Growing up a stones throw from Southern Illinois, Paducah native Larry Stewart was more interested in hanging out on the Brooks Stadium baseball diamond than singing in a band or picking guitar down at the local music store.
The 59-year-old Stewart displayed tremendous prep athletic prowess. He attended prestigious Belmont University in Nashville on a baseball scholarship. It was there he realized music was his true calling.
Starting out as a demo singer, Stewart quickly rose to national prominence as lead singer for one of the most successful groups in country music history.
Restless Heart went to the top of the Billboard charts an incredible six consecutive times in the late 1980s with tunes like “That Rock Won’t Roll,” “Bluest Eyes in Texas,” “Wheels” and “I’ll Still be Loving You.”
A trend-setting band known for creating an edgy borderline pop sound, Restless Heart was nominated for four Grammy Awards for critically acclaimed tunes like “When She Cries,” “Fast Movin’ Train” and “Big Dreams in a Small Town.”
Restless Heart will be in concert at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Eldorado, the main attraction for the annual Town & Country Days celebration. The opening act, The Caleb Cook Band, will start at 7 p.m.
There is no admission fee. All entertainment at the four-day festival is provided free of charge.
The Kentucky Linemen are the featured attraction at 9 p.m. Saturday. Local stars will also perform, with the country outlaw infused sound of Clayton Gribble on display for a solo acoustic set at 7 p.m. Kali Lynn will jam with a full band at 7:30 p.m.
Entertainment at the festival started yesterday with gospel night, and a beauty pageant on tonight’s schedule.
“It’s a pretty good lineup. Restless Heart is a great band that dominated the charts for a long time,” says Dr. Travis Beasley, the Eldorado native that is an equine veterinarian by day and a singer/songwriter at night. He helps organize the event each year.
“I’ve known Caleb, Clayton and Kali Lynn for a long time and they all put on a great show and I’ve only heard great things about The Kentucky Lineman,” he added. “All this is made possible because of the financial support from our sponsors.”
Beasley urged those planning to attend to bring their own lawn chairs for seating. Vendors will be on site selling food and beverages.
Restless Heart had a monumental streak from 1986-90. During this period, they released 10 singles and each reached at least No. 5 on the charts, with six going to No. 1. The utter domination during this highly creative stretch generated seven award nominations from the Country Music Association and four from the Academy of Country Music.
While very talented in sports, Stewart’s childhood was also filled with music.
“I was around music from the first day I remember,” he says. “My dad was one of the best singers I’ve ever heard, because he had this smooth, very warm baritone and sounded like Bing Crosby. When he sang, it was like he was talking to you — it was conversational.”
Stewart’s father was friends with Gordon Stoker of The Jordanaires. His childhood was filled musically by the rich Southern gospel sounds of The Happy Goodman Family, The Blackwood Brothers and The Statesmen.
When he finally decided to hang up his cleats, Stewart knew sweat equity was a prerequisite to earning admission to the country music inner circle. He paid his dues as a stock clerk at the Country Music Hall of Fame and mowed grass at the BMI building.
His big break came when family friend Jerry Crutchfield, also a Paducah native, urged him to sing a couple demos for his brother Jan, a legendary songwriter that penned “Statue of a Fool” for Jack Greene.
Once the task was completed, word spread like wildfire about the new talented vocalist.
Opportunity and preparation collided for Stewart when songwriter Tim DuBois decided to turn his talent toward producing. DuBois had pieced together a high caliber band and with Stewart’s lead vocals, the final piece was in place and Restless Heart was created in 1983.
Restless Heart members include John Dittrich, Greg Jennings, Paul Gregg, Dave Innis and Stewart.
A record deal with RCA was quickly signed and debut single “Let the Heartache Ride” was released Jan. 26, 1985. Stewart said it was a life-changing experience when he first heard the song played on Nashville super-station WSIX.
“I was driving east on I-40 and had to pull over on the shoulder. I just sat there with my Jeep idling. It was like yesterday,” he says.
Restless Heart is celebrating 35 years together with current “Together” tour. They play Saturday in Fort Payne, Alabama, and next week will be in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.