Source : Thursday, British rock hit-maker Dave Stewart visits Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre for his first and only North American concert of 2010. But offstage, Stewart has been a more common sight in Music City of late. Last summer, you could have spotted the Eurythmics founder sipping drinks at Patterson House, enjoying breakfast at Pancake Pantry or taking in a concert from his friend, Tom Petty.
If you did see Stewart, you likely caught him the middle of a songwriting session.
“I just got the muse, like steroids,” he says. “It was an explosion of creativity.”
That creative explosion was captured — in four short days — on Stewart’s upcoming album,The Blackbird Diaries, named for the Nashville studio in which it was recorded. John andMartina McBride own Blackbird Studio, and both have a hand in the album: John worked as engineer and mixer, and Martina duets with Stewart on ballad “All Messed Up.” Stewart also called in friends old (Stevie Nicks, Colbie Caillat) and new (The Secret Sisters) to contribute vocals, and John McBride assembled a band of top-notch Nashville players.
Fans might think that Diaries — Stewart’s first solo album in 13 years — came out of nowhere. Stewart agrees.
“It’s a bizarre story actually,” he says.
The Music City seed was first planted when Stewart visited a vintage guitar shop in London, where he unwittingly picked up a guitar previously owned by country music eccentric Red River Dave. Stewart had plans to meet with Martina McBride to discuss an idea for a TV project, but was grounded in England due to volcanic ash in the air.
“I wanted to go and meet Martina McBride, but at the same time, I’ve got this guitar,” Stewart says. “When I sat down in my room (with it), I knew I was going to Nashville. Everything on the TV was talking about this natural disaster and when would it end. I turned and starting writing a song called ‘Nashville Disaster,’ but about a girl who goes around wrecking the homes of Nashville male singers by having affairs with them. ‘She’s a Nashville disaster, a homewrecking master,’ kind of thing.”
Soon, Stewart was having dinner with the McBrides in Nashville.
“At about 1 or 2 in the morning, we’d had a few drinks at Patterson House, and John says, ‘Hey, do you want to come back to the studio?’ I was thinking, ‘God, I hope they’re not going to ask me to play anything. I can hardly stand up.’”
Luckily for Stewart, the McBrides just gave him a tour of Blackbird, playing Beatles albums on the speakers and showing him the studio’s vintage microphones. Stewart returned to England, and it wasn’t long until he was requesting recording time from John.
“He said, ‘When?’ I said, ‘Well, in a couple of weeks.’ He emailed me back and said, ‘Well, I’ve got this five-day opening.’ I said, ‘Fantastic!’
Two days before Stewart returned to Nashville, however, he realized he’d encountered a stumbling block.
“I turned to my wife and said, ‘Holy (cow), I’m going to Nashville to record an album, and I haven’t written any songs yet,’” he says.
Stewart turned to the scraps of lyrics he’d accumulated over the years, and got to work on fleshing them out on his way over the Atlantic. Others came with ease after he’d settled in with his new backing band: guitarist Tom Bukovac, drummer Chad Cromwell, steel guitarist Dan Dugmore, bassist Michael Rhodes and pianist Mike Rojas. The vibe loosened, Stewart says, after he introduced them to Grey Goose vodka martinis.
“Those players were so great. They were giving everything. They weren’t like, ‘Oh, it’s just a session.’ I think the first day, they realized ‘OK, he’s from outer space, but he’s fun.’”
But even with the pedal steel presence and added acoustic touches, Blackbird Diaries feels nothing like Stewart’s impulsive attempt at a country album. A strong undercurrent of old-school soul shows itself in the strutting “Gypsy Girl and Me,” and gritty garage rock flows through “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” In fact, Stewart says the album’s twangiest moment was almost an afterthought.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been playing with all of these amazing country players and I’m in Nashville, and I haven’t written one country song,’” he says. “I said, ‘Give me, like, 15 minutes.’ I went and wrote this song called ‘Country Wine.’ I wrote about my experiences, going to Pancake Pantry with the guys, and they were eating all of this country food. I had my feet under the table. I felt like I was really accepted by them, John and Martina, so I just wrote it all down.”
Moments like that have led Stewart to call the making of Blackbird “my favorite recording experience ever.” He says he aims to make several more albums in the next few years at Blackbird with the same players. The city outside the studio has made a favorable impression, as well.
“Unlike many of the other cities where business is at the top of everybody’s list,” Stewart says, “I was suddenly in the midst of people who just wanted to talk about songs.”