One of the bright creative lights in this area burned out a few days ago when singer-songwriter Mike Stewart died on Friday, Jan. 18, in Aiken. He was 63.
Judging by the standing-room-only attendance at his funeral in the chapel of George Funeral Home in Aiken, the co-writer of Ronnie Milsap’s No. 1 hit Don’t You Know How Much I Love You surely must have realized in his final years how much people loved him.
Six members of the popular ’60s Aiken band The Intruders were among the mourners to celebrate the life and career of their former lead vocalist: Russ Burleson, Allen George, Johnny Gardner, Bob Harte, Ricky Saum and Archie Jordan.
Jordan, known for composing such great songs as What A Difference You Made In My Life and It Was Almost Like A Song, conducted the entire service, several times pausing to take a sip of water and compose himself.
He noted the band already had a couple of lead vocalists when Saum strongly suggested that Stewart be brought into the group. Fellow band member Harris (who would later co-write Wynonna Judd’s No One Else On Earth) eagerly endorsed that suggestion.
Jordan said he wasn’t really in favor of adding another lead vocalist but quickly conceded that Stewart’s high-energy performances took the band to a higher level.
“The Lord created music, and he gave Mike a great gift,” Jordan said.
Jordan recalled going over to Stewart’s house and being amazed to see the walls of Stewart’s bedroom covered from ceiling to floor with vinyl record album covers.
Stewart was born in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and grew up in Aiken. He graduated from Aiken High School and then attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
He moved to Nashville, Tenn., in the late ’70s, where his former Intruders band members, Jordan and Harris, already were writing or co-writing huge hit songs for country music.
“It was my dream of dreams to say I made my living in Nashville,” Stewart told The Aiken Standard. “I just wanted to be a part of it. I survived up there for 21 years.”
He did more than survive– he became an integral part of Nashville’s music scene by first becoming a song-plugger, pitching writers’ songs to artists and recording producers.
Stewart then moved into other areas. He was signed to a writer’s contract with Quincy Jones’ music company; became associate producer and co-writer on The Pointer Sisters’ Top 10 dance hit Sexual Power; wrote or co-wrote more than 200 songs, many of which were recorded by some of country and pop music’s biggest names; sang background on scores of recordings by other artists; and became a major writer of national TV and radio commercials working with Dan Williams Music.
One extremely popular TV commercial that he wrote was the Jamaican-flavored Momma’s Got The Magic of Clorox 2 sung by country and rock music star Dobie Gray.
A few years ago, Stewart decided it was time to come home and moved back to Aiken.
His many local performances included “An Evening With Archie Jordan & Mike Stewart” in 2007 at Rose Hill Estates; the 2008 and 2011 “Songwriters Come Home” shows benefiting the USC Aiken music scholarship fund; and a New Year’s Eve party in 2009 at Newberry Hall in Aiken.
Just a few weeks ago, on Jan. 5, Stewart gave his last performance. He was the featured artist for a listening concert at the Five Notch Road home of Linda and Bill Macky in North Augusta.
He performed for about 45 minutes, including singing and playing guitar for his songs Don’t You Know How Much I Love You, Boiled Peanuts, Momma’s Got The Magic of Clorox 2, Please Jesus (Send My Baby Home To Me), Low Country and others.
After a break for lunch, Stewart sat next to me for about three hours as we listened to open-microphone performers Okefenokee Joe, Bill Croft, Dave Morgan, Denny Kotz, Darlene Champagne, Brenda Carver and Ruskin Yeargain.
Frequently, Stewart leaned over to me to comment on the performances or to sing along with the words including Kotz’ wonderful rendition of The Everly Brothers and Nazareth’s ballad Love Hurts.
Among those present for the afternoon listening concert was Stewart’s wife, Elenita, whom he met during a business project to the Philippines, and Tony Baughman, program manager for WKSX-FM oldies radio station in Johnston, S.C., and a longtime supporter of Stewart’s music.
The day after Stewart’s death, Baughman devoted much of the stations’ programming to Stewart’s recordings.
Nearing the end of Stewart’s funeral service, Jordan told those gathered that just a few weeks before, Stewart had co-written and recorded what would be his last song: Ready To Rock.
So therefore, he noted, it would be appropriate to end the service by playing that last recording.
And that’s exactly what happened. Stewart’s coffin was wheeled down the chapel’s aisle while mourners gave him one last standing ovation and while he once more loudly “rocked the house.”
Yes, it was definitely true. Stewart, as his song goes, just had to know just how much his family and friends and fans loved him.
UPCOMING SHOWS: Keep your eyes and ears out for these upcoming shows:
• Montgomery Gentry with opening acts Scotty McCreery and Joe Stevenson, 10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, The Country Club Dance Hall & Saloon;
• Country comic Rodney Carrington, 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, Bell Auditorium;
• Ronnie Milsap, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, Bell Auditorium;
• Brantley Gilbert with Kip Moore opening, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, James Brown Arena; and
• Mike Farris & the Roseland Rhythm Revue, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15, Imperial Theatre.