Gary Stewart

'Lost talent' of country music whose hits included 'She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles)'
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The Independent Online

Gary Stewart, singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist: born Jenkins, Kentucky 28 May 1945; married 1962 Mary Lou Taylor (died 2003; one daughter, and one son deceased); died Fort Pierce, Florida c15 December 2003.

Gary Stewart was one of country music's major "lost talents". A dynamic, vibrato-laden vocalist, who fused southern rock with a hard-edged honky tonk sound, he enjoyed hits in the 1970s with songs such as "Out of Hand" and "She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles)" before succumbing to a drink and drug-fuelled lifestyle that derailed his career.

He was born one of nine children, in the coal-mining region of south-eastern Kentucky, in 1945. When he was 12 his father was injured whilst working at a mine and the family headed south to Fort Pierce, Florida. Drawn to both country music and rock'n'roll, he formed his first band, the Tomcats, while still in his teens and briefly found work playing bass with a rock group named the Amps.

He was spotted by the singer-songwriter Mel Tillis, who advised him to move to Nashville. He began to write in partnership with Bill Eldridge, a former member of the Tomcats and sometime policeman and, in 1965, the Grand Ole Opry star Stonewall Jackson took their "Poor Red Georgia" into the lower reaches of the charts.

Stewart was quickly disillusioned with Music City, but both he and Eldridge continued to write and in the late 1960s saw their songs cut by country stars such as Cal Smith, Nat Stuckey and Billy Walker. Walker, in particular, had an affinity for their work and enjoyed chart success with, among others, "When a Woman Loves a Man (The Way That I Love You)" and "She Goes Walking Through My Mind" (both 1970).

A year later Stewart landed a deal with Decca Records. However, his only single for the company, "She's the Next Best Thing", flopped and he returned to Florida. Back in Fort Pierce he began to develop a gritty new sound, one which reflected his new-found interest in the southern rock of the Allman Brothers.

By 1973 he was with a new record label, RCA, where he fell under the stewardship of the producers Roy Dea and Jerry Bradley. He cut a fine version of Wayne Carson's "Drinkin' Thing", only to see it sink without a trace. His next disc, a reworking of the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man" did gain some airplay and prompted RCA into re-releasing "Drinkin' Thing" in the summer of 1974. It became a Top Ten hit, as did his next single, "Out of Hand", the latter also serving as the title track of his début album, a disc that has since achieved classic status.

In 1975 he had a No 1 hit with "She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles)", following it with a string of chart entries including "You're Not the Woman You Used to Be" (1975), "In Some Room Above the Street" (1976), "Ten Years of This" and "Quits" (both 1977) and "Stone Wall (Around Your Heart)" (1978).

By the end of the decade, the hits were starting to dry up. His 1980 album, A Cactus and a Rose, featured notable guest appearances by southern rockers Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts and Bonnie Bramlett but was too rock-oriented for country audiences and too country for rock fans. A pair of albums cut alongside the noted Nashville songwriter Dean Dillon, Brotherly Love (1982) and Those Were the Days (1983) likewise failed to find an audience.

The early 1980s saw Stewart mired in alcoholism and drug dependency and he became a forgotten figure, one of popular music's many "might-have-beens". In 1989, however, he released Brand New, the first in a handful of solid albums cut for the Hightone label. He followed it, in 1990, with Battleground and then in 1993 with I'm a Texan. His final album, Live at Billy Bob's, featured an excellent set at the Fort Worth venue that bills itself as "The World's Largest Honky Tonk" and was released in February.

Paul Wadey