Sir Patrick Stewart becomes a cowboy singer to raise money for refugees
Posted August 29, 2016
“Sometimes it takes an Englishman to teach us what’s great about being an American.”
So says Ethan Eubanks as he narrates the online video found at pstewsings.com, the site devoted to selling the new two-volume record collection titled “Patrick Stewart’s Cowboy Classics.” It seems unlikely, but that’s the former captain of the Enterprise gamely performing such country and Western classics as “Rawhide,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” It’s all in fun, of course, and it’s supposed to be a silly parody of all those hokey old Time-Life record commercials.
Eubanks, a New York-based musician, produced and directed Sir Patrick Stewart in the project, a fundraiser for the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit relief agency with a mission to help refugees. He said the decision to raise money for charity was Stewart’s, but it was Eubanks who thought of the idea of filming Stewart in chaps, boots and a bolo tie. Eubanks estimates about 10 percent of the people who saw the clip believed it was real.
“I’d become friendly with Patrick through working with his wife,” Eubanks said in a phone interview from California, where he is currently on tour with singer Sunny Ozell, Stewart's wife who appears alongside him in the pstewsings.com video. It was on an earlier tour with Ozell where Eubanks started thinking about transforming the leader of the X-Men into “England’s most beloved cowboy crooner.”
“We were doing a gig in the U.K. in Bristol, which is a three- or four-hour drive from London. And (Patrick) wanted to come,” Eubanks said. “He went to theatre school in Bristol, and we happened to be playing at his neighborhood pub that he used to go to when he was studying theatre (there) many years ago.”
On the drive to Bristol, the two started a friendly conversation.
“It was interesting to me to have that time with him,” Eubanks said. “And somewhere in there, he started singing a cowboy song. It was a comment on the landscape we were driving through, and it struck me as really funny that an English guy would know cowboy music. And then he tells me that as a kid, like we did, they would play Cowboys and Indians and watch those old Roy Rogers movies, and they learned the songs.”
Eubanks was curious how many cowboy songs Stewart knew.
“I just kept throwing titles at him,” Eubanks said, “and he would sing ‘em, and he was so earnest about it. When he started singing, he would take the role on as a singer. And he would do it super-seriously, with no irony, and I thought, 'OK, we’ve got to do something with this.'”
Eubanks quickly came up with “this concept that in a parallel universe, (where Stewart) was already known in England as being a great cowboy singer."
"I thought that’d be a good way to sell it," Eubanks said. "I asked him if he was game, and he said, ‘Sure.’”
Stewart’s busy schedule left little time to devote to his new parallel-universe singing career, so Eubanks laid most of the groundwork for the project without his lead singer. Eubanks picked the songs, rented a studio and recorded the backing tracks on his own, and then he chased Stewart around the world to record him in what few stolen moments the actor could spare. He said the vocals were captured in snippets over the course of months and across continents, but the filming was done in a single shoot.
“We knocked it out in about a half a day,” Eubanks said. “For him to give me that kind of access and trust was pretty cool. I just felt lucky. And then, at the end of the day, for him to see it — he just loved this thing. It’s great to see a guy who’s been in the arts, and in high art with Shakespeare and all that, come to the studio and be as excited as a little boy about a different art. He thinks it’s magic.”
Eubanks is proud of the project and called it “a lot of fun,” and his appreciation for what they accomplished is enhanced from knowing that the proceeds are going to a cause that is close to Stewart’s heart.
“It was always known that we were going to take whatever energy we could muster from (pstewsings.com) and put it toward something,” Eubanks said. “It was always going to be a charitable device at the end of this rainbow.”
After looking in the media and at the world, it was decided the donation would go toward refugees through the International Rescue Committee. Eubanks said Stewart has a personal relationship with David Miliband, the president and CEO of IRC. Miliband is a former member of the British Parliament who left the U.K. to head up the IRC in New York, according to the Washington Post.
Founded at the request of Albert Einstein in 1933, the IRC's website states that it offers both short-term and long-term relief assistance to displaced persons in over 40 countries, as well as in 22 cities in the United States. The Forbes Investment Guide named it as one of 10 gold star charities, due largely to the fact that 90 percent of the IRC’s total expenses go toward charitable services, with only 6 percent used for overhead and 4 percent for fundraising efforts.
The Stewart and Miliband relationship, according to Eubanks, “goes back many years. So it was kind of a no-brainer to give the money to the IRC so we could be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
The website advertises a much larger collection than actually exists, as currently the only thing for sale is five-song CD titled “Cowboy Classics Sampler” that can be purchased at cdbaby.com. Eubanks says digital versions of the songs are coming, and that he would welcome the chance to get Stewart in the studio again to record more material.
One of the five songs in the sampler is “Here Comes Santa Claus,” which suggests a logical next step in the career of England’s most beloved cowboy crooner. Should we expect a two-record collection of Stewart’s Christmas classics sometime in the near future?
“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Eubanks said with a laugh. “If that happens, I’ll let you know.”
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.