over two hundred plus pounds. Gary was about five foot nine, one hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet, so the jacket swallowed him whole, but he boarded the plane, with the sleeves hanging over his hands, grinning like unto a possum.

Gary’s last album, “Live At Billy Bob’s Texas” was released in 2003, the year he took his life. Gary Stewart was the greatest country music honky-tonk singer ever, and he and Lou were our friends. Edna and I will miss those two for the rest of our lives. (End of Article)

At the end of our lives, Gary did something I could never agree with: suicide. I understand what he did, and possibly why he did it, but I could never agree with it. Suicide, most of the time, is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. He had my phone number, I wish he would have called me and talked like he did so many times before.

 

By Hank Beach