- Photo by Cristina Dunlap
Dave Stewart's frenetic genius is perhaps best revealed by his genes.
Speaking by phone from his adopted home of Los Angeles, Stewart suggests the congenital curiosity that took him from music to film to nonfiction writing "is probably a mixture of how my mom's mind used to work.
"She was institutionalized in a mental hospital because they thought she was going nuts," he says. "The head doctor interviewed her and told her, 'You're just really intelligent.'"
Stewart proudly explains that his mother dropped out of school at age 12 but returned to school and entered a university nine months later. She went on to have a distinguished career teaching children with learning disabilities. She also painted large murals in Stewart's native Sunderland in northeastern England. But it was a wayward cousin who drifted to Memphis and sent Stewart and his brother records capturing the city's blues and Stax sound. "I was very fortunate in that, at age 12 or 13, somebody bought me a guitar," he says. "Instead of playing football, I started playing music, not learning the English pop songs of the time, but learning all this blues stuff — Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters."
A decade later, he and Annie Lennox's Eurhythmics were hailed as the time's greatest pop sensation — the duo sold more than 100 million albums powered by hits such as "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and "Would I Lie to You?" While scoffing at the pop label, because he and Lennox were inspired by and aiming for the blues, Stewart acknowledges his enormous commercial success allowed his career to spawn into much more.
"Around the time after the third Eurhythmics album, I was talking to my attorney about buying a nice car or some sort of purchasing notion. He told me, 'Dave, I think you have reason for cautious optimism.' I realized then, I'm never going to work a normal job again in my life."
Stewart says financial freedom has allowed him to achieve more artistic and commercial success. He got into film, doing music videos and experimental film projects. He also penned The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide, a business tome that has been translated into eight languages.
"This collision point [of art and money] has been happening throughout the centuries," Stewart says. "The king's request for a painter to paint his ceiling or bringing in troubadours to sing him songs — I feel like there's always going to be these troubadours, those that echo their muse as they reveal what is happening in the world. But these days, with things like Spotify — which went from seeming like an artist's salvation to being one of the worst things for an artist — you have what I call extreme commerce that has a supernova effect on artists, flying them into stardom. Some can handle it, some can't."
Stewart has handled financial success, but he still finds performing challenging.
"Playing music live, no matter the scenario, puts you in a place where you are as thrilled and excited and nervous as when you first stepped on a stage," he says.
At Voodoo he will be backed by a stellar band formed for recent recording sessions at the Nashville studio of Joe McBride (country star Martina McBride's husband). Fully aware of the funk and second-line strut of New Orleans' Soul Rebels' take on the Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams," Stewart, who calls himself a "born collaborator," has a treat for his Voodoo audience in the intimate confines of the Bingo! stage immediately following the Soul Rebels.
"This tour is a bit of a traveling circus in that my friends can come up and play," says Stewart. "In New Orleans, we're going to work up something that ends with this freaky, 10-minute jam with the Soul Rebels and others. It's going to be insane." — Frank Etheridge