British blues

British blues, the blues scene to which the Stones were first exposed and formed the band in, was a fairly recent and distinctive development. Players like Alexis Korner and Chris Barber came from jazz and skiffle backgrounds in the 1950s and it was through these influences that they incorporated blues. The blues which they performed at the Marquee and Ealing and other clubs in 1962 when the Stones formed, though it covered Chicago electric blues, nevertheless retained strong influences from the jazz and folk-blues genres. The scene provided the Stones environment in which to flourish, but ultimately did not correspond to the musical identity they formed.

CHRIS BARBER  (1930-    )

Although not formally an influence or a collaborator with the Stones, England-born Barber was the other seminal figure, along with Alexis Korner, in popularizing Afro-American musical forms in England in the 1950s. Korner was part of Barber's dixieland jazz/traditional jazz band in the '50s.

CYRIL DAVIES  (1932-1964)

British-born Davies was a vocalist and harmona player who was an integral part of Korner's Blues Incorporated band, along with Charlie Watts, in 1962. After that band disintegrated, Davies formed the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars, including past and future Stones alumni such as pianist Nicky Hopkins and drummer Carlo Little, as well as Long John Baldry. Davies died of leukemia.

Cyril Davies (was) a car-panel beater at a junkyard and body shop. Cyril had been to Chicago and sat in with Muddy (Waters) at Smitty's Corner and was therefore a very big deal. He was a good harp player and a good night man; he used to drink bourbon like a fucking fish.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1970

I learned the blues through a man called Cyril Davies, and Alexis Korner...The blues, to me, before that was Now's The Time by Charlie Parker or West End Blues by Louis Armstrong. That was the blues. If you're talking about sort of rural blues, Chicago blues, no, I didn't know any of them, really. Cyril was the first one to play me Muddy Waters.

                                                  - Charlie Watts, 1994


ALEXIS KORNER  (1928-1984)

Unarguably THE seminal "outside" figure in the Stones' early start. Half Austrian, half Greco-Turkish, Korner's family moved to England during the war, and in the 1940s he got into jazz, folk and R&B, learning boogie-woogie piano and then switching to guitar. His musical scene in the '40s was that of folk and folk-blues, such as Woody Guthrie and Big Bill Broonzy. In the '50s he joined Chris Barber, and along with other figures such as Cyril Davies pioneered a blues movement in England in the late '50s and early '60s that mixed blues (Muddy Waters, Broonzy) with influences such as traditional jazz, folk-blues and skiffle.

Mick and Keith met Brian (and Ian Stewart) through visiting Korner in his clubs in the spring of 1962, which is how the Stones got their start. Charlie Watts, meanwhile, who at that time was not yet the Stones' drummer, was a permanent drummer with Korner's new band, called Blues Incorporated. Korner's London blues scene was also the start of many, if not most, of Britain's great blues-influenced rock bands and musicians of the 1960s, including Eric Clapton, Long John Baldry, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, future members of Cream and the Small Faces, and even Ron Wood's older brother Arthur Wood. Korner's own success never really expanded, however, beyond being recognized as the seminal influential figure that he was for all these artists, and particularly the Stones.

As much as the Stones appreciated Korner, however, Mick, Keith and Brian felt their sound and tastes were decidely different. They saw in Korner a "jazzed-up" or "folked-down" approach to blues and R&B, that mixed in acoustic folk-blues of the Big Bill Broonzy sort along with its Muddy Waters, and eschewed rock & roll as such (e.g. Chuck Berry). The Stones wanted to develop a more electrified, rhythmically faster and more energetic brand of blues and R&B.

It was like watching a lot of white people trying to play the blues. And we were much different. We used to laugh and call them a bunch of jazzers. It just wasn't our kind of blues... Seeing Alexis didn't really give me confidence. It meant there was somewhere to play. At the time it was nice.

                                                   - Mick Jagger

They had THEIR approach from the jazz angle, you know, Big Joe Williams, and the country stuff like Broonzy and Leadbelly and you know... They were kind of... they were rather half-folkies, half-jazz people.

                                                   - Keith Richards

Nevertheless most of the Stones collaborated occasionally with Korner over the years. After being sacked from the Stones, Brian was considering joining a band of Korner's before his death, having renewed his friendship with him. In the 1970s, Keith collaborated on an album of his. And, most significantly, Charlie and Ian Stewart formed a new band with Korner, along with Jack Bruce, called Rocket 88, which gigged and released records in the early 1980s. Korner died of lung cancer on January 1st, 1984. Charlie and Ian took part in a concert held for his memory later that year.

Written by Ian McPherson, 2000.
Like all files on Time Is On Our Side, it is the exclusive intellectual property
of Ian McPherson and cannot be duplicated, in any form, without his authorization.

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