"It is quite amazing when you think about it," Mick Jagger recently told Rolling Stone, reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones first show on July 12th, 1962 at London's Marquee Jazz Club. "But it was so long ago. Some of us are still here, but it's a very different group than the one that played 50 years ago."
On that summer night in 1962, the Rollin' Stones were Jagger on vocals, guitarists Brian Jones and Keith Richards, pianist Ian Stewart and bassist Dick Taylor. The drummer is up for debate; some fans contend it was their frequent early drummer, Tony Chapman, but Richards insisted in his 2010 memoir Life that it was friend Mick Avory. The Stones got the gig when Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated – the club's Thursday night regulars fronted by Jagger – were invited to play a BBC live broadcast. Jagger didn't take part in the broadcast, and Jones persuaded Marquee club owner Harold Pendleton to let their new group fill in. When Jones called local listings paper Jazz News to advertise the gig, the famous story goes, he was asked what the band was called. His eyes went straight to the first song on the nearby LP The Best of Muddy Waters: "Rollin' Stone."
The band borrowed money from Jagger's dad to rent equipment for the gig. In Life, Richards recalled playing songs like "Dust My Broom," "Confessin' the Blues" and "Got My Mojo Working." "You're sitting with some guys, and you're playing and you go, 'Ooh yeah!' That feeling is worth more than anything," he wrote. "There's a certain moment when you realize that you've actually left the planet for a bit and that nobody can touch you … it's flying without a license."
The band continued to play around London clubs that summer. In August, Jagger, Richards and Jones moved into a grimy second-floor apartment at 102 Edith Grove in Fulham, living amongst dirty dishes, two beds and no furniture. Soon, Charlie Watts moved in. "The Rolling Stones spent the first year of their life hanging places, stealing food and rehearsing," Richards remembered. "We were paying to be the Rolling Stones."
Today, Jagger admits feeling uneasy about celebrating the milestone. "One part of me goes, 'We're slightly cheating,'" he says. "Because it's not the same band, you know. Still the same name. It's only Keith and myself that are the same people, I think. I've tried to find out when Charlie's first gig was, and none of us can really remember and no one really knows. But it's an amazing achievement, and I think it's fantastic and you know I'm very proud of it."
Richards is less reflective. "Man, I don't count!" he says with a laugh. "The Stones always really consider '63 to be 50 years, because Charlie didn't actually join until January. So we look upon 2012 as sort of the year of conception. But the birth is next year."
On Wednesday, the Stones met at the Marquee Club to shoot an anniversary photo. And while they might look a little worse for wear and tear than they did 50 years ago, they haven't lost any cool. After more than 400 songs, over two-dozen studio albums, ten mega-tours, turmoil and countless public squabbles, they look dangerous and commanding as ever, still capable of giving crowds more satisfaction than any band 50 years their junior.
Richards says the band will discuss recording new material during their London stay, and the band is strongly considering at least one gig this year, while a tour is more likely next year. Here's hoping it all happens. As Pete Townshend told the band while inducting them in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, "Guys, whatever you do, don't grow old gracefully. It wouldn't suit you."
Here is what the Stones played on that night in 1962, according to meticulous, setlist-documenting Stones fansite It's Only Rock and Roll – though the setlist differs slightly from Richards' memory of the show described in Life.
1. "Kansas City"
2. "Baby What's Wrong"
3. "Confessin' the Blues"
4. "Bright Lights, Big City"
5. "Dust My Broom"
6. "Down the Road Apiece"
7. "I'm a Love You"
8. "Bad Boy"
9. "I Ain't Got You"
11. "Ride 'Em on Down"
12. "Back in the U.S.A."
13. "Kind of Lonesome"
14. "Blues Before Sunrise"
15. "Big Boss Man"
16. "Don't Stay Out All Night"
17. "Tell Me You Love Me"
18. "Happy Home"