Start me up
Watts: Joining Blues Inc.
Alexis Korner and Cyril Davis were the start of rhythm and blues in this country. If things were as they should be, Alexis would be right at the top. I met Alexis in a club somewhere and he asked me if I'd play drums for him. A friend of mine, Andy Webb, said I should join the band, but I had to go to Denmark to work in design, so I sort of lost touch with things. While I was away, Alexis Korner formed his band, and I came back to England with Andy. I joined the band with Cyril Davies and Andy used to sing with us.
Watts (2013): A shock
It was more of a shock joining Alexis Korner (than the Rolling Stones later on). I'd never played with a harmonica player before – I couldn't believe Cyril Davies when he started playing! We only played out of London once, in Birmingham. Cyril got £1 because he was a professional musician; so did Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jack Bruce. I wasn't so I got half a crown. Fantastic, isn't it? Half a crown!
Watts (2011): Meeting Brian
Alexis, all his life, was a hub for young people - and particularly blues and obscure jazz players. He was a great one for bringing them on and listening to them. And one of those people was Brian Jones, in the early days. So I played with Brian and knew him socially through Alexis.
Meeting Brian and his blues
And suddenly in' 62, just when (Mick and I) were getting together, we read this little thing about a rhythm and blues club starting in Ealing.... Alexis Korner really got this scene together. He'd been playing in jazz clubs for ages and he knew all the connections for gigs. So we went up there. The first or the second time Mick and I were sitting there Alexis Korner gets up and says, We got a guest to play some guitar. He comes from Cheltenham. All the way up from Cheltenham just to play for ya. Suddenly it's Elmore James, this cat, man. And it's Brian, man, he's sittin' on his little... he's bent over... da-da-da, da-da-da... I said, what? What the fuck? Playing bar slide guitar. We get into Brian after he finishes Dust My Broom. He's really fantastic and a gas...
We speak to Brian. He'd been doing the same as we'd been doing.. .thinking he was the only cat in the world who was doing it. We started to turn Brian on to some Jimmy Reed things, Chicago blues that he hadn't heard. He was more into T-Bone Walker and jazz blues stuff. We'd turn him on to Chuck Berry and say, Look, it's all the same shit, man, and you can do it.
Brian was into one kind of blues. Although he'd heard Chuck Berry, he had never heard the kind of stuff WE were into... We laid Slim Harpo on him, and Fred McDowell. Because Brian was from Cheltenham, a very genteel town full of old ladies, where it used to be fashionable to go and take the baths once a year at Cheltenham Spa. The water is very good because it comes out of the hills, it's spring water. It's a Regency thing, you know, Beau Brummell, around that time. Turn of the 19th century. Now it's a seedy sort of place full of aspirations to be an aristocratic town. It rubs off on anyone who comes from there... Brian would never even listen to Jimmy Reed (when we met him), and hardly any of Muddy Waters' electric stuff. We turned him on to Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley. He was into guys like Sunnyland Slim and Tampa Red. Elmore james was about as far down the road as he'd gone with electric blues.
Brian was the first guy I knew that had a Robert Johnson record. Very rare. That's when I captured him: I'll take you and the record!
& Mick Jagger: Playing with Alexis Korner
Keith: (Alexis Korner and Chris Barber) 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. They were trying it from their angle but they didn't believe that rock and roll had a connection with it. They didn't see the connection. They missed Darwin, the missing link. When Alexis used to, you know, when he'd ask me and Mick to do a song... he'd say, Here's a couple of boys from out of town, you know, and he'd say, What are you gonna play? and we'd say Roll Over Beethoven! Alex would take a very large swallow and his Adam's apple would go up and he'd put his thumb pick through a couple of strings and he'd say, Um... terribly sorry, ol' boy, I've broken a string... (laughs) I'll leave it up to you.
Mick: It was like watching a lot of white people trying to lay 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. We knew that we could do it better. And we DID it a lot better. Seeing Alexis (Korner) didn't really give me confidence. It meant there was somewhere to play. At the time it was nice.
I remember the Ealing Club... it was dripping off the roof all the time, wasn't it? It was so wet that sometimes we had to put a thing up over the stage, a sort of horrible sheet which was revoltingly dirty, and we put it up over the bandstand and so the condensation didn't drip directly on you, it just dripped through the sheet on you, instead of directly off the ceiling... It was very dangerous too, you see, 'cause all this electricity and all these microphones and that... It was incredibly primitive, you know... Top act was Alex (Korner). He used me Thursdays. We used to sing Got My Mojo Working. John Baldry, Paul Jones, they were much taller than me. I was very small... I used to sing Don't Stay Out All Night, Bad Boy, Ride ‘em On Down sometimes, not mostly, with Keith. I was incredibly hung-up on form. Form was all-important. Fantastic criticism down to the last tiny insane detail.
|Charlie Watts (2011): Meeting Mick and Keith
Mick sang with Alexis a few times, and Keith sat in with Alexis a couple of times. So I knew them as people, and playing with them.
Meeting Ian Stewart
I left art school and I didn't even bother to get a job. We were still kids. Mick was still serious, he thought he was, everyone told him he ought to be serious about a career in economics... But Brian, he was already working at it... He invited me to listen to what he was getting together in some pub in London. It's then it starts getting into backrooms of pubs in Soho and places. That's where I met(Ian Stewart). He was with Brian. They'd just met. He used to play boogie-woogie piano in jazz clubs, apart from his regular job. He blew my head off too, when he started to play. I never heard a white piano like that before. Real Albert Ammons stuff. This is all '62.
We didn't dare (gig yet). We were rehearsing drummers. Mick Avory came by, the drummer of the Kinks. He was terrible, then. Couldn't find that off beat. Couldn't pick up on that Jimmy Reed stuff.... (It was) just Mick and myself and Brian (and Stu). We knew Charlie. He was a friend. He was gigging at the time, playing with Alexis. He was Korner's drummer. We couldn't afford him. One day we picked up a drummer called Tony Chapman who was our first regular drummer. Terrible. One of the worst... cat would start a number and end up either 4 times as fast as he started it or 3 times as slow.
Coming up with the name Rolling Stones
Brian came up with the name (Rolling Stones). It was a phone call - which cost money - and we were down to pennies... We got a gig at last, so we said, "Call up Jazz News, put in an advert". So Brian gaily dials away - and they say Who? We hadn't got a name and every second was costing a precious farthing. There's a Muddy Waters record face down - The Best of Muddy Waters - and the first song was Rollin' Stone Blues. Brian had a panicked look on his face - he said I don't know... the Rolling Stones. That's the reason we're called the Rolling Stones.... Our first gig was... at the Marquee.
& Brian Jones: Playing blues in a jazz scene
Ian: At the start, nobody in England played our kind of music. But nobody. Mick and Keith and Brian were about the only people in the country that knew the music and were trying to play it. Everybody else were jazz musicians trying to play the blues, that hadn't really heard them. And having seen the Stones once at the Marquee, the people who were running the scene in those days were 100% against us, and it was one bloody fight to get anywhere. They thought R&B was a jazz thing and there should be 3 saxophones. They said, What? Two guitars and a bass guitar? That's rock and roll - we don't want to know about it, we'll try and put it down.
Brian: We knew all along, you see. The blues was real. We only had to persuade people to listen to the music, and they couldn't help but be turned on to all those great old blues cats. I'd been through the jazz scene, and I knew that it had to die because it was so full of crap and phony musicians who could hardly play their instruments. And Keith knew a bit about the ordinary pop scene, so he knew what a lot of rubbish that was.
Dedicated to the blues
We were a blues band, serious, very serious. When we discussed it, we were like students. You know how students get serious about things? It was almost a theological dispute with us. Mostly it was really imaginary and we were just goofing off as they say. But we didn't want to be called a rock band. We wanted to be a blues band but we gave that up as it was a waste of time. Keith insisted on saying we were a blues band anyway. We couldn't do R&B exactly right. So we had to do it our way... At the beginning you felt like you were one of the chosen few, one of the only ones in the whole world who would get to play with this new toy. We had evangelical fervor. So it was exciting, and no one knew where it was going, if it was going to last.
& Keith Richards: Early ambitions
Mick: Unfortunately Brian had this insane drive to be famous. And he had all this ambition that Keith and I didn't have. Brian also had this obsession about getting rhythm and blues across to the public and EDUCATING them. That struck us as being half-way there as we were interested in conversion too but not to that degree.
Keith: When we started the Rolling Stones, we were just little kids, right? We felt we had some of the licks down, but our aim was to turn other people on to Muddy Waters. I mean, we were carrying flags, idealistic teenage sort of shit: No way we think anybody is really going to seriously listen to us. As long as we can get a few people interested in listening to the shit we think they ought to listen to - which is very elitist and arrogant, to think you can tell other people what to listen to, but that was our aim, to turn people onto the blues. If we could turn them on to Muddy and Jimmy Reed and Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker, then our job was done... We thought, sure, we'd love to make records, but we're not in that league. We wanted to sell records for Jimmy Reed, Muddy, John Lee Hooker. We were disciples - if we could turn people on to that, then that was enough. That was the total original aim.
I'm a Little Walter fan, but I can't remember when I first started to play harmonica. In the early days, there was obviously a competitive aspect between me and Brian, in the same way that Keith was competitive with Brian on guitar...
First of all I did figure out that you had to have loads of harmonicas in different keys, which was very expensive; you had to have them because otherwise you were stuck. And you also needed reeds because they would often break and frequently be badly made. Then I wanted to know how you played harmonica, but Cyril (Davies) refused to tell me. So I just observed him. I used to chat to him and in the end he got kind of used to me, but the harmonica is not an instrument that is very easy to teach, because you're not sitting there with a keyboard, saying, Oh, Mick this is how you play, you put your finger on there. With the harmonica you can't really show someone what to do in their mouth...
I.m sure there are books and tutors that you can buy, but what I did was to sit around with my one harmonica listening to records by Jimmy Reeed, who conveniently only plays in a couple of keys, so there were only two or three variations. That's really how I learned to play - playing along to Jimmy Reed records.
(1964): Destiny calls
I remember one long chat between the three of us (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and myself), with a Muddy Waters' long-player providing the background music. We thought about our parents, about the efforts they'd made in giving us a good home-life as kids and a good education. We wondered if we were doing the right thing by not getting into worthwhile jobs and forgetting all about this mad music bit.
Mick usually led the discussions. He'd say that we really had to go for what we believed in. We had this sort of obsession about pushing rhythm & blues across to a wide public here. We wanted OUR idols to be idolized by everybody else. We didn't have the money to buy a banner and cart it through the streets, but if we had we would have done just that.
So we had to think hard. Suppose we failed. Suppose we went on not doing much, just soaking up music, for a whole year. That would be about the limit, we reckoned. We flopped - would it matter? At least we'd have tried. We'd have tried to the best of our ability and we would have had nothing to regret in later life - when possibly we'd all be working in offices and married and settled in some suburban house.
But if we didn't give it a proper fling, we would probably end up kicking ourselves - like never knowning how good we could have been. And we figured that a lifetime of regret, of thinking back, just wouldn't work out.
Early club gigs
It built up slowly over the 1962 period. The weekends suddenly got busy. We'd play Ken Colyer's 51 Club in the afternoon on the Charing Cross Road and then do a quick run out to Richmond for the whole night. That's where we cut our teeth... They thought they were getting a show, and we were just rehearsing in public.
|Charlie Watts (2011): Leaving Alexis Korner
I left Alexis and started playing with various blues bands.
& Bill Wyman: Bill and the Stones
Keith: Dick Taylor had left. Stu drifted with us for some reason... (So one day we said to Tony Chapman), Hey, Tony, d'y'know any bass players? He said, I do know one. Tell him to come to next rehearsal. So we all turned up and in walks... Bill Wyman, ladies and gentleman.... So onto the scene comes Bill... and we can't believe him. He's a real London Ernie, Brylcreamed hair and 11-inch cuffs on his pants and huge blue suede shoes with rubber soles... He had the bass together already. He'd been playing in rock bands for 3 or 4 years. He's older than us. He knows how to play. But he doesn't want to play with these shitty rock bands anymore because they're all terrible. They're all doing that Shadows trip, all those instrumental numbers, Duane Eddy, Rebel Rouser.
Bill: I wasn't quite the same sort of person as (the rest of the Stones). I was a straight working-class type. I thought they were a bunch of layabouts but very dedicated to their music. THAT I could appreciate, but I couldn't appreciate the way they lived... (Chuck Berry) was the one artist I was able to be on par with. When the Stones talked music I knew Chuck Berry, but I'd never heard Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters. The music seemed to be very simple but later you learned that it was quite hard to be simple.
Ian Stewart & Bill Wyman: Guitar magic at Edith Grove
Keith: Brian found an apartment out in the suburbs of Beckham and I started to live there, too. This was an intense learning period, figuring out Jimmy Reed and stuff.
Ian: The great thing was (Keith and Brian) living in the (Edith Grove) flat together (in 1962-63) with no money and nothing to do but play. They really got off on this two-guitar player thing. And they pulled it off really well. All those old records usually featured two guitar players. So they absorbed a lot. They were young enough to be influenced in the heart rather than in the head.... By (1963), having lived together and done nothing else but listen to their records and tapes and play together, Brian and Keith had this guitar thing like you wouldn't believe. There was never any suggestion of a lead and a rhythm guitar player. They were two guitar players that were like somebody's right and left hand.
Keith: When we started playing together, we were listening to Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters. In both cases, you had two guitars weaving around one another. We'd play those things so much - which is the way you have to do it - that we knew both parts. So then we got to the point where we got it really flash, and we suddenly switch. The one doing the lead picks up the rhythm and the one doing the rhythm picks up the lead... We still do it today. The Rolling Stones are basically a two-guitar band. That's how we started off. And the whole secret, if there IS any secret behind the sound of the Rolling Stones, is the way we work two guitars together.
Bill: Keith and Brian used to sit and all day long practice. When they weren't in bed, they would sit and practice note for note. Every Jimmy Reed song they could hear, every Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, note for note. And they would do these amazing intricate patterns between the two guitars, one going down the scale and one going up and they would work on it for hours and hours. I mean, they really perfected that.