It’s the summer of 1976, and Eliot turns up the car radio.
“This is a great song,” he tells Vivian, who’s skeptical, in the passenger seat.
The song plays, and even though it’s an old worn out one, you listen. And you realize. This is a great song.
That’s a scene in the 1998 movie “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” and the song is Three Dog Night’s recording of “Shambala.”
The Los Angeles-based rock band released “Shambala” in May 1973, and it was on the top 40 for that entire summer.
For Oak Cliff native B.W. Stevenson, that was a problem. He’d released a recording of “Shambala,” written by his friend Daniel Moore, a week before Three Dog Night hit the charts with it.
Stevenson, a folk/country artist who graduated from Adamson High School, moved to California in pursuit of a career in music, after a stint in the Air Force and years of performing in the Dallas scene.
His “Shambala” was a minute shorter than the better-known version, and it did make the Billboard 100, reaching No. 66 on the chart. Because of the two versions, Stevenson often was mistakenly credited for writing “Shambala.”
Daniel Moore told radio DJ Robynn James in 2014 that he met up with Stevenson in 1987.
“I busted him for taking credit for writing ‘Shambala.’ He had this big grin on his face and said, ‘I never said that I wrote it,’” Moore told James. “Then his grin got bigger, and he said, ‘But I also never said that I didn’t write it.’”
Stevenson does get co-writing credit with Moore for “My Maria,” by far the singer’s biggest hit. It wound up being the lead track and title of the album that also has “Shambala.”
“I probably would never have finished ‘My Maria’ without B.W.’s assistance,” Moore said in the 2014 interview. “I had been working on the song for two years at the point I showed it to him. Of course he wrote the rest of the lyrics in about 15 minutes. Bless his heart.”
The drawn-out refrain of “My Maria” is similar to one in the chorus of “Shambala” and showcases Stevenson’s vocal greatness.
Larry Carlton, a prolific session musician best known for his work with Steely Dan, plays guitar on the track.
“My Maria” became a No. 1 hit for country duo Brooks & Dunn in 1996.
Stevenson never became a huge star, not for lack of trying. He released five studio albums between 1972 and 1975.
His folk/country/rock sound didn’t fit easily into a music industry category at the time, and record companies found him hard to market.
But he was a very accomplished musician.
In addition to his prolific songwriting and recording career, he did a ton of session work.
Stevenson sings background vocals on Willie Nelson’s album “The Troublemaker.” He contributed guitar and vocals to Steve Fromholz’s 1976 album, “A Rumor in My Own Time.” And he’s credited on the 1974 Brownsville Station album “School Punks” as a composer on the song “Hey Little Girl.”
Stevenson performed frequently at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin during its heyday. And he opened for Waylon Jennings at Memorial Auditorium in Dallas in 1976.
In 1980, he released a Christian contemporary album, “Lifeline.”
Stevenson died at age 38 in April 1988, after complications from heart valve surgery.
“He was a terrific fella,” music writer Angus Wynne told The Advocate in 2016. “He wasn’t one of these Texas progressive music characters that was bombastic in any way. He was a gentle guy, and he had a great sense of humor. He was somebody that you liked being around.”