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Ian Stewart 12/1985

Ian-StewartDecember 12, 1985 – Ian Andrew Robert Stewart was born on July 18, 1938 at Kirklatch Farm, Pittenweem, East Neuk, Fife, Scotland, and raised in Sutton, Surrey. Stewart (often called Stu) started playing piano when he was six. He took up the banjo and played with amateur groups on both instruments. Stewart, who loved rhythm & blues, boogie-woogie, blues and big-band jazz, was first to respond to Brian Jones’s advertisement in Jazz News of 2 May 1962 seeking musicians to form a rhythm & blues group. The shifting and shuffling in the early British rock and roll days left unfortunate victims like Stu Sutcliff and Pete Best with the Beatles; Ian Stewart became one of those as well and to a degree even Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones also.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards joined a month later in June, and the group, with Dick Taylor (bass, who left several months later and founded the Pretty Things) and Mick Avory on drums. Avory claims that Tony Chapman (later with Frampton in the Herd) and not him, played the first gig under the name The Rolling Stones at the Marquee Club on 12 July 1962. In any case by late fall the rhythm section of Avory (ended up with the Kinks) and Taylor had left and replaced by Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts.

Because the arrogant band’s manager Andrew Loog Oldham did not think Ian Stewart fitted the image he wanted to market and thought six was too many members, he “forced” the others to officially “retire him from the group” in 1963. He continued until his death as their road manager and pianist playing on all their albums of the first decade among others. Both Jagger and Richards often claimed that without Stewart the Stones would have broken up the same way the Beatles did early on.

Stewart loaded gear into his van, drove the group to gigs, replaced guitar strings and set up Watts’ drums the way he himself would play them. “I never ever swore at him,” Watts says, with rueful amazement. He also played piano and occasionally organ on most of the band’s albums in the first decades, as well as providing criticism. Shortly after Stewart’s death Mick Jagger said: “He really helped this band swing, on numbers like ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and loads of others. Stu was the one guy we tried to please. We wanted his approval when we were writing or rehearsing a song. We’d want him to like it.”

In 1975 Stewart joined the band on stage again, playing piano on numbers of his choosing throughout tours in 1975-76, 1978 and 1981-82. He favored blues and country rockers, and remained dedicated to boogie-woogie and early rhythm & blues. He refused to play in minor keys, saying: “When I’m on stage with the Stones and a minor chord comes along, I lift my hands in protest.” In 1976, Stewart stated, “You can squawk about money, but the money the Stones have made hasn’t done them much good. It’s really gotten them into some trouble. They can’t even live in their own country now.”

The Rolling Stones with Ian Stewart in the spring of 1963
The Rolling Stones with Ian Stewart in the spring of 1963

Stewart remained aloof from the band’s lifestyle. “I think he looked upon it as a load of silliness,” said guitarist Mick Taylor. “I also think it was because he saw what had happened to Brian. I could tell from the expression on his face when things started to get a bit crazy during the making of Exile on Main Street. I think he found it very hard. We all did.”

Stewart played golf and as road manager showed preference for hotels with courses. Richards recalls: “We’d be playing in some town where there’s all these chicks, and they want to get laid and we want to lay them. But Stu would have booked us into some hotel about ten miles out of town. You’d wake up in the morning in the middle of a golf course. We’re bored to death looking for some action and Stu’s playing Gleneagles!”

Session Work

Stewart contributed to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” from Led Zeppelin IV and “Boogie with Stu” from Physical Graffiti, two numbers in traditional rock and roll vein, both featuring his boogie-woogie style. Another was Howlin’ Wolf’s 1971 The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions album, featuring Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Steve Winwood, and Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. He also played piano and organ on the 1982 Bad to the Bone album of George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Moreover, he performed with Ronnie Lane in a televised concert. Stewart played piano on Scottish blues rock band Blues ‘n’ Trouble’s second album No Minor Keys in 1986. He also played with the back-to-roots band Rocket 88 with Charlie Watts.

Stewart contributed to the Rolling Stones’ 1983 Undercover, and was present during the 1985 recording for Dirty Work (released in 1986). In early December 1985, Stewart began having respiratory problems. On 12 December he went to a clinic to have the problem examined, but he suffered a heart attack and died in the waiting room at age 47.

When the Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, they requested Stewart’s name be included and still in his 2010 autobiography Life, Keith Richards says: “Ian Stewart. I’m still working for him. To me the Rolling Stones is his band. Without his knowledge and organization… we’d be nowhere.”

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