Skip to content

IAN STEWART

IAN STEWARTIan ‘Stu’ Stewart is known as ‘the sixth Rolling Stone’, but in fact he was the first one to answer Brian Jones’s advert in the Melody Maker which was the genesis of the band. Stu played piano with Cyril Davies in Alexis Korner‘s Blues Incorporated, and he knew Brian from when the kid would hang around The Ealing Blues Club playing slide guitar and calling himself ‘Elmo Lewis’. Mick and Keef would also get up at ‘open mic’ sessions at the club, so they tried out for the band too and Stu’s love of Johnnie Johnson‘s playing on Chuck Berry‘s records helped to forge a bond with the Berry-loving Keef, and the Dartford boys came as a unit! Various drummers and bassists were tried at the first few gigs out before Charlie, at Stu’s insistence, and Bill joined The Stones. Stu essentially managed the band because he was the only one with a telephone and a job, so he funded the original auditions at The Bricklayer’s Arms and then sorted out the early gigs on his passionate mission to “bring The Blues to England. We have been chosen!”

Ian Andrew Robert Stewart was born on a farm in Fife, Scotland in 1938 and brought up in Sutton, to the south-west of London. He began playing piano when he was six, and his interest in Blues music drew him to the Ealing Club in the early sixties. Stu answered that fateful advert in the Melody Maker, and it was Stu’s job as an accountant at ICI that funded the rehearsals, bought a van and some sound gear, and it was the phone on his office desk that was the contact point for arranging gigs. In his autobiography, Keef states that The Stones were Stu’s band and even after he’s gone it still feels like they’re working for him. However, when Andrew Loog Oldham became The Stones’ manager in 1963 and got a record deal with Decca, Stu was dropped from the public face of the band. Up to five years older than the others, his face did not fit into the ‘pop’ image the industry was looking for. To his eternal credit, Stu was more concerned with the music than with fame, and stayed with the band on tour and in the studio for more than twenty years. As well as playing piano, Stu would drive the band to gigs in a beaten up VW microbus in the early days, and he retained the position of Tour Manager for many years, as well as playing in the studio and on tour. Mick and Keef always looked on Stu as an arbiter of taste for the band and new material they had written for the band in those days was usually presented to him for approval.

Stu giving his piano a workout in 1966;

IanStewartStu’s talent as a pianist, especially his funky left hand, saw him playing on two Led Zeppelin albums; on Howlin’ Wolf‘s London Sessions; with Paul Jones‘s long running Blues Band project and the casual Blues outfit Rocket 88; and on George Thorogood‘s ‘Bad to the Bone’ album. He made a major contribution to the Stones ‘classic period’ albums Let it Bleed/Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main Street, as they recovered their roots after their flirtation with psychedelia. Searching for a good live sound, Stu came up with the idea for a state-of-the-art mobile studio and his technical know-how helped the Stones to set up their ‘Mighty Mobile’ recording truck that captured so many great live performances for the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple, Bob Marley and countless others.

Always lurking in the shadows, Stu bangs out some boogie piano with Alexis, Bill and Charlie at a Marquee Anniversary gig;

Appearing on all the Stones non-psychedelic albums and touring constantly with the band, Stu even nominated his successor, saying “if ever I should croak!”, then Chuck Leavell is Your Man. Sadly, Stu did ‘croak’ in 1985 when he suffered a heart attack. One of the unsung heroes of the Blues, Ian ‘Stu’ Stewart didn’t just “bring the Blues to England”, he played a big part in taking it to the world.