Many stylists come with a distinctive ability to rise upon their
musical mannerisms. This particular artist became known as one of
Chicago's great bandwagon of legendary soul.
brrrrrrrrrrrrrr......raaap....Mr. Billy Stewart !
Born on March 24, 1937 in Washington D.C. Billy grew up in a musical
family, joining his mother's group the Stewart Gospel Singers, in
his teens. He won a local talent show singing George Gershwin's
'Summertime' while performing with his uncle and bandleader Houn'
While appearing at a concert in D.C. Billy was discovered by Bo
Diddley and invited him to join his band. He spent a few years on
the road with Bo developing his talents on the organ, bass and
drums. He got an opportunity to record for Chess Records because of
his association with Diddley and cut his first single for the label
entitled ‘Billy’s Blues (Pt’s 1 & 2)’ in 1956, featuring Bo on
Inspired by his love of calypso music, Billy developed a new concept
style of singing that later became his trademark in R&B called
‘word-doubling’ introduced for the first time on ‘Billy’s Blues Pt
Billy began his association with other local groups in Washington
including the Marquees (featuring a young Marvin Gaye) and the
Rainbows. In 1957, Billy signed with Okeh Records and cut ' Baby
You're My Only Love' with the Marquees providing background harmony.
It sank without a trace.
In 1961, Billy was back on Chess and struck up a friendship with A&R
man Billy Davis and a songwriting producer partnership would evolve.
Known to his friends as 'fat boy' Billy Davis asked Stewart to
compose tune based on his nickname. In January of 1962, Billy
recorded 'Fat Boy' along with 'Reap What You Sow' (released in May
1962) charting 18 # R&B with (backing provided by the Four Jewels)
‘Wedding Bells’ (with the Four Jewels) b/w ‘True Fine Lovin' (Oct
1962) and ‘Oh My What Can The Matter Be' (with the Four Jewels) b/w
‘Scrambler’ (an instrumental April 1963).
In Sept of 1963, Billy charted with ‘Strange Feeling’ b/w ‘Sugar And
Spice’. More Chess singles would follow in 1964 with ‘Count Me Out’
b/w ‘A Fat Boy Can Cry’ (March 1964) and 'My Sweet Senora' b/w 'Tell
It Like It Is' (not the Aaron Neville recording). Billy’s
incorporation of a lonely man trying to find the right woman to love
became traditional in his skills of composing tunes.
On Monday, December 14, 1964 Billy recorded two masterpiece ballads
that brought him international fame, ‘I Do Love You’ b/w ‘Keep
Loving ‘and ‘Sitting In The Park b/w ‘Once Again’. ‘I Do Love You’
climbed to the No 6 spot on the R&B singles on April 3, 1965 for 21
weeks. 'Sitting In The Park' b/w Once Again' hit No 4 the week
ending July 31, 1965 R&B. The classic opening ‘guitar riff was
courtesy of Pete Cosey. A self-titled mono LP ' I Do Love You'
(release date July 1965) hit 4 on the top selling R&B LP charts the
week ending Saturday, August 21, 1965. A rare stereo alternate
version of 'I Do Love You' has become a rare find among the record
collectors. The uncredit background singers on ‘I Do Love You’ were
Famon Johnson of the group the Cairo's (Shrine Records) and William
Billy’s extensive touring became almost impossible for him to return
to the studio because he said it paid the bills more than receiving
royalties. In September 1965, Chess issued Billy's 10th single, the
beautiful and haunting 'How Nice It Is' b/w ' No Girl' and 'Because
I Love You' b/w 'Mountain of Love' (Dec 1965) and ‘Why I’m I Lonely’
b/w ‘Love Me (my personal favorite) in May of 66’.
In an attempt to attract a mainstream pop audience, Billy Davis
thought of the idea of Stewart doing an album of standards in his
vocal style. Billy reach back to a song that won him a local contest
as a teenager, the 'Porgy and Bess' classic ' Summertime'. The
session took place on Wednesday, October 6, 1965, featuring the
regular Chess players, Louis Satterfield on bass, Pete Cosey on
guitar, Sonny Thompson on piano, and Maurice White (of Earth Wind &
Fire fame) on drums. Art Hoyle, Paul Serrano and John Howell, on
trumpets. John Avant, Julian Priester, Morris Ellis on trombones.
Bunky Green on alto sax, Johnny Board on tenor sax, Rubin Cooper on
baritone sax and Bryce Robertson on guitar.
‘Summertime’ released in June 1966, hit No 7 R&B the week ending
Sept 10, 1966 and No. 10 Pop Aug 27. the song proved to be the
biggest hit of his career. An album of standards entitled,
‘Unbelievable’ was released during the fall of 66’. Billy’s follow
up ‘Secret Love’ charted No. 11 R&B the week ending Saturday, Nov
26, 1966. Another album of standards, ‘Billy Stewart Teaches Old
Standards New Tricks’
(Jan 1967) failed to capture record buyers. His next single
'Everyday I Have The Blues' b/w 'Ol Man River' (background provide
by the Dells) charted No 45 R&B Feb 18, 1967. In early 1968, Billy
would return with the mystical ‘Cross My Heart’ (backed by the
Dells) b/w ‘Why (Do I Love You So)’ (No. 34 Feb 24, 1968). ‘Tell Me
the Truth’ b/w ‘What Have I Done’ was became his last appearance on
Billboard (No 48 R&B July 27, 1968).
‘I’m In Love (Oh Yes I Am) b/w 'Crazy About You Baby' and ' By The
Time I Get To Phoenix' b/w 'We'll Always Be Together' were his last
releases on Chess in the spring of 69'.
Billy was involved in a motorcycle accident in 1969, plus prior to
this setback, his battle with diabetes had increased and owner of
Chess Records, Leonard Chess died of a heart attack. He continued to
write music and tour the country. The soul community was stunned to
learn that Billy Stewart and three members of his band were killed
in the hours of Saturday January 17, 1970 after his car plunged off
the bridge into a river in North Carolina. He was 33.
Billy Stewart’s music was one again appreciated with a new
generation of soul fans in the late 70's when legendary Bronx band
GQ (originally called the Rhythm Makers) recorded remakes of ' I Do
Love You' b/w 'Make My Dream A Reality' and 'Sitting In The Park'
Like That' both hit top ten in 1979 and 80'. Singer Bobby Thurston
remade 'Sitting In The Park' on his debut LP in the spring of 1980.
Billy Stewart’s music will continue to shine through the power of
it's musical rays as long as we continue to support the body of work
laid down by his talented genius.
Billy…..we do still love you……cross our hearts.
(Chancellor of Soul)
Materials should not be used or altered without expresses
permission of the author, Mike Boone (Chancellor of Soul)