This Chicago legend had an incredible background working with a plethora of people during his career and he is credited with coming up with the theme for the Tom Joyner Morning Show (Oh, Oh, Oh, it’s the Tom Joyner Morning Show). Joyner expressed his condolences or Butch and talked about him being on the recent cruise and not feeling well and having to stay in the infirmary. Upon returning to New Orleans he was hospitalized and later passed. My good friend A. Scott Galloway wrote this amazing tribute to Butch (below).
Closing the night saying so long and thank you to musician, songwriter, singer, entrepreneur MORRIS “BUTCH” STEWART, Jr. (64), a protege of the incomparable Charles Stepney, composer of the song “Juaaclyn” (which has haunted me for 40 years and counting), and a Chicago cool cat I longed to talk with – if about NOTHING ELSE than that one song. I eventually did.
It all started with an album by Ramsey Lewis entitled Don’t It Feel Good (Columbia – 1975) which had the blessed fortune of following his crossover blockbuster Sun Goddess. From the front cover to the music inside, this was “Ram” in superfly FUNK mode, making a soul-jazz fusion LP that took the already legendary jazz man to new heights of Funky Serenity. This album contained “Spiderman (What’s The Name of This Funk)” and “Fish Bite,” two jams so silly and stanky they could be played back to back with anything the Ohio Players, Bar-Kays, Commodores or P-Funk was throwin’ down!! It got Brother Lewis on “Soul Train” in a most profound way.
However, this 8-song album also contained four drop dead gorgeous ballads including “I Dig You,” “Somethin’ `Bout You” and the very first cover of Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s The Way of The World.” None was more mesmerizing and mellow than a masterpiece entitled “Juaaclyn,” Side 1/Song 2 that never ceases to take my mind on a washed out watercolor journey… To this day, I never, ever tire of getting lost in it. And from the first time I heard it, I always wanted to know the story behind this sad song about a girl who sits up in her room crying all day… When it came out, I was 11 going on 12. When I got my driver’s license, it was an integral part of my very first mix tape made expressly for night cruising. When I worked at KUTE “The Quiet Storm,” I brought my own clean vinyl copy in to have the song carted up as one of our classic group vocal recurrents.
While I was writing as Music Editor at Black Radio industry trade publication Urban Network in the `90s, I finally got a chance to speak to Evanston, Illinois-native “Butch” via his association with “Fly Jock” radio king Tom Joyner. Morris was Musical Director of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” on which he was regularly featured on the segment “Uncle Butchie’s Live House.” We talked about his entrance into the music business under the mentorship of the great Charles Stepney (to whom he had been personally ushered by Kitty Haywood, a former member of Rotary Connection with Minnie Riperton), being a member of Ramsey Lewis’ band during his white hot mid-`70s turning point (3 weeks that stretched into 9 months on the road…and several further contributions to his albums as a writer/co-producer), and his lucrative segue into the world of composing music jingles for advertising companies (swiftly starting his own Chicago-based JoyArtMusic company). Among his greatest credits were writing the highly influential “Coca-Cola Street Song” jingle (which rekindled youthful interest in Doo-Wop singing overnight) and several theme songs for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Morris went on to work with Howard Hewett (“Do U Wonder 2”), The O’Jays (“A Letter To My Friends,” co-producing the reggae missive as written by group founders Eddie Levert and Walter Williams), gospel’s Danniebelle Hall [“O Se Baba (Nigerian Praise)],” Chuck Mangione (“Save Tonight For Me”) and – dream of dreams for him – Earth Wind & Fire (“King of Groove”): always contributing songs and productions that would be the standouts of every project.
According to his website, Morris additionally created music for exercise videos and collaborated on a children’s project, Home, with the purpose of teaching children about the importance of friendship, generosity and family. Stewart was the owner and founder of Copia Records. Stewart and his wife, Brenda Mithcell, also established the Art of Making Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raised money for music education in schools; the couple also raised two children which included motivating their sons’ musical group, The Rich Kidz.
I’m saving The Story he shared about “Juaaclyn” for a personal project…but I gladly share The Song with you this night in Morris Butch Stewart’s honor, hoping it haunts you as sweetly in your dreams as it has in mine. Utmost respect and love.