Singer-songwriter Al Stewart has been making music for 40 years now, dating back to his very first record, Bedsitter Images, in 1967. But despite having million-selling records with Year Of The Cat (1976) and Time Passages (1978), Stewart is quick to point out that his career is not defined by his radio hits.
But a wealth of his catalog material is now back in print, thanks to the folks at Collectors’ Choice Music. The company is offering 13 of Stewart’s out-of-print records; each one comes with bonus tracks.
Goldmine caught up with Stewart recently and touched base on a variety of topics, including the recent reissues, some of those radio hits and even his take on satellite radio.
Goldmine: Do you remember what some of the first records were that you bought?
Al Stewart: Oh yeah, but that goes back to the 1920s (laughs). I think the first record I actually bought was Tommy Steele or Johnny Ray or some of those people. I had “Walkin’ In The Rain” on 78 by Johnny Ray, and I had Tommy Steele who was the English guy who covered “Singing The Blues” and “Young Love.” And then, the first 45 I ever bought was “Diana” by Paul Anka. “Diana” was just insane, this enormous hit, although the first line is a little odd.
“I’m so young and your so old…I mean…(laughs)” It’s kind of the flip side of “Born Too Late” by The Pony Tails.
GM: Collectors’ Choice Music has just reissued 13 of your out-of-print records, and all are arriving with bonus tracks. How gratifying is it to have that material available again?
AS: Well, I think I made something like 17 albums and there were about 4 of them in print. There were Time Passages and Year Of The Cat and maybe even Past, Present & Future, I think, were available from Rhino. And the latest one, Beach Full Of Shells, was available from Appleseed. So what Collectors’ Choice has done is they’ve released all of the other ones, everything that was out of print, which I think are about 13 of them. But they come and go all of the time; it’s very odd. I mean, everything that I’ve done is either being released or being deleted somewhere in the world. EMI in England keeps releasing things on a regular basis. They put out a box set a couple of years ago.
GM: But one of the nice things with the new reissues are the inclusion of the the bonus tracks,right?
AS: There are about 20 bonus tracks on the Collectors’ Choice things, and it’s good, because people…they sometimes miss albums, because they’re doing something else. So they come along five years later, and they want a specific record that’s come and gone, and they can’t get it. So this is definitely “last-call’ time for all of the people who were asleep at the switch when some of these came out. You gotta buy ’em now, because nothing that ever comes out stays around forever. CDs tend to stay out for 18 months, and then they get deleted, and they’re gone.
GM: How much bonus material is still in your vaults?
AS: That was the question Collectors’ Choice asked when we were putting these things together: What do we have lying around? Truth is,we didn’t have anything that was actually finished; what we had were 20 or 30 different tunes that had never appeared, but I had never written any sensible words to them… I had just done my usual stream-of-consciousness, off-the-top-of-my-head thing, and these are what the bonus tracks are. To me, they are actually sort of unwritten songs ? they’re pieces of music that I never wrote words to, although there are words on them, but they’re just words I made up there and then on the sp