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The Charms Are Charmed by Tour Life of Small Gigs

When the big guys hit the road, they expect to fly around in chartered jets, earn tens of thousands of dollars per concert and spend each night in classy hotel suites stocked with caviar, champagne and other amenities.

When the little guys hit the road, they expect nothing . They’re just grateful to be out there, playing music and making new fans in faraway places.

Take the Charms. After four years of plying the San Diego nightclub circuit, the local rock group last summer released its debut album on its own label. Copies were mailed to college radio stations around the country, and by October, band manager Gary Hustwit felt the LP was getting enough air play to warrant a national tour.

“I hit the phones hard and heavy, calling up college stations that were playing our record and telling them we wanted to come out there and play,” Hustwit recalled. “Most of these stations were in small towns that were starved for good rock ‘n’ roll, so the response was incredible.”

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The Charms’ 20-date tour began Oct. 17 and ended Dec. 6.

“It was your basic rock ‘n’ roll camping trip,” Hustwit said with a laugh. “There were five guys in a Ford Econoline van, playing tiny clubs for between $100 and $300 a night, and sleeping on peoples’ floors.”

Would they do it again?

“Oh, yes,” Hustwit said. “Everywhere we went, the crowds were great. We didn’t make much money, but we got lots of niceties, like free pizzas and drinks. And in New York City, we got the chance to showcase with other would-be stars at the College Media Journal music marathon.”

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The Charms also got the chance to rub elbows with some real stars. In Minneapolis, they jammed with Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson. And in Athens, Ga., they found two familiar faces in the front row: Peter Buck and Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

“They had heard our record on the local college radio station,” Hustwit said, “and after the show, they came up and told us how much they loved it.”

One of the local pop scene’s most venerated native sons, John Stewart, returns home Sunday night for a concert at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

Stewart, 49, was born and raised in San Diego. At an early age, he taught himself to play the guitar, picking out country songs he heard at the Del Mar Race Track, where his father worked as a horse trainer.

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As a teen-ager, Stewart formed a garage-rock band, the Furies. Their career high point was opening for Richie Valens when the late rock ‘n’ roll legend appeared in San Diego less than a year before the February, 1959, plane wreck that claimed his life--and the lives of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.

Later, while attending Pomona College, Stewart began writing folk songs, two of which were recorded by the Kingston Trio. And in July, 1961, Stewart joined the celebrated folk troupe--replacing Dave Guard.

He remained with the Kingston Trio for six years, during which time they scored four Top 40 hits, including “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Reverend Mr. Black.”

After his departure in 1967, Stewart formed a short-lived duo with another singer-songwriter named John Denver. Denver was an alumnus of the Chad Mitchell Trio, a contemporary of the Kingston Trio on the early 1960s hootenanny circuit.

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The same year, Stewart’s “Daydream Believer” became a huge hit for the Monkees, and the success of that song spurred him on to a solo career.

Stewart went on to release nearly a dozen critically acclaimed albums, none of which met with much commercial success. As a result, his songwriting became increasingly cynical. The best example is 1979’s “Gold,” a sarcastic indictment of the “people out there turnin’ music into gold.”

The song, produced by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and featuring backing vocals by the Mac’s Stevie Nicks, was as infectious as it was bitchy. Ironically, it became Stewart’s first, and biggest, solo hit, peaking at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart in June, 1979.

Since then, Stewart has consistently failed to crack the charts, but he continues to release records on his own Ship label and tour the country, playing mostly nightclubs and small theaters.

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LINER NOTES: The music department at the Black in Ocean Beach maintains a free musician’s referral service. Just ask at the counter and they’ll put your name on file . . . Al Hendrix, father of the late Jimi Hendrix, will be in town Saturday for an in-store appearance at Daddy’s Guitars on Mission Gorge Road, beginning at 2 p.m. That night, Park Place in El Cajon will host a tribute concert to the fallen electric-guitar hero, featuring Electric Rainbow, Friends of Jimi Jam, and the Reason . . . Joe Louis Walker is getting a pretty good warm-up for his Jan. 28 appearance at the Belly Up Tavern. A week before, the contemporary bluesman will be in Washington, playing at President Bush’s inauguration.


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