The contribution of early ’70s southern rock to country music is often underestimated. Whether it was the independent streak found among its leaders or their location outside established music towns, the musical rebellion had a strong influence on the outlaw country crowd. Waylon and Willie both covered the Allmans, while Hank Jr. covered Marshall Tucker. By the time the Allmans covered Billy Joe Shaver, it was a full-blown, two-way musical conversation.
Though good friends with fellow Floridians the Allmans, Gary Stewart was definitely on the country side of the equation. possessing a distinct, quavering voice reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis. Setting aside the Killer’s taste for rockabilly, Stewart instead is a master of hard-core honky-tonk attitude. Already a proven hit songwriter, he mostly covered other people’s material on his own records. Stewart donned the role of interpreter, recasting songs from Hank Williams and Danny O’Keefe in new, ferocious arrangements.
Starting with his RCA debut, aptly entitled Out Of Hand, Stewart reeled off a series of great albums. Most have not been reissued on CD, leaving fans to pick through all-too-brief compilations. This release gathers Stewart’s last two albums for RCA on one CD.
Gary and A Cactus And A Rose represent the end of an era for Stewart. Roy Dea, who had produced all of Stewart’s previous albums, retained an engaging formula on Gary of honky-tonk mixed with blues, rock and gospel touches. Cactus was produced by Chips Moman, who brought a rock sheen to the production. Even with this change and increasing contributions from his Allman friends, the record remains strongly country.