Michael A. Stewart, 64, who recorded under the name Backwards Sam Firk, passed away on October 11. As Backwards Sam, Stewart had played guitar and bass behind Yank Rachell and others on several LPs, and made two of his own for Adelphi Records. In the 1960s and Õ70s, he was known as one of the last, and arguably the best, of the younger generation who learned the pre-War country blues style first-hand. He was particularly close to Mississippi John Hurt, Hacksaw Harney, and Henry Townsend, although he played with many others.
Using his real name, Stewart ran Green River Records, trading 78 rpm records as well as building a renowned collection of blues, gospel, and foreign 78s. To visit him was to be immersed in a world of 78 rpm blues and jazz masterpieces, calypso, or a piece from Turkey or Africa. ItÕs not that he grew into being a character, an old man living eight miles from the nearest store, with no other house in sightÑit was more that he always was that character, someone more to be experienced than befriended. He tried college (he was at Reed at the same time as Ry Cooder), but it was not for him. Buying and selling 78 rpm records allowed him to pay his way, surrounded by the music that defined his life.
No one who played with Backwards Sam Firk could ever forget it. He was, simply put, masterful. More than technique, he had taste. And more than technique and taste, he had originality. From his mentors and from records he did not so much copy notes as learn sounds and how to make them. He played old-time blues as if he were living in the 1930s, as if this were the music of his day. For him, it was.