According to Keith, “Ian Stewart was the glue that held the whole thing together.” And not just in the early days when his piano playing was integral to the blues and R &B that the band was playing around the London clubs.
He later drove the van, literally, tens of thousands of miles on Britain’s roads, as the Stones sought to establish themselves. Later as their trusted road manager, confidante and at times their musical conscious he was an ever present.
But for Andrew Loog Oldham, the band’s first manager, there would have been one more Rolling Stone. He argued that a six man band was one man too many and Ian was dropped from the line up. To the credit of the band they did not drop him and he not only fulfilled his duties as a road manager but also played on countless recordings and later as their onstage pianist.
Born Ian Andrew Robert Stewart, or Stu as everyone knew him, was born in Pittenweem in East Fife, Scotland on 18 July 1938. His family moved from Scotland to Cheam in Surrey four months after Stu was born and he lived south of London for the rest of his life; he did however develop a pronounced Scots accent whenever he went with the Stones to play a gig north of the border. Stu was also called up to do his National Service, but he was discharged after just a week.
Stu would turn up to early band rehearsals at the Bricklayers Arms on his bike that he would park outside before pounding out his beloved boogie-woogie on the old piano. He was once asked why he did not play piano on “Wild Horses.” Stu laughed and said “minor chords! “I don’t play minor chords. When I’m playing on stage with the Stones and a minor chord comes along, I lift me hands in protest.” Among the many Stones tracks on which Stu appears are, ‘Around and Around’, ‘Down the Road Apiece’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Let It Bleed’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Star Star’ and ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It).’
Away from his work with the Stones Stu played piano with lots of bands, beating out that boogie rhythm and performing his beloved blues. On 11 December 1985 he played with Rocket 88 in Nottingham. Next evening Stu died of a heart attack, in a Harley Street specialist’s waiting room, he was 47. His humour, loyalty to the band and friendship to every one in and around the Rolling Stones has been sorely missed ever since.
There were hundreds of people from the world of music at Stu’s funeral to honour a man that everyone liked. There was certainly nothing minor about the golf loving, boogie woogie playing, Stu, whose bulging back pocket was always full of spanners, screw drivers and his wallet. Scottish writer Ian Rankin took some inspiration for the unruly inspector of his Rebus crime novels from the “sixth Stone” – it is a fitting tribute to the man who never stopped being Scottish.