Over the years, there have been many contenders for the title of "Fifth Beatle" – Stu Sutcliffe, Billy Preston
, Brian Epstein
, and others. But only one person has ever had the honor of being the "Sixth Stone." That was Ian Stewart, who died 27 years ago today.
Photo of ROLLING STONES and Ian STEWART; playing piano in the recording studio (Photo by Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns)
When Brian Jones advertised for musicians to start an R&B band with him, piano player Ian Stewart was the first to answer the call. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards joined shortly thereafter and on July 12, 1962, the group played their first gig as “The Rollin’ Stones.” With the addition of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, the sextet was complete. But the band’s manager thought six was too many, and that the older, burlier Stewart did not fit the image. Stu was out of the line-up, but agreed to stay on to help out.
As Keith Richards recalled, “I'd probably have said, 'Well, f*** 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."
Stewart played piano and organ for the Rolling Stones, both in recordings and on stage, for years. He also served as tour manager, roadie, and inspiration. "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," Mick Jagger remembered after his death.
Stewart is present on some of the Stones’ greatest hits. You won't see him in the video for "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)," but if you listen for the piano, you'll hear his signature boogie-woogie sound.
His keyboard is a key part of "Brown Sugar," too.
Stewart spent the vast majority of his musical career with the Stones, but he occasionally played with other artists, too – Howlin' Wolf, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, the Yardbirds. He was prominently featured on two Led Zeppelin songs – “Rock and Roll” on Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Graffiti's name check, "Boogie with Stu."
No matter where else he played, Ian Stewart was first and foremost a Stone.
Written by Linnea Crowther