alice stuart in conversation & concert @ mopop pop music conference, 27 april 2018.
Gripping the handlebars, clad in leather, the woman with the frizzed-out perm sits astride a motorcycle. She leans over, on tip toes, to kiss a little boy, who is her son. This is the cover of Alice Stuart’s album Full Time Woman, a recording that presented Stuart mid-career, in 1970. By then, she was no longer the folk chanteuse in Joan Baez mode, but neither did she quite fit the role of confessional auteur singer-songwriter alongside the likes of Joni Mitchell or Carole King. In 1970, she preceded Bonnie Raitt, who in many respects took up Stuart’s style and approach later in the 1970s and 80s. At this juncture, however, Stuart is out there on her own, riding a new road, a mother returning to greeting her son, or maybe saying goodbye to him for a time so she can set out on an adventure.
Stuart’s career reveals the gendered constraints placed on a guitar-playing, songwriting woman in the 1960s and after, but it also reveals how one woman nonetheless navigated those constraints to map out a rich musical and lyrical exploration of what it meant to try to live as a “full time woman” during the age of rock, which coincided with the explosion of second-wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement. Born in Chelan, Washington in 1942, Stuart began to perform in the folk revival coffeehouses of Seattle before moving to California, where she made appearances at the Berkeley Folk Music Festival and played guitar with Frank Zappa. In the early 1970s, Stuart released two solo albums on the Fantasy Records label, including the aforementioned Full Time Woman. She then formed a three-piece rock band, Snake, and toured with Van Morrison, among others. After time off the road to earn her college degree and raise a family, she returned to performing in the 1990s, now as an electric blues guitarist. Her career—from her repertoire of cover songs to her own songwriting to her gracefully virtuosic guitar playing—provides a more complex texture of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, and region in the story of female musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This session at the 2018 Pop Conference at MoPop in Seattle will feature a slideshow about Stuart, with never-before-seen images from the Berkeley Folk Music Festival Collection, followed by a conversation in person with Stuart herself, and a performance of two or three songs on acoustic guitar by this wonderful, unsung musician.