Local talent and Waverly City Schools elementary music teacher Josh Stewart and his band are aiming to make this upcoming holiday season more merry with the release of a new Christmas album.
The Josh Stewart Band’s latest album “Holly Rockin’ Christmas” was officially released on Nov. 1. It features three original songs and eight covers. Three music videos were also released with the album.
According to the biography listed on the band’s website, joshstewart.com, Josh Stewart, a singer/songwriter from Lucasville, developed a love for music at a very young age and was singing on stage at the age of five. Through the years he has performed as a solo artist as well as with his band at various festivals, fairs and fundraising events throughout the tri-state area of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
While in high school his original music aired on local radio stations. Stewart recorded his first EP in Nashville in 2014. Since then he has released “Heartache” (full album, 2015), “This N That” (full album 2018), “Homegrown Paradise” (single, 2019), “Crazy” (single, 2020), “Summertime” (single, 2020), and “Holly Rockin’ Christmas” (album, 2020). Three songs featured on “This N That” were recorded in Nashville with Robert Venable as the producer. The Josh Stewart Band’s music has aired on radio stations across the eastern United States and overseas in Europe.
Stewart is the lead singer of his band, the Josh Stewart Band, a group that has had much success in the last few years. The band has opened for acts such as Orleans, Gerardo Mejia, The Four Tops, Pure Prairie League, and the Georgia Satellites. The band is represented by MC1 Nashville. Many members of the band have music degrees and teach music in local school districts in southern Ohio.
Aside from writing and performing, Josh is a music educator and classical musician. In May of 2016, he graduated from Marshall University with a B.A. in Music Education (4.0 G.P.A.). Stewart performs in orchestras, quintets, and choirs as a french hornist and vocalist. Stewart is currently the elementary music teacher at Waverly City Schools.
Songs included on “Holly Rockin’ Christmas” are the following:
1. “Christmas on Country Roads” (original by Josh Stewart) — music video released Nov. 1
2. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – music video releases Nov. 15
3. “Dear Santa” (original by Josh Stewart)
4. “Christmastime Is Near” (original by Orville and Elizabeth McClaskey)
5. “The Man With the Bag”
6. “Run Rudolph Run”
7. “O Holy Night”
8. “I Saw Three Ships”
9. “Child’s Prelude” (instrumental leading to track 10)
10. “What Child Is This” – Music video to be released late November
11. “The Christmas Song”
Regular band members include Josh Stewart and Danielle Stewart – vocals; Orville McClaskey and Phil Osborne – guitar; Rebekah Holt – bass; Mark Smith – keyboard/synthesizer.
Additional personnel on this album include Wyatt Bates and Jared Ward – drums; Callie Barnhouse – flute; James Whited — saxophone; Justin Wiget – vocals; Matt Radford (former Waverly Schools Choir Director) – vocals; Noah Clifton (Waverly High School Student) – vocal percussion; and Jacob Smith – vocals.
When asked about the decision to pursue a Christmas album, Stewart said he and his bandmates had a lot of free time due to the COVID-19 situation.
“A Christmas album is something we have been wanting to do for a long time. The problem was we never really had time to put a project like this together. We generally play two to three shows a week, work full-time jobs, and are trying to stay current with mainstream country radio,” explained Stewart.
“Then everything changed. We found ourselves sitting around doing nothing. I messaged Orville (guitarist) at the end of June and asked if he thought we could put a full album together and have it released in time for Christmas. He said yes and we were off to the races. I immediately grabbed my guitar and started writing. I came up with “Christmas on Country Roads” and “Dear Santa.” Orville sent me a recording he and his wife made of “Christmastime is Near”, a song they wrote the year before.”
From there, Stewart said he started picking songs that would allow the band to fill up the album, while showing off their talents.
“The idea started at the end of June, we recorded the first week of August, and released the album Nov. 1. We usually take the better part of a year or more to put together five or eight songs. This album has 11. We have never put anything together this fast. I am extremely proud of how it turned out, and I can’t wait for the world to hear it!”
Stewart shared the background for each of the original tunes on Holly Rockin’ Christmas.
“Christmas on Country Roads”, the first track of the new album, is his personal favorite.
“I wanted to write a Christmas song that no one else had written. It needed to sound like a typical JSB song, but have a Christmas story in it,” said Stewart. “I have lived on a back road my entire life. I love seeing all the houses decorated. I thought to myself what I loved most about Christmas — those two things were being with my wife and family, and celebrating the birth of Christ. I took the two ideas and put them together. The rest is history.”
The next original song penned by Stewart, “Dear Santa”, is the third track on the album.
“I proved that I could write something new and different with ‘Christmas On Country Roads’. I then needed to show that I can write a standard Christmas love song as well,” said Stewart.
“Christmas music seems to always have a jazzy/swing feel. This song has an ever moving bass line with lots of inverted chords and walk ups. Yet the music is simple at the same time. Kids write letters to Santa every year, so why can’t an adult ask for a little Christmas magic from the man in red as well? That was my logic behind this song. There are so many people who have to be away from their significant other during the holidays. This song gives us all a little hope that we might get exactly what we wish for.”
The fourth track, right behind “Dear Santa,” is the original “Christmastime is Near”, written by guitarist Orville McClaskey and his wife Elizabeth.
“Orville has been in the JSB since the beginning and is the first person to put a guitar in my hands when I was 5 years old. He might not realize it, but he plays a big role in why I became a musician and where I am today,” said Stewart.
“He sent me this song, and I instantly fell in love with it. He said he was looking out the window last year and just thought ‘Christmastime is Near’, and the next thing you know, he and Liz started writing. We added some things in the studio and gave it some true Christmas spirit. I know it means a lot to Orville that we used this one!”
Seemingl,y nearly everyone enjoys traditional Christmas songs leading up to the holiday. For Stewart, it is really hard to choose a favorite of the cover tunes that were selected for the album.
“I really enjoy them all. My favorite to sing is “The Christmas Song.” I performed this one with the jazz band at Marshall University when I was a student there. It’s one I have always wanted to record and finally got the opportunity to,” said Stewart.
“I love ‘O Holy Night ‘ and ‘The Man With The Bag’. Danielle’s voice is just so flawless and beautiful. I’m not just saying that! Those are probably my favorites on the album; but like I said, I love them all!”
According to Stewart, Mark Smith, who handles keyboard/synthesizer is responsible for the instrumental “Child’s Prelude.”
“He came up with all of that on his own! It was really impressive to watch. ‘Run Rudolph Run’ was another we had to include,” said Stewart. “We play ‘Johnny B Goode’ regularly at our shows. ‘Run Rudolph Run’ is basically ‘Johnny B Goode’ with different lyrics. Chuck Berry was also a huge pioneer for rock music. This is our way of paying our respects to one of the greatest rock influencers of all time. Our performing style suits his music well!”
Stewart and his bandmates enjoyed using their own style to spice up several originals.
“Then there is ‘I Saw Three Ships.’ This will be the song that people either love or hate. I highly doubt there will be anyone in between on this one. The classic song is very simple and to the point. I have only heard this song done in the traditional way,” said Stewart. “The JSB though, is full of rockers who believe it or not, have a lot of ties to Celtic heritage. I wanted to rock this song in a way that made it sound like it came straight out of Ireland. I think we did it. It is completely different from the original version.”
Additionally, Stewart said ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ was recorded in his garage and Matt Radford’s basement. The song was then sent off to Ed Boyer, one of the mixers for Pentatonix, an a cappella quintet that formed in 2011 and won NBC’s ‘The Sing Off’ to go mainstream.
Outside of that song, Stewart said the rest of the album was recorded at Hitmaker studio in Wheelersburg. According to Stewart, Dan Ward mixed the album and then sent it to Alan Silverman in New York, New York, to be mastered.
Stewart and his band, like everyone else around the nation and world, are looking forward to the time when COVID-19 is a part of history and not a part of our everyday lives. Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, Stewart said 2020 was lining up to be a big year for the band.
“We had two singles ready to release and over 50 live shows booked, the most that we ever had in a year. Our last show was Feb. 28. Since the great shutdown on March 13, everything we’ve had has been cancelled. I have seen a few members of the band, but we haven’t been together as a whole group since February,” said Stewart.
“We might be able to do a few duo/trio acoustic gigs these next few months, but I highly doubt we will play another full band show for the remainder of 2020. A few of my guys are 100 percent dependent on performing for their income, and they have been really struggling lately. We are tentatively planning a food drive, where we will perform the new Christmas album, but it has not been approved or finalized yet.”
Stewart is thankful for the opportunities in front of him and all of the support he has received along the way.
“I would like to thank my entire band for the project. Orville McClaskey has been my music role model since I was a child. It’s been fun performing and recording with him these last few years. Phil Osborne is a real joy to have in the group. He’s a great guy with a ton of talent,” said Stewart.
“Mark Smith is probably the most creative and professional individual I have ever had the privilege of working with. This was Rebekah Holt’s first ever recording experience and she knocked it out of the park. Danielle (Stewart) and I love singing together and this album really allowed us to have some fun. Everyone gave their all, and we’re so proud of this album!”
The Josh Stewart Band website (joshstewartband.com) offers plenty of links where songs and videos can be downloaded and streamed. Songs are available on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon Music and other digital music platforms. JSB also has a presence on social media including Facebook (www.facebook.com/joshstewartband), Twitter and Instagram. Future shows, when available, will be listed on the site. There is also an option for signing up for the newsletter or contacting the band as well.