Strings at­tached

Ray Stewart enjoys play­ing his gui­tar and work­ing in the elec­tron­ics lab at the com­mu­nity col­lege

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE - Ros­alie MacEach­ern

Ray Stewart first picked up the gui­tar when he was a young boy, and over the years has played in bands, writ­ten songs and re­cently pro­duced his own CD.

The first song Ray Stewart ever learned to play on gui­tar was the theme song from the hit tele­vi­sion show Bo­nanza.

“My un­cle taught it to me. Ev­ery­body watched Bo­nanza so it was pretty nice to be able to be able to play it.”

He first picked up a gui­tar around nine or 10 years of age.

“There were mu­si­cians in my mother’s fam­ily and she sang a lot of older coun­try mu­sic favourites so I guess I got a lit­tle en­cour­age­ment.”

He took a few months of gui­tar lessons from Johnny Welch, who had a ra­dio pro­gram on Satur­day nights and even­tu­ally found his way into a band. Many of his early band­mates drifted to­ward coun­try mu­sic, but Stewart was more drawn to the early folk and ballad tra­di­tion.

“I played a lot of mu­sic from Cree­dence Clear­wa­ter Re­vival, the Stam­ped­ers and Three Dog Night. Then I kind of put away the elec­tric gui­tar, moved on to the acous­tic and set­tled into folk.”

He lists James Tay­lor, Gor­don Light­foot and Jim Croce among his favourites.

“My kids bought my wife, Frances, and me re­ally good seats at a James Tay­lor con­cert in Hal­i­fax and it was the thrill of a life­time to hear him live.”

Stewart writes some of his own songs so he has a song­writ­ers’ re­spect for Gor­don Light­foot.

“I don’t think any­one can tell a story in a song bet­ter than he can.”

Croce put out five al­bums be­fore he was killed, at age 30, in a plane crash in 1973, and Stewart won­ders how many more top songs he would have pro­duced.

“He had such di­ver­sity in his songs. Who else could write some­thing as beau­ti­ful as Time in a Bot­tle or as off the wall as Roller Derby Queen?”

Stewart never as­pired to be a mu­si­cian and reg­u­lar week­end gigs lost their ap­peal af­ter a while.

“When you had to do it ev­ery Fri­day night and ev­ery Satur­day night, it lost some­thing for me. I love to play but it should not feel like a job.”

He went to work at Miche­lin in 1975 but soon knew he did not want to stay on the pro­duc­tion line.

“I started study­ing elec­tron­ics on my own by cor­re­spon­dence and when the chance came I ap­plied for main­te­nance. Fig­ur­ing out how and why things work al­ways in­ter­ested me.”

He left Miche­lin af­ter 35 years but was not ready for re­tire­ment.

“Be­ing re­tired scared me so I looked around to see what else I could find. My daugh­ter pointed me to an ad­ver­tise­ment for some­one to teach elec­tron­ics at NSCC. Hon­estly, I didn’t think I had any chance of get­ting the job but ended up join­ing Glenn Cole­man here.”

Stewart loves the so­cia­bil­ity of teach­ing.

“I en­joy the young kids who come right out of school but I re­ally en­joy the peo­ple who have been out in the work­force and come back. They know what they want and they’re ready to work for it.”

Some years ago Stewart penned a song in hon­our of fid­dler Karen Lynn Mac­Don­ald, who died of ana­phy­lac­tic shock af­ter in­gest­ing peanut oil.

“I thought the song needed a fid­dler so I ap­proached Fleur Mainville. I had a whole list of rea­sons ready to try to per­suade her but she agreed right away. It be­came known as Karen’s Song and it was also the beginning of a great friend­ship with Fleur.”

Stewart be­came a fre­quent ac­com­pa­nist for Mainville.

“She was a real tal­ent to work with and won­der­ful per­son. She in­tro­duced me to mu­si­cians and mu­sic I’d never have en­coun­tered oth­er­wise.”

He es­ti­mates he has been play­ing with a lo­cal quar­tet, In­ner Voice, which fea­tures Dawn Gor­man, Jean Cameron and Mur­ton Ar­buckle, for about 30 years.

“We man­age to get along and do events around the county. We’ll usu­ally play at for the Dragonboat fes­ti­val and Re­lay for Life.”

It is only been about eight years since Stewart be­gan singing and he puts the blame or credit on lo­cal mu­si­cian Jim Dorey.

“He talked me into go­ing to a song­writ­ers’ event and told me I’d get a lot out of it and he was right. He also told me I wouldn’t have to sing and he was wrong about that. Up to that point I just thought of my­self as a gui­tar player but since then I’ve en­joyed singing.”

He re­cently pro­duced his own CD, Through These Doors.

“Rev. Mary Beth Mo­ri­arty took it to the At­lantic Con­fer­ence of the United Church and I think it is kind of neat that some churches are go­ing to in­cor­po­rate it into their ser­vices.”

Stewart gets a lot of sat­is­fac­tion out of play­ing with lo­cal mu­si­cians and hear­ing them per­form.

“I’m think­ing of guys like Ge­orge Canyon and Dave Gun­ning and Ja­son Brushett who is an amaz­ing mu­si­cian. We’re blessed with tal­ent and we have so many young mu­si­cians com­ing along.”

He cred­its lo­cal mu­sic teach­ers Jan­ice and An­drew Al­corn, Al Suther­land and Mon­ica Punke, with giv­ing young peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop.

“To be asked to play at nurs­ing homes, wed­ding, fu­ner­als or special events is a great com­pli­ment and I’m al­ways in­spired to give it my best.”

Per­form­ing with his 12-yearold grand­daugh­ter is an­other high for him.

“She’s pretty good on gui­tar and she has in­tro­duced me to Tay­lor Swift and Ed Sheeran. I’m ac­tu­ally get­ting to like Sheeran.”

Ros­alie MacEach­ern is a Stel­lar­ton res­i­dent and free­lance writer who seeks out peo­ple who work be­hind the scenes on hob­bies or jobs that they love the most. If you have some­one you think she should pro­file in an up­com­ing ar­ti­cle, she can be reached at r.maceach­ern@ns.sym­pa­tico.ca.

“I played a lot of mu­sic from Cree­dence Clear­wa­ter Re­vival, the Stam­ped­ers and Three Dog Night. Then I kind of put away the elec­tric gui­tar, moved on to the acous­tic and set­tled into folk.”

ROS­ALIE MACEACH­ERN PHOTO

When Ray Stewart is not work­ing in the NSCC’s elec­tron­ics lab, he is apt to be play­ing gui­tar for one good cause or an­other.

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