The first time I met Stuart Swanlund
, he was playing guitar with the Lightnin’ West Band at the Andiron in Spartanburg, SC, just off of Highway 29, not far from the Westgate Mall area, if you are headed toward downtown. I had already heard their debut LP, and most of us music freaks in Sparkle City had decided that Lightnin’ West would be the next big band out of our area. The talent was there. So were the songs. I guess someone just took that wrong turn at Albuquerque.
Still, I walked up to Stu that night during their break and spoke to him. He had hair all the way down to his waist. No kidding. And the guy was just smoking on guitar. I just had to tell him so. He thanked me, and said “You want a beer?” Yep. He bought me a cold one. In years to come, I would repay him many times. Like ten years later when he was playing with my friends The Silver Travis Band, and turned me onto Moosehead beer while we were down in Elberton, Georgia at the Sub n’ Pub. I bought him one, then he bought me one, and we kinda did that pattern for ..... a while.
I saw Lightnin’ West many times, and was a real fan, so when I heard that the band had broken up, I was kinds bummed. Of course, it wasn’t long before I read in the Herald Journal
that some of the members of LWB had formed a new band called Second Wind. The band included Terry, Ace, and Stuart, along with Tim Lawter and David Parker. Dennis Solesbee would form a new line up for Lightnin’ West, and I loved what Dennis did as well. I was always a fan of Dennis. Still am.
Second Wind quickly changed their name to White Wind, and we must have seen them 20 times, usually at the big ol’ bar that was housed in the old Sears building across from the auditorium that is now the county offices. It went under several names, including Dickie’s, but I believe it was called Remington’s Emporium when White Wind was doing shows and showcases. We had a ball watching them and the Artimus Pyle Band, especially after Karen Blackmon joined APB. Guys, you all know
what I mean.
I loved hanging out with Stuart, but we really became close when he was with Silver Travis, after Randall Calvert left the band for a while. Stuart steered the band in a different direction, less southern rock and more straight rock with some jazz and blues influences. The cover songs were fun. Everything from Badfinger (“No Matter What”) to Artimus Pyle Band (“Town to Town”), Pure Prairie League (“Amie,” Stu could really sing that one) and a whole bunch of Stu’s songs like “42nd Street Girls,” “Ride The Wind,” and “Sail On.” All good.
We had a great run with Stu in the band until we did a last minute run up to Virginia to play two nights. It was cold, there was snow. I tell the whole sorted story in my latest book
. After that the band broke up, for a while anyway.
Stu played in several other band. One good one was Double Shot, with Rick Cash, Mark Burrell - I forget who all now, but it was fun.
Then when the original lineup of Marshall Tucker Band called it quits, Doug Gray and Jerry Eubanks brought some more Spartanburg guys into the band, Rusty Milner, David “Ace” Allen, Tim Lawter and Stuart. It was a great band that went on for many years. with a few changes here and there. Long story short, Stuart played in the Tucker band for 25 years, and was the longest running member besides Doug Gray.
I always loved seeing Stu at the annual Angelus benefits
each year down in Tampa, Florida. Doug was always really kind to me, bringing me onstage to sing with he and the band on “Can’t You See, “ and I always made a bee line to stand beside Stu, where I felt most comfortable. He would nudge me in the shoulder with is knuckles and let out that great laugh of his.
One of the years I was at Angelus, I was their with my then wife, Jill. Tammy Williams, the dear lady in charge, one heck of a hard worker, couldn't find our all access passes. Soon she discovered that two sets had been made for Stuart Swanlund and his wife Stacy. Please, no reading ahead. LOL. Tammy gave us the passes, so the whole four days I was walking around with Stuart’s name on my pass. Every time he’d see me, he’d say “What’s happening Stuart?” and laugh. I’d say “I don’t know. What’s up Stuart?” You know, he told that story for years. Every time we were together, at a road show or just chillin.’ Yes, I miss that guy so much.
Today I attended his funeral. I was still reeling from losing my one and only sister last month.
In a strange bit of serendipity, my sister was one of Stu’s favorite people, because when his daddy was in the hospital, for a few weeks before he passed, my sister Patsy was Mr. Swanlund’s nurse. Oh yeah, add to that the fact that one of the cats Stu hung out with so much on the road and at Angelus was Charlie Daniels keyboard man Taz DiGregorio
, who just died in an auto accident last year. Wow.
The funeral was beautiful. The chapel was packed. All the past and present members of The Marshall Tucker Band were there, along with Stubie’s many, many friends. One of Stu’s old friends, Dr. David Lanchaster, shared some fun and funny
memories of growing up with Stuart. He got several laughs. Stu would have loved it. Rev. Jeff Hickman did a great job, and the
music was just beautiful. Mike Blackwood sang a beautiful “I Can Only Imagine.” Long time friend and band mate Rusty Milner played guitar and Stu’s old Lightnin’ West band singer and friend Terry Bratton sang a beautiful “Go Rest On High.” And Dennis Solesbee, the LWB bass player, and a simply amazing singer/songwriter, delivered a new song called “On the Road,” all about Lightnin’ West and their hopes of grabbing their own piece of that “Carolina Dream.” It was simply wonderful, and segued right into the LWB classic, “High Rider.” Dennis sounded like a million bucks, and there weren’t many dry eyes in the sun baked chapel. Just beautiful.
I was so happy to see so many old friends, including Tony Heatherly, Buddy Strong, Ronald Radford, all of the MTB guys - certainly Doug Gray, whom I have now attended at least four funerals with. We have lost so many friends and family, but if you believe like we do, we’ll be together again down the line.
Pall bearers included many past Tucker and Lightnin West guys, Rusty Milner, Tim Lawter, David Allen, Jerry Eubanks, Dennis Solesbee, Terry Bratton, along with Pete Kapko and Mike Madden.
As everyone made their way down to the gravesite, right beside where Stu’s mom and dad are buried, I noticed a few folks dropping off to head to their cars. Just a few. I must admit, I asked my buddy Scott Greene if we could go. My emotions had reached their apex.
A beautiful send off for the greatest slide player I ever knew, and one of the best friends a guy could ever have. In my new book, and I couldn’t wait to show it to Stu, I credit two people with inspiring me to learn guitar. Old high school friend Doug Hooper, and the one and only Stuart Swanlund, who encouraged me during a time when no one else believed I would ever be able to play. Stu was forever showing me licks. Oh, and one other great memory - there are many- I drew a cartoon of him with that long hair in 1981. He had it framed. It tickled him to death, and he would often remind me of it.
I will miss you Stuart, like so many others. See you in the light.
-Michael Buffalo Smith
Read my archived INTERVIEW with Stuart here.