Boogie with Stu: Remembering Ian Stewart

Friday, December 12, 2014
Boogie with Stu: Remembering Ian Stewart

29 years ago today, the world of music lost one of its great sidemen and the members of the Rolling Stones lost not only their pianist of choice but also one of their best friends.

Born on July 18, 1938 in Fife, Scotland, Ian Andrew Robert Stewart was actually the first person to respond to Brian Jones’s May 1962 ad in Jazz News to form a rhythm and blues group – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t actually join until June – and he remained part of the band for a year, until Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ manager, declared that there were too many people in the band and that Stewart didn’t find the image, anyway. Thankfully, Stewart was provided the option to remain in the fold as the band’s road manager – a gig which he accepted – and to play piano on subsequent studio recordings, which he did all the way through 1983’s Undercover. (You can hear him on “She Was Hot” and “Wanna Hold You.”) As Richards said in the 2003 book According to the Rolling Stones, Stewart “might have realized that in the way it was going to have to be marketed, he would be out of sync, but that he could still be a vital part. I'd probably have said, 'Well, fuck you', but he said 'OK, I'll just drive you around.' That takes a big heart, but Stu had one of the largest hearts around."

That heart was appreciated by artists other than the Stones, too: Stewart made contributions to albums by the Yardbirds, Howlin’ Wolf, Chris Jagger, Dennis Coulson, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and – in easily his most high-profile non-Stones work – played on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Oh, and if you’ve ever Zeppelin’s song “Boogie with Stu” and wondered who “Stu” was, well, now you know. (Granted, it’s not that hard to figure out: he’s credited as playing on the song.) In addition, Stewart was also part of the band Rocket 88, along with fellow Stone Charlie Watts, Alexis Korner, and Dick Morrissey.

By the way, although Stewart’s last proper contribution to a Stones album may have been on Undercover, he has a special place on their subsequent release, 1986’s Dirty Work, as well: in tribute to their fallen comrade, the band included a 30-second performance of Stewart singing “Key to the Highway.” And the Stones have never, ever forgotten what Stu did for them: as recently as 2011, when pianist Ben Waters released a Stewart tribute album (Boogie 4 Stu), Jagger, Richards, Ron Wood, and – for the first time since leaving the band in 1992 – Bill Wyman contributed a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Watching the River Flow.”

To celebrate Stewart’s life, we’ve put together a playlist that’s got a bit of Zeppelin, a few songs by the Stones, a Yardbirds track, the entirety of Rocket 88’s self-titled album, and, yes, George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” Listen to him play, and remember him fondly.