What It Is… Grade A Boogie Woogie, Served with a Smile
Pianist Ben Waters is on a dual mission with his “Boogie 4 Stu” album. First, he’d like to spread an appreciation of founding Rolling Stones member Ian Stewart and the music he loved to play. Second, – acknowledging the ailment Stewart succumbed to in 1985 – to raise contributions for the study and treatment of heart disease via sales of the album. Since posting my review of the star studded tribute back in June I’ve been hoping there would be an opportunity to see Waters play the material live. The great team at J&R Electronics on Park Row NYC made that possible by featuring him in one of their many in-store performance events on August 9, 2011.
Seated on the second floor stage behind a large white on white grand piano Waters treated attendees and pleasantly surprised lunch time shoppers to a half hour plus set of barrelhouse boogie-woogie in the style of Albert Ammons. Big Maceo and Amos Milburn. Playing with an unassuming facility and relaxed style that suggests a modern day Fats Domino, he alternates between studiously studying the keyboard to looking up and flashing a winning, mischievous, smile at no one in particular.
Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow” was in the repertoire for the afternoon, it’s the one tune on the tribute that all the Stones appear on, and apparently the one Dylan tune that the notoriously sardonic Stu liked. Along with album tracks, Ben treated the audience to an off-beat, post perestroika, take on Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” which kitchen-sinked everything from “Elenor Rigby” and “Live and Let Die” to Gershwin and balalaika rhythms and somehow came out the other end making total sense. After closing the set with a Jerry Lee Lewis number Ben signed CD’s for the appreciative audience. Bill German, author of the Stones memoir “Under Their Thumb”, was on hand and gifted Waters with a copy of the book. They chatted about the Stewart interview Bill did back in his teenage days as editor of the Beggar’s Banquet fanzine.
Ian Stewart was a proselytizer for the music he loved and Ben Waters continues to carry that torch. In the process he has become one amazing rock n roll pianist and would do the man himself proud. Next project for Ben; a tribute to Professor Longhair, with Ray Davies already onboard. Here’s hoping that we’ll get a chance to see him do his thing with a full Rocket 88 style band on this side of the Atlantic very soon.