Stu Gardner- The Final Dig?
About 2 Years ago I made a post about a cat that I was having trouble finding info on. Despite still being alive, having recorded for Stax and Motown, and having worked extensively with Bill Cosby, the information available on Stu Gardner was limited to just a few hits on the net that provided limited and very specific data. I pulled together what I found into the best timeline I could get for Stu.
Most excellently, my little aggregation project kicked up enough dust to get a response from “Stu’s people” (which was cool) and more importantly MOGGERS (and the MOG community on Multiply) new and old, who helped dig out a lot more music and data on Stu.
The post is a fave of mine because it led me to 3 albums and a single that barely make a blip on the internet, but are incredibly solid soul and funk records. So what follows is the original post with additional tunes and info. I hope you dig or re-dig Stu.
Stu Gardner–Drive Me (1966-A&M 827)
One of the ways I try to keep track of all the music I listen to, is to keep a file of songs that make an impression on me. When I get a CD’s worth, I burn it and listen to the songs some more. In working through the last few volumes of The Complete Motown Singles, one artist kept grabbing me:Stu Gardner.
Stu recorded for Hugh Masekela’s Chisa label, which had a deal for distribution with Motown from ’69 to ’71. During that period Stu made 5 songs. I had never heard any of them prior to the boxes, and they are all good. They don’t sound anything like the Motown of the period, ’cause these are real Soul records, with more than a touch of funk. Not only is the sound pure Soul, but Stu can really sing. I’m talking Joe Tex,Otis Redding type singing. I had to see what was up with Stu, so I started digging. Although there weren’t a lot of initial sources, Stu’s story runs long and deep.
(The 1966 Drive Me single is something I didn’t have the first time I posted about Stu. Spanish Northern Soul collector, Danny (aka Soul Rocket) hooked me up)
Looking for an overview I headed to All Music Guide, and there was nothing. The great notes in the Motown boxes started to point me in the right direction, mentioning his early band, the Stu Gardner Trio and an appearance as a soul singer in John Boorman’s 1967 film, Point Blank. (All Music Guide recently added an entry for Stu, coincidence? More on that later)
On a google search I pulled up a Wolfgang’s vault page with an old Filmore West Poster, showing “the Trio” opening on a few Blues gigs in ’67..Stu’s in the middle, down below John Lee Hooker.
The song in the video appears on the movie soundtrack, but I haven’t been able to dig that up, or any other recordings of the Stu Gardner Trio. Stu’s Trio was also busy as an opener for Masekela at LA’s Whisky A Go-Go and this led to the release of Stu’s debut, To Soul with Love. Did I mention that Stu also played keyboards.
Released in ’67 on Revue Records (A Division of Uni)To Soul With Love is pretty much as rare as an unindicted Illinois Governor. Chased after by Northern Soul folks and Deep Soul collectors, it was difficult to come up with a picture of the cover, let alone tunes. Many thanks to the splendid In Dangerous Rhythm blog for posting tunes from this record. A real revelation to me. Hugh Masekela produced To Soul With Love, backed by the Crusaders.
I’ll Always Love You
Never Gonna Hurt Again
To Soul with Love didn’t sell well, evidently it received very little promotion, because UNI was only interested in Hugh Masekela and The Crusaders, so Stewart Levine (Hugh’s partner) and the Chisa label looked for a new home at Motown. Motown was looking for new labels and looking to expand to LA, so it was a perfect fit. Over the next 2 and half years Chisa put out some great records for Motown, but none of them were hits, including Stu’s records.
(You’ll find these tunes on volumes 9+10 of the Complete Motown Singles)
Home On The Range
It’s A Family Thang
Mend This Generation
Expressin’ My Love
I Don’t Dream No More
There is no doubt that Bill Cosby would’ve seen Stu Gardner around LA in this period (68-71). Bill was signed to UNI records for one and releasing his own music records along with his ultra popular comedy stylings. Here’s Bill’s 1969 single Hikky Burr pt.1..cut as Bill Cosby with the Bunions Bradford Band. It was a theme to a short lived sit com. As you can see on the label it was made with Quincy Jones and featured the LA session elite (Carol Kaye, Earl Palmer,etc.).
Bill Cosby- Hicky Burr-Pt.1
Many thanks to Fufu Stew (Home of numerous funky 45 mixes)
I think that UNI thought Bill’s effort here was a little strange, but that’s where Bill’s head was at, and for his next record, Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral & Marching Band, he continued in the abstract direction. We get back to our story here, because Stu Gardner, as Stoobie, produced and played on this record and the next Bunions record. Both of which are incredibly rare slabs of jazz funk, mainly written by Cosby. The first one (S/T) was reissued by Dusty Groove in 2008.
The first Badfoot Brown record features the tune Martin’s Funeral, a fifteen minute instrumental. The liner notes contain Cosby’s essay talking about his feelings surrounding the funeral of Martin Luther King, jr. and are worth the admission price of the CD..If you are pressed for time check out the edited version here..
Martins Funeral (edit)
It’s cool to see how deep A Tribe Called Quest digs in the crates. Here’s their flip of Martin’s Funeral..
A Tribe Called Quest–We Can Get Down
If you have the time, I’d recommend listening to the whole track,too. It is pretty damn cool, even without the back story.
Martin’s Funeral (full 15 minute + version)
Stu Sings For Badfoot Brown
As popular as Mr. Cosby was, I guess the folks at UNI were a bit put off by a 2 song instrumental LP, so Badfoot and The Bunions Bradford Funeral & Marching band were dropped. Withough missing a beat, Sussex Records picked up the next installment. Stu Gardner stepped up to the mike this time, on the “hit” single, Mouth of The Fish..only 4+ minutes..Radio ready, I’m not sure, but a Rare Funk gem nonetheless.
Mouth of the Fish
My trail goes cold on Stu after the second BBBBMFB record until 1974, when Stu shows up with an album for the financially teetering Stax empire. Volt 9503, Stu Gardner and The Sanctified Sounds, has less info on it than just about any of the records here and I can’t find a pic of the cover, but there is this bumpin’ little number (Devil In A Man), that shows up on a Stax comp or 2 (not on the 10 CD box set from the era though..shame on them).
(This is one of the records I got from the original post..thanks to Lafayette at Four Brothers Weekly. The record has been reissued by P-Vine in Japan. It’s also got Stu on the board at All Music Guide, where it is called a solid if unspectacular effort by a journeyman artist..I respectfully disagree).
Devil In A Man
After my original post, I also discovered another item that Stu was involved in for Stax. In the comments of the original Stu post, Phil/DJ Inna Soul from across the pond in the UK dug out a session where Stu played keys and got some songwriting credits. Jazz drummer Chico Hamilton’s 1973 The Master LP also has some other backing musicians you might recognize as the core of Little Feat.
Bass – Kenny Gradney
Congas – Sam Clayton , Simon Nava
Drums – Chico Hamilton
Engineer – Larry Hirsch
Guitar – Paul Barrere
Guitar [Slide] – Lowell George
Organ – Stu Gardner
Piano – Bill Payne
Lowell George had a few choice comments about the gig..
“It was very fast. It was all recorded in three days and they were all jams. We got payed less for that work than any other. I mean Stax Records is notorious for not paying, and they didn’t. Then they resold the product to an advertising agency and they made a Porsche commercial out of it. And nobody got a penny for it. We even wrote the tunes and nobody got any publishing money. What a disaster.” (Lowell in Oz)
I don’t know if it’s a he-said she said thing about who got paid, but Stax was in pretty rough shape around that time. Definitely a record of interest…
Why is Stu Smiling? The 70’s were pretty good to him, I’d say. He went on to do a lot of LA session work, reunited with Cosby for an ’83 album from the stage film, Himself, was the Music Director for The Cosby Show (Huxtable version), composed the themes for A Different World, Living Single, and Little Bill, and started the band NGFOOT (Nine Guys from out of town), who have released albums (in a jazz vein) as recently as 2006. He is also a music educator and runs a foundation that offers scholarships to inner city youth.
Check out any of Stu’s stuff..you don’t have to look to hard to find the joy that comes from a life of making music. If anyone can contribute any other info on Stu, I’d be glad to see/hear it. Thanks to all the blogs and the Motown boxes, for the info. It’s been fun boogeying with Stu.
Additional Note:In the comments of the first post I posited that Stu might be the only artist who recorded for Stax and Motown, but since then I found another (and she’s good,too):Mabel John