Songwriter Profile: Dave Stewart

Dave Stewart

Full Circle

Juggling three records under his label, induction into the Songwriters and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in addition to his latest 26-track compilation, Dave Stewart describes life as “a bit mad at the moment.” Inspired by his father’s Rogers & Hammerstein collection as a young boy—as well as an unexpected discovery in his dad’s workshop—his career is shifting back to where it all began.

While he dreamed of a professional soccer career, a knee injury left Stewart unable to play. “I wasn't sure what I was going to do,” he admits. “I was nosing around in my dad's workshop and there was a little package with a stamp from Memphis on it, unopened.” Inside was a pair of albums and he put one on. “It sounded alien, but something in it hit me really strong,” says Stewart. “This voice sounding like voodoo. I was like, what the fuck is that?!” It was Robert Johnson.

Starting on one string of his brother’s guitar, a neighbor tuned it to a chord. Shares Stewart, “I'm 14. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, The Kinks are coming out of the radio and kind of playing blues music.” Learning to fingerpick listening to Mississippi John Hurt, Stewart realized that all he wanted was to play guitar all day. He left school at 16. 

Collaborating with powerful women throughout his career (including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Nicks, and others), his empathy developed from watching his mum, who was “bursting with creativity, but didn’t know what to do with it.” It also grew from his years with Lennox. “I had written just about every kind of song to do with the strength and vulnerability of women.”

Stewart hates polishing music until “it's lost all of its edges,” admitting to frequently using first takes. “I like to be raw,” he says. “If something is complex, I like to make sure that what they are playing to has a kind of emptiness to it and not fill it up too much. Songs aren't just words put together with chords and melody. Each chord has a different feeling and emotion attached to it.”

The film Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads was released in 1991, ultimately leading Stewart to his latest project, "Ebony McQueen." It is an autobiography of his youth, navigating musical destiny, love, and his evolution into manhood. Set for film and musical stage adaptation, the role of McQueen embodies Robert Johnson as a female blues singer following Stewart around as a ghost no one sees. 

Stewart's forays into musical theater began with music and lyrics for Ghost The Musical for London’s West End in 2011. “The mixture of storytelling and song arrangements always fascinated me,” reveals Stewart. “Musicals don’t have to be the way people think—that wall is being broken down by The Book of Mormon, Spring Awakening, and Hamilton. [Musicals] really allow you a full palette and giant canvas, and that’s what I like about it.”

Proud of his family, relationships, songwriting with Lennox, and his four children, Stewart also emphasizes pride in his sobriety. He doesn’t think he would have his family or music had he not given up drugs. “Thank God I came out the other end of that,” confesses Stewart. “For anybody listening, it's not boring to give up drugs. It just unleashes amazing power.” 

Stewart now holds 50 ASCAP and BMI Awards, 4 Ivor Novello Awards, 4 BRIT Awards, a Golden Globe, Grammy, an MPG Outstanding Contribution to UK Music Award, induction into the UK Music and Grammy Hall of Fame, and other accolades.

Contact Mike Gowen@Milestone Publicity, [email protected]

Experience Dave Stewart at davestewartent.com.