Dave Stewart was shopping in a trendy New York boot boutique called Space Cowboy when he answered his cellphone last Sunday afternoon. He apologized for the background noise and quickly stepped outside to do an interview with The Oklahoman.
“They make cowboy boots,” he explained with his northwestern English-bred accent. “I'm trying to find cowboy boots with blackbirds on them. They said they can make them for me.”
The boot design is Stewart's tribute to Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Tenn., owned by John and Martina McBride, where the British singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer has now recorded two solo albums: 2011's “The Blackbird Diaries” and the new “The Ringmaster General,” which streets Sept. 4.
Stewart is on tour with his new music, opening for Sugarland on Saturday night at Oklahoma City's Zoo Amphitheatre.
Now, who would have ever thought that one-half of Eurythmics, one of England's seminal new wave/synth-pop duos of the '80s, would ever be opening for a country act?
“Yeah, but my last two albums are made in Nashville,” he said. “And I somehow have connected with this whole sort of Nashville community, and an unusual place. It's not like I'm making country music. It's just that I stumbled across this very fortuitous relationship with John McBride and his studio Blackbird Studios by default and just fell in love with the whole place.”
Stewart's three-decade music career took flight in 1983 when he and musical partner Annie Lennox began releasing such sleek synthesizer and drum machine-driven songs as “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “Would I Lie to You” and “Here Comes the Rain Again,” elevating Eurythmics to an international hit-making status that lasted a decade.
Since Eurythmics' dissolution in 1990, Stewart has co-produced and co-written musical projects with artists as diverse as Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Bono, Bryan Ferry and Stevie Nicks, written film scores and recorded his own occasional solo works.
“The Blackbird Diaries,” his first album in more than a decade, was a rock album seasoned with Americana and blues influences, a song co-written with Bob Dylan (“Worth the Waiting For”) and duets with Nicks, Martina McBride, Colbie Caillat and the Secret Sisters.
Also in 2011, Stewart teamed with Jagger, Joss Stone, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman as SuperHeavy, releasing a self-titled album that was a heady brew of rock, reggae, Indian pop, electronica and soul.
Now comes “The Ringmaster General,” featuring duets with Alison Krauss, Diane Birch, Jessie Baylin and guitarist Orianthi.
As with the previous solo album, Stewart is backed by a who's who of Nashville sidemen including guitarist Tom Bukovac, drummer Chad Cromwell, bassist Michael Rhodes, steel guitarist Dan Dugmore and pianist Mike Rojas. Recorded and mixed by John McBride, it's been described as a potent blend of rock, blues, R&B, psychedelia — and country.
“I went and I said, ‘Listen, I want to make an album here,' and (McBride) got together this amazing band of musicians which I made both albums with, and created just this great sort of a posse, and now it's grown, and lots of the other Nashville artists have joined in,” Stewart said.
Time for TV, films
Also an accomplished filmmaker, Stewart has created a companion movie for the album, a tongue-in-cheek piece about his Nashville experiences titled “The Ringmaster General: The Making of Two Explosive Albums in One Rocking Documentary.”
“The movie's kind of quirky and it shows exactly what happened to me when I stumbled across this amazing sort of group of people,” he said. “The movie shows it in a kind of documentary style, but then it wanders in and out of reality, with people acting and reliving or recreating things that really happened, but also in the inside of my head, really. I'm just having a great time there. But the film is more like a surrealistic sort of bird's-eye view of what was going on.”
Further proof of Stewart's adventurous (and lately country-oriented) artistic nature is “Malibu Country,” a new sitcom starring Oklahoma's own Reba McEntire, due to premiere in November on ABC.
Stewart is creator, executive producer and has written original music for the series about a woman (McEntire) whose rock star husband cheats on her and leaves her flat broke, forcing her to move with her three children and her mother from Nashville to Malibu, Calif., where she attempts to revive her own singing career.
“With Lily Tomlin playing Reba McEntire's mother,” Stewart adds. “And it's pretty funny. Lots of music in it.”
So what is it about Nashville cats that Stewart finds so cool?
“Well, you know, I've worked with some amazing musicians throughout my life. People in Detroit and Los Angeles, New York, Chicago ... and mind-blowing people like Stevie Wonder playing harmonica. Nearly took my head off playing a chromatic harmonica. So I've worked with lots of the greats.
“But there's a particular sort of code in Nashville,” Stewart said. “There's that famous song. There's all those guitar pickers in Nashville, and all of them are playing much better than I will. But it's this code of real sort of understanding of the songwriter and what the song's about. And playing for the song.
Sugarland, with special guest Dave Stewart
With: Canaan Smith.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Zoo Amphitheatre, 2101 NE 50.
Tickets: (866) 977-6849; participating Buy For Less locations; zoo