Al Stewart's `Year of the Cat' May Have Nine Lives...
... But the durability of his other works is evident in years of recording, performing
CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Al Stewart is best known for ``The Year of the Cat,'' a smash nearly two decades ago. But the 1970s rock star isn't a one-hit has-been.
He still plays more than 70 shows a year and pumps out albums. The latest, ``Famous Last Words,'' is vintage Stewart, full of colorful and evocative lyrics.
``Some of the songs are historical. Some are love songs and some are comedic. That's always the case,'' he says.
Yet Stewart has few expectations for his 15th album. He knows ``Year of the Cat'' still gets more air play than anything else he's produced. When he performs live, the 1976 tune is what people want to hear.
```Year of the Cat' is like a rich uncle. It pays all the bills. You have to be nice to relatives like that,'' he says.
``It's become a running joke with me. Every time I make a new record or go out on tour, I don't sell the new record. But I sell a lot more `Year of the Cat.' ''
Stewart recently performed for American Public Radio's ``Mountain Stage'' program, produced by West Virginia Public Radio in Charleston, W.Va.
Despite his short-lived time at the top of the charts, Stewart said his music has never changed.
Influenced by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and, more recently, Aimee Mann, Stewart still plays with the same narrative style he has used throughout his longtime career.
``I don't think the Top 40 has ever really rewarded lyricists, except for a brief period in the late '60s,'' he says.
Instead, he says, the music industry has evolved into sound bites and slogans.
``It's a bit frustrating because there's so much out that is really good. Sound bites don't have much depth or character development. So I tend to do the exact opposite in my songs,'' he says.
Some of Stewart's songs last more than 10 minutes, giving his music a timeless quality.
The durability of his work is evident in his live performances. Stewart gives audiences a mix of old and new, acoustic and electric, and rarely plays the same set of songs twice. Only one song is sure to be heard at every show: Year of the Cat.
Stewart obviously still enjoys his work. He introduces his songs with his trademark anecdotes, dances to the music, and smiles throughout the show.
His rise to the top of the music charts was gradual. Born in Scotland and raised in southern England, he moved to London in 1965 to launch his career. He spent years playing in clubs and collaborating on several albums with such musicians as Jimmy Page, Phil Collins, and Queen's Roger Taylor.
But commercial success didn't come until 1975, when he cracked the Top-40 chart in the United States with his album, ``Modern Times.'' He went platinum the following year with ``Year of the Cat.'' After moving to Los Angeles, he released ``Time Passages'' in 1978, which also went platinum.
Stewart's seven albums since ``Time Passages,'' however, have enjoyed only limited success.
Still, things could be worse for a veteran musician, as Stewart himself concedes.
``It's frustrating to me in that I'd like to have more people listen to my new music,'' he says. ``But on the other side of the coin ... the fact that I'm still making a healthy living makes it hard to complain.''