Backwards Sam Firk was the tongue-in-cheek alias of next-generation bluesman Mike Stewart, who created the character in homage to fingerpicked guitar pioneer John Fahey and his "Blind Thomas" character. Born September 18, 1943, in North Carolina, Stewart derived his alias from a lifelong nickname: "My dad used to call me Backwards Sam because my initials are MAS," he later explained. A member of the postwar generation that rediscovered the recordings and eventually the current whereabouts of the veteran bluesmen that spearheaded the music's golden age, Stewart was a true country-blues guitar purist with a remarkably authentic technique and feel. He cut his first recordings for famed record collector Joe Bussard's Fonotone imprint, and later collaborated with Fahey as well. Stewart first attracted wide attention with the release of The True Blues & Gospel of Backwards Sam Firk, a collection of deeply felt blues covers that was the maiden release on Adelphi Records, the label owned in part by the guitarist's then-wife Carol Rosenthal. Stewart was also instrumental in Adelphi's frequent trips across the U.S. in search of the blues greats of an earlier era, and over the years he befriended the likes of Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, and Big Joe Williams, sometimes joining his heroes on-stage or in the studio. Most notably, he backed Yank Rachell on a session for the Blue Goose label. Stewart resumed the Backwards Sam Firk guise for a pair of duet LPs with guitarist Stephan Michelson, aka Delta X. From the 1970s onward, however, he largely turned his back on performing in favor of buying and selling 78s, owning and operating Green River Records, and assembling one of the premier collections of blues, gospel, and world music recordings in the U.S. Stewart suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Mill Spring, NC, on October 11, 2007. He was 64 years old.
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