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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2004/08/27
by Mike Gruenberg

Ian Stewart

Many a nightclub comedian has used the line, "behind every successful man is a successful woman, pushing him to greater heights." Of course in these days of gender equality, that line probably comes out to be more like, "behind every successful person is that persons’ mate pushing the aforementioned person to greater heights of success" or something like that. Sometimes it’s tough to translate comedy from one era to another. Nevertheless, there is some truth to the statement that success is not necessarily singular persons’ achievement. When we buy the latest CD by our favorite artist, that offering represents an enormous amount of work of scores of people behind the scenes contributing to the success of that artist. All of our famous and not so famous performers depend on advisors, coaches and consultants to help guide their careers. Some people are happy in front of the camera, while others are content to stand behind the limelight.

Being a student of politics of the American society, I have always admired people like political consultant David Gergen, who has counseled Presidents on their image and policies. I always wondered that if Prof. Gergen was so smart, why didn’t he ever run for political office? I can picture one of his conversations with Bill Clinton. Say, Bill what I think you should do is break off negotiations with the Russians and tell them you’re not putting up with their nonsense. They are bluffing when they say they will go to war over that issue. Bill probably responded that if the Russians really weren’t bluffing, would Gergen take responsibility for the consequences as a result of calling their bluff. It’s reminiscent of the joke about the Lone Ranger turning to Tonto while surrounded by hostile Indians only to find Tonto siding with his brethren. Advising is a lot easier than taking the blame when something goes awry. When our President or any world leader for that matter, makes a decision you can bet that a lot of advisors had significant input.

In actuality, the movie stars, politicians, professional athletes, rock stars all have a significant number of people in the background helping to shape their careers. Virtually none of the celebrities in the spotlight would have achieved even a modicum of success were it not for the people advising and helping them. Whether it’s the college coach that inspired a young athlete or the acting coach that continually pushed for the best performance, all those in the spotlight inevitably have someone to thank for guiding them to success.

In the world of rock music, one person stands above the rest as a cornerstone of an advisor/confidant of the group he helped establish and nurture even though he was summarily dismissed as a performer of that group. In 1962, Brian Jones who lived in Cheltenham, England found his way to London where he played guitar with the Alexis Korner Blues group. He decided to form his own band and placed an ad in the publication, Jazz News looking for blues oriented musicians. The ad attracted an extraordinary keyboard player named Ian Stewart.

The blues club scene in London in 1962 was a mixture of young musicians who were influenced by blues and American R&B music. While Brian Jones was was playing with Alexis Korner Blues Inc., other blues music devotees named Mick Jagger, Dick Taylor and Keith Richards were playing in a blues oriented group called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. Jones, Jagger and Richards shared their interest in blues oriented music and decided to share an apartment while pursuing their musical interests. Eventually Taylor left the group. Once Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman joined the group, the Rolling Stones were born, named after a Muddy Waters tune.

In those days, money was tight and fortunately for the group, Stewart, Watts and Wyman had regular jobs so that Jagger, Jones and Richards were able to devote themselves entirely to the band and the life style associated with young musicians in London in the 60’s.

As the Rolling Stones began to establish a loyal base of fans, they were approached by Andrew Loog Oldham to become their manager and producer. Fortunately for the band, Andrew had financing and big plans for the band. His vision was that the Stones become the antithesis of the Beatles. For example, the Beatles wore suits when they performed and bowed courteously after each number. The Stones on the other hand wore working class attire and barely smiled when they performed. The Stones were not the boys you brought home to meet the parents. Oldham also felt that Ian Stewart did not "fit" with the image of the band. Although he was a superlative musician, his good looks and charm simply did not convey the image that the new manager was looking for.

At this point, it would have been easy for most people in Stewart’s position to say goodbye, but fortunately for the group he stayed on as their Road Manager. Bill Wyman, bass player for the group in his book, "Stone Alone" refers to Stu as their "...road manager and best friend. Stu was a natural and knowledgeable musician, guardian of our blues roots and a fierce and valued critic when we stepped out of line. It was almost impossible to contemplate the Stones without him at our side – on the road, in the studio, in hotels, at rehearsals, or driving us and our gear in our van around Britain back in our struggling early days." In actuality, at every Stones performance it was Stu who told the band when to go on stage. None of them would walk on stage without Stu’s approval. He was and will always be remembered in musical history as the "Sixth Stone."

Check the liner notes on your early Stones albums. Stu played on such classics "December’s Children", "Aftermath", "Let It Bleed." He also played on Led Zeppelin’s "Physical Graffiti" and Pete Townshend’s "Rough Mix" albums. He was a fixture in the London music community. Tragically, Stu died in 1985 at the age of 47. He was acknowledged as the Sixth Stone by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame when he was inducted into the Hall in 1989.

It’s not easy to be the center of attention. Without scientific proof, I would easily surmise that most performers are highly egotistical Type A personalities. People like Stu, who clearly have as much talent as the persons on stage, are more comfortable in the background. Their contributions are just as vital and important as their colleagues who perform for the crowds. Stu was a special individual who was able to take a bad situation and make it work for his benefit and the benefit of the band that he so believed in. Every member of the group has publicly acknowledged that their success was greatly enhanced due to Stu’s efforts, He tirelessly and selflessly worked for the betterment of the Stones. In the words of Keith Richards, "He’s the daddy of us all. He made the band."

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