Thursday, August 18, 2005

Forgotten Hero III - Ian Stewart

One of the founding members of the Rolling Stones, Ian Stewart lost his place in the lineup after the band’s manager determined that Stewart, with his pronounced jaw line and thick, brushed-back hair, didn’t look the part. But he stayed with the band for the rest of his life as road manager and occasional boogie-woogie pianist. It was always his band, even before he persuaded the fledgling group to hire Charlie Watts as drummer.

“This is probably how I can illustrate, more than anything about the Rolling Stones, that Stu is absolute numero uno, that it’s his band,” writes Keith Richards in a new book about Stewart, “because he angled for Charlie Watts.”

Lovingly referred to as the sixth stone, pianist Ian Stewart was actually a founding member of the original group, pre-dating both Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman as members. Stewart, or Stu as he was called, was one of a core group of rhythm and blues enthusiasts that frequented Alexis Korner's blues club. Among the others were Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Dick Taylor and Keith Richards, figures who would all go on to have a profound effect on rock n' roll music. Adept at boogie woogie style piano, Stewart began rehearsing with fellow enthusiasts Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. When bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts joined, the group named themselves the Rolling Stones and began attracting a small but loyal following in London.

After manager Andrew Loog Oldham took over the reigns of the Stones' career he deemed Stewart unfit for the group because the straight-laced Stewart didn't "have the right look." Thankfully for the rest of the band Stu agreed to stay on as their road manager and sometime piano player. Throughout the groups career Stu contributed his Chicago style piano playing to several of the Stones releases including December's Children, Aftermath and Let it Bleed among others. The gifted keyboardist also lent his hand to projects outside The Stones such as the London Howlin' Wolf sessions, Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti and Pete Townshend's Rough Mix album.

Adored by all who knew him, Stewart's uncompromisingly purist stance towards the blues (he refused to play piano on "Wild Horses" because minor chords offended him aesthetically) helped keep the Stones on a stayed course during the times when they were in real danger of losing their core sound. Ian Stewart died in 1985 before he could have a chance to be inducted into the rock n' roll hall of fame beside his beloved Rolling Stones.

“So you come to one of the most amazing parts about Ian Stewart,” says guitarist Richards. “All he did was turn round and say ‘I understand that.’ He just sort of took a gentleman’s step back. ... That’s the heart of a lion man to be able to do that.” Throughout the band’s career, Stewart added an undercurrent of barrelhouse piano that gave the Stones a distinctive sound, on records and in concert. He never played on songs he didn’t like. “Stu would decide what songs he wanted to play on and what he didn’t, and there was nobody in the band to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ “ says Richards.

His playing dots all the Stones’ recordings. He added piano to the band’s original, “Tell Me,” and organ on the early hit “It’s All Over Now.” He cut “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” essentially an organ instrumental, with the band during its first U.S. tour at the Chess Records studio in Chicago. His piano can barely be heard on “Brown Sugar,” but his keyboard ripples on “Let It Bleed” drive the song through the verses. He played on “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the Chuck Berry takeoff, “Star Star,” from the “Goats Head Soup” album.

He ran the Rolling Stones mobile studio for years and wound up sitting in with other British rock aristocracy, including some Ronnie Lane sessions and a memorable occasion with Led Zeppelin -- he overdubbed the piano on “Rock and Roll” -- commemorated by the track “Boogie With Stu.” In 1981, he produced (and played a little piano on) a live record by Rocket 88, a celebration of authentic jump band boogie-woogie, largely a showcase for for pianist Bob Hall and saxophonist Hal “Cornbread” Singer, that undoubtedly reflected his own musical sensibilities more completely than any of the Stones albums ever did.

But Stewart’s lasting legacy to the Stones runs much deeper than his musical contributions. He was the conscience of the Stones, the only person who could always talk to everyone and a lasting reminder of the band’s essential values. His funeral was said to be the first public occasion where Mick Jagger cried.

“I can’t imagine the Rolling Stones without Stu,” says former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor.
“The Rolling Stones are Ian Stewart’s band,” Richards says.

Forgotten Hero II - Pete Best

Randolph Peter Best (born November 24, 1941 in Madras, India) was an early drummer for The Beatles. The son of Mona Best, the owner of Liverpool's Casbah Club, where the Beatles played occasionally, Best was first invited to join the band in 1959, later rejoining for their 1960–1961 residency in Hamburg. He stayed until shortly after their first audition for EMI in 1962, being fired on August 16 of that year to be replaced by Ringo Starr, then of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.

Best got the news that he was being booted from the band from the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein. The reason given was that George Martin, who was to become the Beatles' producer, had been dissatisfied with Best's drumming (which was steady, but lacked "chops" or flair of any kind) and intended to replace him on their recordings. Besides this, Best had never completely fitted in with Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, spending his offstage time alone, and refusing to change his ducktail hairstyle when the band adopted the Beatle haircut. Starr, on the other hand, readily joined in the others' doings—and had an appealing, unique playing style.

Best tried to put together a couple of bands after the Beatles evicted him, but he had little success in those ventures, aside from the release of an album questionably titled Best of the Beatles. (The title was meant to refer to his former band, but led to confusion and disappointment for record buyers.) He tried to commit suicide in 1965 by locking himself in a room and inhaling fumes from a gas fire. Best filed a libel suit against the Beatles in October 1965 because Starr implied in an interview with Playboy magazine that the band had fired Best because he was a drug user. A subsequent libel suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

After a series of jobs outside music (including work as a baker, and a civil servant), Best eventually found a modicum of independent fame, writing about his time with the Beatles, giving interviews to the media, and touring as leader of the Pete Best Band. When the surviving Beatles released Anthology in 1995, which featured a number of tracks with Best as drummer, Best received a substantial windfall from the sales. Some claim it was at least £2 million.

In the Anthology book, Lennon succinctly summed up his opinion of Best's role in the band: "The myth built up over the years that . . . Paul was jealous of Best because he was pretty and all that crap. They didn't get on that much together, but it was partly because Pete was a bit slow. He was a harmless guy but was not quick. All of us had quick minds, but he never picked that up."

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Forgotten Hero - Stuart Sutcliffe

Today's post will be on the forgotten Beatles - Stuart Sutcliffe, the fifth Beatle who left the group before they made it big.

Stuart Sutcliffe was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 23, 1940. At 19, Stu was regarded as one of the most talented and promising students at the Liverpool Art College, when he met fellow art student John Lennon. All of the girls liked Stu because of his moody, romantic scowl, sunglasses, and resemblence to James Dean. Stu even lived like an artist, in a cramped, paint splattered house near the school. John lived there with Stu for a time, spending long nights drinking and sharing their passions for art.

When Stu sold a painting in 1959 for £65, an unheard-of sum for a student's painting in those days, John convinced him to buy a bass guitar and join the band, never mind that he couldn't play. Before their first big break, a two-week tour to Scotland backing Johnny Gentle, Stu is partially credited with coming up with the name Beatles, by jokingly suggesting "Beetles" as a play on Buddy Holly's Crickets. Back in Liverpool, violence was common at the shows they played at, and one night, after a show at Litherland Town Hall in the north of Liverpool, the Silver Beatles were ambushed as they made their way out into the car park to their van. In the fight, Stu went down and was kicked in the head. Later at home, still bleeding from the gash in his head, he refused to let his mother call a doctor.

While in Hamburg, Stu met Klaus Voorman, who introduced him to Astrid Kirchherr, and they quickly fell in love. Astrid changed Stu's clothes and gave him a new, distinctive hair style, which all the Beatles later adopted. While on their second Hamburg trip, Stu started to study art again, at the Hamburg State Art College, where Astrid had studied, allowing him to quit the Beatles gradually. When the tour ended and the rest of the Beatles went back to Liverpool in 1961, Stu stayed in Hamburg with Astrid. Stu died on April 10, 1962, from a brain hemmorrhage, following a series of violent headaches. Ironically, the Beatles were to arrive the next day to start their third Hamburg tour.

Stu with The Beatles in Hamburg 1961.

Above are some of the Artwork sample of Stu.

Sutcliffe's role in the Beatles' early career, as well as the factors that led him to leave the group, is dramatised in the movie Backbeat, in which he was portrayed by Stephen Dorff. He was also portrayed by David Wilkinson in the film Birth of the Beatles.