The Rolling Stones have reached their 70s yet they keep touring in front of sold out crowds around the world. Moving past the days of all night parties fueled by drugs and drink, the band members keep themselves in shape for the long rocking sets they perform live. When the band started out, they could have been called a Chicago Blues tribute band. Brian Jones (1942 – 1969), Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards were greatly influenced by the electric blues musicians from Chicago. Music from blues legends like Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers were intertwined with the young British bands music. Brian Jones named the band after the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone.” Many of the Stones early songs were blues covers. Keith Richards said, “When we started the Rolling Stones, we were just little kids, right? We felt we had some of the licks down, but our aim was to turn other people on to Muddy Waters.” The Stones were also influenced by non-blues musicians such as Buddy Holly and James Brown and mixed them with the blues to make some of the best rock records of all time in the 1960s and 1970s. On what would have been Brian Jones 75th birthday,” we take a look at blues artists who have influenced the Rolling Stones.
Muddy Waters (1913 – 1983) was the “father of modern Chicago blues.” Waters made his way from Mississippi to Chicago in 1943. In the 1950s Muddy and his band recorded many classics on Chess Records including “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Waters was one of the first to amplify his band’s music at gigs. “When I went into the clubs, the first thing I wanted was an amplifier. Couldn’t nobody hear you with an acoustic.” The Rolling Stones idolized Muddy Waters. Mick Jagger said, I’ll always like Muddy Waters till the day I die. Nothing’s gonna change that.” Keith Richards on Muddy, “Muddy Waters is my man. He’s the guy I listened to. Maybe I just picked… up the primal, almost sexual energy with which I play guitar off of him.”
On November 22, 1981, the Rolling Stones were in the middle of a huge American tour. The Stones arrived in Chicago to play 3 nights at the Rosemont Horizon. The band went down to Buddy Guy’s blues club the Checkerboard Lounge to see their idol Muddy Waters. Muddy called Mick Jagger up on stage and It didn’t take long before Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Ian Stewart joined them for a legendary blues jam session. Here they are on that iconic night in Chicago performing “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
Bo Diddley (1928 – 2008) was called the Originator for his significant role in the transition from blues music to rock ‘n’ roll. He influenced legends such as Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. The “Bo Diddley beat” that the guitarist invented has influenced countless rock songs. Diddley used his cigar box shaped electric guitar as a percussive instrument with his famous Bo Diddley beat. That beat, bomp a bomp a bomp, bomp, bomp, has been used by so many rock bands for their songs. Buddy Holly used it for “Not Fade Away.” Mick Jagger said, “I was crazy over Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Fats Domino, not knowing what it meant, just that it was beautiful.”
The Rolling Stones paid tribute to Bo Diddley as they recorded a version of his song “Mona (I Need You Baby)” on their debut album in 1964. The band also used the Bo Diddley beat on their original song “Please Go Home,” which is on the 1967 album “Between the Buttons.” The song only appeared on the UK version and not the U.S. version of that album. The song was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Brian Jones lays down a serious Bo Diddley beat on the guitar with a tremolo effect.
Pioneering rocker Buddy Holly was an influence on the Rolling Stones. They were not as directly influenced by Holly as the Beatles, who even named themselves after Holly’s backing band, the Crickets. They were chiefly influenced by the blues music that they loved. However, Holly was very popular among young aspiring rock and roll musicians in England. He was one of the first to write and perform his own music. Jagger and Keith Richards have talked about the influence of Holly’s music on them. Mick Jagger’s original band, Little Boy Blue & the Blue Boys, played Buddy Holly songs. In an interview with Larry King, Jagger said that Holly was a big influence on him as a songwriter. In the Buddy Holly and the Crickets song “Not Fade Away,” Holly uses the Bo Diddley beat. He based the song on Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.”
The Rolling Stones version of “Not Fade Away” really pumped up the Bo Diddley beat on guitar. Their version has a rougher edge to it than Holly’s original. The versatile Brian Jones plays the harp on the track. The song was released in the UK in February, 1964 and became the Stones first top five hit.
The Crickets were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville in 2008. Keith Richards jammed with the Crickets during the induction ceremony on “Not Fade Away” and “Peggy Sue.” Richards gave the induction speech. “Without them “you probably wouldn’t have the Beatles, and you wouldn’t have the Stones.””Here was a unit that could operate together, and it turned us all on.” “Without them we would be nowhere. The whole idea of any of us anywhere else sprung from this idea of these guys we loved.”
Charlie Watts was not as much of a blues fanatic when he first joined the band. “When I joined the Rolling Stones I used to sit around, and Keith and Brian taught me Jimmy Reed. They used to play it all the time; we used to do a lot of those numbers. So I learned it through them. Jimmy Reed (1925 – 1976) is one of the legends of electric blues. Coming to Chicago by way of Mississippi, Reed was then drafted into the Navy during World War II. Reed was singed to Vee-Jay records in the 1950s and recorded his first hit song “You Don’t Have to Go” and a string of hits followed. Reed was an alcoholic and eventually the hits dried up. He died at the age of 51 from respiratory failure. Elvis Presley, The Animals and The Grateful Dead have covered his songs. Reed was a major influence on the Rolling Stones. The band covered many of his songs in their early days including “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby.” The band covered Reed’s song “Little Rain” for their 2016 album “Blue and Lonesome.”
The Stones recorded a cover of the Jimmy Reed song “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” in 1964. The song was recorded by the band on a visit to Chess Records in Chicago. The song was never released but appears on bootleg records.
The “Godfather of Funk” James Brown (1933 – 2006) was an influence on the Rolling Stones, especially on front man Mick Jagger. Jagger said “We all had the “Live at the Apollo” album. That was the big album before [the Rolling Stones] had come to America. He was a big favorite, and a different kind of music than I played at that time.” On the band’s first visit to the states in 1964, a nervous Jagger was introduced to James Brown by singer Ronnie Spector backstage at the Apollo Theater. During his show, James Brown called Jagger up on stage to dance. “He called me up on stage with him. It was kind of a cringy moment for me, because English people don’t really…(laughs)…I just wanted to watch the show. I wasn’t there to be called up to dance with James Brown. But of course, you had to.” Jagger admits to copying Brown’s dance moves and he was one of the producers of the 2014 James Brown biopic “Get On Up.” “Of course I copied his moves. There was one particular one I used to do a lot, but then I gave up and moved on. You just incorporate everything into your act.”
In this performance of “Under My Thumb,” you can see Mick Jagger channeling his inner James Brown. Mick’s hands and feet are really working during the live performance of this classic song. Only Jagger has moves just like Jagger, except James Brown.
Elmore James (1918 – 1963) was called the “King of the Slide Guitar.” James was born Elmore Brooks in Mississippi. He started making music at 12 years old by playing a one-string instrument strung on a wall. As a teen, he performed at dances and was influenced by the great Robert Johnson. He joined the Navy during World War II and participated in the invasion of Guam. After the war, James created his unique sound on guitar using two DeArmond pickups. James recorded for many record labels including Chess and Modern. James had a heart condition and died from a heart attack at the age of 45 in Chicago. His signature song is “Dust My Broom.”
Brian Jones showcases his Elmore James like slide guitar playing on the Rolling Stones song “No Expectations.” The track was featured on the band’s 1968 album “Beggars Banquet.” It would be the last time that Brian Jones made a significant contribution to a Rolling Stones track. The ballad was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Jagger talked about Brian’s contributions to “No Expectations” in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1995. “That’s Brian playing [the slide guitar]. We were sitting around in a circle on the floor, singing and playing, recording with open mikes. That was the last time I remember Brian really being totally involved in something that was really worth doing.”
Howlin’ Wolf was born Chester Arthur Burnett (1910 – 1976) in White Station, Mississippi. One of the best known Chicago blues artists, Rolling Stone ranked him No. 51 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Sam Phillips, the legendary founder of Sun Studios, said, “When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies'”. Among his blues classics are his version of Willie Dixon’s (also a large influence on the Rolling Stones) “Little Red Rooster.” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were huge fans of Howlin” Wolf and they turned the other band members into fans as well. During the blues revival in the 1960s, Howlin’ Wolf appeared on the popular television show “Shindig!,” at the insistence of the Rolling Stones. Mick and Brian introduce him on that show with Brian declaring that Wolf is one of their idols. Wolf died in the Chicago area in 1976 from complications following kidney surgery at the age of 65. Here is that performance on “Shindig!” with the introduction.
The Rolling Stones recorded their version of “Little Red Rooster” in November, 1964. The UK single made it to number one on the UK singles chart in December. To this day, it is the only blues song to ever top the British pop charts. The song was a showcase for Brian Jones. His haunting slide guitar and closing harmonica piece are highlights. Bill Wyman wrote, “I believe ‘Rooster’ provided Brian Jones with one of his finest hours.” Wyman also noted that it “realized a cherished ambition [of Jones] to put blues music at the top of the charts, and meant his guilt of having ‘sold out’ completely to pop fame was diminished”. Mick Jagger said, “The reason we recorded ‘Little Red Rooster’ isn’t because we want to bring blues to the masses. We’ve been going on and on about blues, so we thought it was about time we stopped talking and did something about it.”
Little Walter (born Marion Walter Jacobs) was a revolutionary harmonica player. As influential to harp players as Jimi Hendrix is to the guitar or Coltrane is to the saxophone. Little Walter is the only musician to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame specifically as a harmonica player. Little Walter made his way to Chicago from Louisiana in 1945. He was one of the first to amplify his harmonica so he could be heard over electric guitars. Little Walter joined Muddy Waters band and played on classic recordings done at Chess Records. He then fronted his own band and had two number one hits in the 1950s including “My Babe.” Little Walter suffered with alcoholism and had a notoriously short temper which resulted in him getting into violent altercations. After a tour of Europe, he got into a fight during a break while performing at a club on the south side of Chicago. He aggravated injuries he had previously suffered and died in his sleep that night in 1968 at the age of 37.
Mick Jagger and Brian Jones bonded over their love of authentic blues. The instrument that really brought them together was the harmonica and their love for Little Walter. The Stones made sure to include the harmonica on almost every song on the band’s first couple of albums. Most fans do not think of Jagger playing the harmonica but he can play a mean one. The Stones released their first studio album in 10 years in December, 2016. “Blue & Lonesome” is a love song to the Chicago blues that brought the band together in 1962. Little Walter was such an influence that the band recorded two of his songs for the album including his version of “Just Your Fool.” Luckily, a fan at the Rolling Stone’s live performance at last fall’s Desert Trip concert, recorded the band playing a rocking live version of “Just Your Fool.”
John Lee Hooker (1912 – 2001) was a blues guitar legend whose driving one chord rhythm boogie style was one of the most influential connections to the rock music that grew out of the blues. Hooker was the son of a sharecropper in Mississippi. One of his sister’s boyfriends taught him how to play the guitar and gave him his first guitar as well. Hooker left home at 14 and eventually ended up in Detroit. He bought his first electric guitar and gained popularity in the clubs of Detroit. Hooker started recording in 1948 and his first hit record was “Boogie Chillen.” One of his most well known songs is the iconic “Boom Boom Boom Boom,” which featured his “talking blues” style and has been covered by many artists. His music was a large influence on the band, especially on the guitar playing of Keith Richards.
Keith Richards on their early years and John Lee Hooker and other blues idols. “We thought, sure, we’d love to make records, but we’re not in that league. We wanted to sell records for Jimmy Reed, Muddy, John Lee Hooker. We were disciples – if we could turn people on to that, then that was enough. That was the total original aim.” Hooker appeared with the Rolling Stones for a few shows during their 1989 concert tour. Enjoy this video of John Lee Hooker performing “Boogie Chillen” with the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. Keith Richards and Clapton are really enjoying sharing the stage with one of their idols.