Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ben Waters - Boogie 4 Stu: A Tribute To Ian Stewart (2011)

This post is more than a review, it's also a history lesson.

The late Ian Stewart (July 18, 1938 – December 12, 1985) was a founding member of The Rolling Stones. He preceded everyone but Brian Jones into the group when he was the first to respond to an ad Jones placed in a newspaper looking for musicians to start a new band. Stewart, whose nickname was "Stu," staked out a reputation for himself as a great piano player who loved big band jazz, R & B, blues, and boogie woogie.

Stewart's physique was on the hefty side. He wore his hair differently and he was a few years older than the rest of the Stones. He didn't look the part so in 1963, their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, decided Stu was too uncool for the image he was marketing, and that six guys on stage was too many, so he demoted Stewart to lead roadie. Oldham also allowed Stewart to play piano on almost all of The Rolling Stones' records. Stewart filled both of those rolls admirably until the day he died of a heart attack. Keith Richards once said, Stu might have realised 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, f**k 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."

A straight arrow, Stewart frowned upon the band's life of debauchery. Instead he played golf on the road. Despite their differences the rest of the band loved him dearly and he loved them. Mick Jagger even said that Stewart was the one guy the band always tried to please. They wanted him to like whatever they were recording.

Ben Waters is a British rock n' roll piano player specializing in boggie woogie who is currently working with Charlie Watts. His aunt and uncle are the parents of English singer, P J Harvey.

Waters, who once saw Stewart play live when he was just nine years old says that Stu is the reason he plays piano. He has always been an admirer of the "Sixth Stone" and he wanted to record a tribute to him for a long time. Now Waters has fulfilled his dream with Boogie 4 Stu: A Tribute To Ian Stewart.

First, here is a warning. Do not expect this CD to sound like the Rolling Stones. While they all played on the disc it's not about them. It's all about Stewart and the music he loved. Jagger, Richards, Watts, Bill Wyman, and Ron Wood are all on board and all five contribute to the the only track that sounds remotely like The Stones, a cover of Bob Dylan's "Watching The River Flow." It's not really a full reunion because the longtime band mates were scattered all over the world and each one added their parts after Waters sent the unfinished track to them.

Richards and Wood take the lead vocals on "Worried Life Blues" where they both sound like old bluesmen from the thirties. On a Waters/Jools Holland original, "Boogie For Stu" (the title comes from a Led Zeppelin song) a duo of saxes add a lot of flair to some jump blues. Holland, who allowed Waters to use his recording studio for free, sang lead on "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor" and Harvey, Waters cousin, joins him on "Lonely Avenue."

Waters, who is an outstanding pianist in this genre, played on all but the last song and co-produced the disc with Glyn Johns. Watts, who was there with him live in the studio, played on six tunes. The last track was recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1984 by Stewart and another band he starred in, Rocket 88.

This CD is for people who appreciate old blues, great piano playing, and a good time more than it is for fans of Mick, Keith, and their friends. If you love this kind of roots music you'll savor every moment of Waters' very fine labor of love.

Sir Peter Blake, who was responsible for the famous cover to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, designed this one for Waters.

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