Singer/songwriter Ian Stewart, very well-known to local blues fans, is heading back to Red Deer for several dates later this month.
The former Red Deer musician relocated to Michigan in 2010, settling about an hour west of Detroit with his wife Kellee.
Over the holidays he’ll be playing with a full band at The Vat Dec. 28-29 and at Cork’d Taphouse and Grill on New Year’s Eve.
“Everything has been going great,” says the Welsh-born guitar master from his digs down in Jackson, Michigan. It didn’t take long for the locals there to take note of Stewart’s amazing musical talents, and over time he’s found himself performing more scaled-down, acoustic shows with piano player Doug Decker. He’s also found himself more drawn to acoustic styles overall.
“I still am doing the blues stuff – don’t get me wrong. I guess I’m kind of going through a change in what I like, too. More contemporary, acoustic, songwriting stuff with the blues in it – I’ll never get away from that.
The change of pace has suited him. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older,” he chuckles, adding he’s relishing the connections formed by playing for smaller audiences as well.
“I’ve also been doing lots of solo work, playing around the area.”
Stewart says Jackson is a great location for being able to hit reams of local communities. Last summer he performed at the fourth of July Red, White and Blues Celebration in Taylor, Michigan, for example. Overall, it’s been a season of branching out and finding some new inspiration. “It’s a great time. It’s basically about going back to grassroots and you start again, but it doesn’t take you long.”
It’s been a fascinating journey for Welsh-born Stewart since he first picked up the guitar. As a kid, he would also venture into local pubs and soak up the musically-rich atmosphere as well. Influences hit him from every corner, and Stewart started playing guitar seriously around 1977.
As soon as that happened, his pals started calling him ‘the Hermit,’ because instead of hanging out with them he would be alone in his room playing the guitar.
Amidst all the genres popping up at the time, Stewart’s heart belonged to the blues. Over the years, he performed with bands including the Dark Arch Band, Slash Fender and the Barracudas and Souled Out, touring Wales and the UK.
In 1986, Stewart came across the pond and settled in the Winnipeg – the hometown of such Canadian greats as Neil Young, Lenny Breau, and The Guess Who. Winnipeg proved to be the ideal place for Ian to “learn from some great players” and take part in an incredible music scene from Broadway’s to the Blue Note Café and all the famous clubs in between.
By the middle of the 1990s, he relocated to Central Alberta and signed on with the Water’s Edge Band, while also forming Ian Stewart and Cold Shot.
Eventually, he formed the electrifying Ian Stewart and the Untouchables. A swinging blues-rock sound was born. More recently, Stewart put together a four-piece line up with an occasional guest sax player — Ian Stewart and the Swanjacks. This led to the recording of the Swanjacks debut CD Spreading the Blues.
The guys had become a popular mainstay across the region. And when Stewart moved to the U.S. those ties of friendship stayed firmly in place.
He made a return trip to Red Deer this past October and hit the stage again with the Swanjacks. It was like no time had gone by – that old chemistry was there right off the bat. “Once we jumped up on that stage, it was like we had never left each other. We did a quick sound check, the bar was full, we plugged in and off we went.”
Meanwhile, life in Michigan is agreeing with him. One thing Stewart doesn’t miss about Central Alberta is the weather. “My wife sometimes complains about it, and it does get cold here,” he laughs. “But this is like Mexico to me – there’s more of a window in the summertime as far as the nice weather goes.”
Indeed, Stewart had a significant impact on the music scene in and around Central Alberta over the past decade. Much of that influence was felt through his teaching. One of the most fulfilling things about being back here is running into former students who he guided along the way.
“I have a lot of good friends in Red Deer, and I miss those acquaintances,” he said. He also has family here, so regular visits are a given. “I also had so many students there, and I got to know their parents too. I’ve made great friendships with them.
“I also love the aspect of all my young students having grown up and now doing their own thing. Those are the things that move me.”