Ian Stewart, a founding member of the Rolling Stones and their road manager and frequent pianist for twenty-three years, died of a heart attack in London on December 12th. The forty-seven-year-old Stewart was sitting in the waiting room of his doctor’s office, where he was about to undergo a checkup for an old lung complaint, when he suffered the heart attack. He died almost instantly.
A funeral service was held December 20th, attended only by family members and close friends, including the five members of the Rolling Stones. Stewart, who was divorced, is survived by a son, Giles, 15. Keith Altham, a London music publicist and longtime friend of Stewart’s, said a memorial service was planned for February. It will probably include a performance by Rocket 88, the big band formed in the late Seventies by Stewart, which featured prominent British jazz and blues musicians.
“I’m going to miss him a lot,” Mick Jagger said of Stewart, who was frequently called the Sixth Stone. “He really helped this band swing, on numbers like ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and loads of others. Stu was the one guy we tried to please. We wanted his approval when we were writing or rehearsing a song. We’d want him to like it.”
Born in the Scottish town of Pittenweem, in Fife, Ian Stewart was working as a shipping clerk at a London chemical company in 1962 when he responded to a newspaper ad for R&B musicians. It had been placed by Brian Jones. Together Stewart and Jones formed the nucleus of the Rolling Stones, but by June 1963, the band’s flamboyant manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, decide Stewart’s burly, square-jawed features did not fit the Stones’ racy outlaw image. Stu, as he was commonly known, then became the group’s road manager, continuing to play piano on tour and in the studio.
In recent years, Stewart’s duties had included management of the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio and advance work for the group’s tours. With Stones bassist Bill Wyman, he was hunting up old movie and television footage of the Stones for a projected follow-up to the group’s Rewind home-video release. “He had his own way of doing things, and it worked perfectly,” marveled Wyman. “He had twenty-four-track master tapes in his basement, guitars in his back room and demo tapes in the garage. He was totally disorganized, but he knew exactly where to find anything at a given moment. It’s going to take three or four people to do what he did.”
“He was unique, to actually have come through that craziness associated with the Stones and maintained his equilibrium,” said Altham. Stewart steered clear of drugs, and he was only a moderate drinker. His passions were golf, scuba diving, British history and old steam trains. He was also an avid jazz and blues enthusiast, heavily influenced by pianists like Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and Count Basie.
Although he never enjoyed the international celebrity accorded the Rolling Stones, Stewart was not unhappy with his role outside the band. “I never heard him complain once,” Wyman said. “He was able to stand back and laugh at us being idiots.” Wyman remembered sitting backstage at New York’s Madison Square Garden during the Stones’ 1975 tour while the upper crust of New York society – Dick Cavett, Lee Radziwill, Truman Capote and others – fawned over the band. Suddenly, Stewart walked into the dressing room, turned to the Stones and said, “All right, my little shower of shit, you’re on.”
“He always used to call us things like ‘My little three-chord wonders,'” said Wyman. But, he added, “we’d never go onstage until Ian Stewart said it was time to go on.”
This story is from the January 30, 1986 issue of Rolling Stone.