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.
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The Rolling Stones touring squad, alias Band 2, cooked up a night of horn driven jams at New York’s Highline Ballroom on July 28, 2011. Full story is here.
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Ian Stewart, the erstwhile sixth Rolling Stone, may have been relegated to a historical footnote when manager Andrew Oldham decided he did not fit the teenage heart-throb mold in 1963, but – unlike let’s say Pete Best – his influence never ceased to pervade the band. Willingly accepting the duties of road manager and driver “Stu” also took the role of “big brother” to the burgeoning blues band. He continued to record with the group in their early years, playing both piano and organ on tracks of his choosing and notoriously refused to be a part of any tune not in a major key. For the rest of his life he pulled no punches in assessments of the group in the midst of sycophants and hangers on. Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards’ autobiography clearly outlines how Stewart was crucial to their early success. His day job at Imperial Chemical Industries helped pay for rehearsal space and his work phone often served as booking agency for the band. “He put his money where his mouth was, at least where his heart was, because he didn’t talk a lot about it” says Richards. He held a “natural authority” over the group “which never changed”, “…without the leap he made from where he was coming from, to play with this bunch of kids, we’d be nowhere.”
Outside The Stones, Stewart famously pounds the keys on Led Zeppelin’s Little Richard style rave-up “Rock N Roll”, and is named in their “Boogie with Stu” from the “Physical Graffitti” album. He was also part of the stellar studio band during the “Howlin’ Wolf London Sessions”, that’s him on “Sitting On Top of the World”.
What It Is…
“Boogie 4 Stu” is pianist Ben Waters’ tribute to Stewart (who passed away in 1985) and the music he loved to play. Waters was struck with woogie-boogie flu at a young age, not only seeing Stewart play live but witnessing a summit of Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino at Domino’s 60th birthday gig. “When I decided to make this album for Stu I hadn’t got any big plans. I just wanted to say thanks to him”, says Waters in the liner notes. He was pleasantly surprised when a boatload of Ian’s friends, admirers and fellow musicians offered to be involved, including every member of the The Rolling Stones, Jools Holland and P.J. Harvey.
Waters and company offer a tight little set of boogie and jump based tunes by Albert Ammons, Big Maceo, Big Joe Turner and Amos Milburn. Polly Jean does a moody multi-tracked vocal on Doc Pomus’s “Lonely Avenue”. Keith and Ronnie Wood get in lead vocals on “Worried Life Blues”, and all of the Stones convene on Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow”. Though recorded in various studios around the world and under varying circumstances (Jagger literally emailed his vocal in) veteran producer/engineer Glyn Johns pulls the project together with a mix that does not reveal its pastiche origins. In fact it feels like it was all put together in one room during an afternoon session.
With its lovely watercolor cover by artist Peter Blake (Sgt Pepper’s, Face Dances) “Boogie 4 Stu” does Ian Stewart’s memory proud. If it sends you looking for a listen to the music of his influences and mentors it succeeds well beyond its humble beginnings. The final track features the man himself with his stage band Rocket 88 and makes me very curious about what Stewart gems would appear should a Beatles style “anthology” ever emerge from the Rolling Stones’ vaults. A “Jamming with Edward” type compilation of Stu based tracks seems like a no-brainer. In the meantime, we don’t have to pipe dream to enjoy Waters’ fine tribute.
Proceeds from the sale of this disc will go to the British Heart Fund.
Eagle Vision’s release of the here-to-fore missing in action Rolling Stones 1974 concert film “Ladies and Gentleman, The Rolling Stones” topped my list for most watched and listened to Blu-Ray DVD’s last year and continues to be in the “close to the Playstation 3” pile. Read why in my review at PiercingMetal.com. Also check out the archived review of the equally good “Stones In Exile” documentary here on SkeletonPete.