Dave Stewart has been a force in music, as a producer and musician, for more than 30 years. But his name will probably always be intertwined with that of Annie Lennox and their pop-rock duo the Eurythmics.
Between that group's singles and his own, Stewart has sold more than 100 million albums, and he has worked with artists from Joss Stone to Jon Bon Jovi to Katy Perry. But this year, he has produced what is, in some ways, his most unexpected kind of music: a solo album. It's his first in 13 years, and it's called The Blackbird Diaries.
Stewart tells Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon that the album's title is a reference to where it was recorded — Blackbird Studio in Nashville — but also to his state of mind while writing the songs.
"I sat down in the morning, in the bath or at [local restaurant] The Pancake Pantry or wherever I was," Stewart says. "And almost like dipping a quill or a pen into ink, I would dip into different parts of my memory and write down just exactly what I was feeling."
Stewart says that, until he recorded The Blackbird Diaries, he hadn't been to Nashville since the Eurythmics toured there in the '80s. However, he became a fan of blues and country music during his youth in the northeast part of England — especially when he realized its connection to the music of Bob Dylan and the rock groups of the British Invasion.
"I realized what Dylan had learned from these players, which was being unpredictable: The chord doesn't change or the melody doesn't change where you think it's going to, yet you've got a hypnotic rhythm going on that keeps you hooked in," he says. "When I grew up in Sunderland, and the radio started to explode with The Beatles and the Stones and The Kinks, I'd already been listening to blues music, and I realized ... they'd also been getting blues records."
The Blackbird Diaries features a few guest stars, including Stevie Nicks, with whom Stewart performs "Cheaper Than Free" as a duet. Stewart says he ended up in a conversation with Nicks and actress Reese Witherspoon just before production began, in which Witherspoon offered to let him stay in her Nashville apartment.
"Stevie Nicks heard her and said, 'Hey, that'll be cheap,' " Stewart says. "And Reese turned around and said, 'What's cheaper than free?' "