The Fifth Beatle vs. The Sixth Stone

In the business section of yesterday’s New York Times, there was an article entitled “The Fifth Man: Brian Epstein and the Beatles” which covered the business contributions manager Brian Epstein made to the success of the Beatles. As can only be expected, Beschloss made reference to the fact that Epstein was labeled by some as “The Fifth Beatle”.

We have all heard the litany of people who have been dubbed “The Fifth Beatle”. The obvious names that come to mind are Brian Epstein, Billy Preston, George Martin, Pete Best, Neil Aspinall, Tony Sheridan and Derek Taylor. Even Manchester United soccer star George Best carried the moniker “The Fifth Beatle”. There are more on the list.

However, today’s post will contrast the term “The Fifth Beatle” to the term “The Sixth Stone”. While many people have been dubbed as the fifth member of the Fab Four, only one person has ever carried the distinction of being labeled the sixth member of The Rolling Stones.

Ian Stewart (1938-1985) was the piano player and founding member of The Rolling Stones. Keith Richards has said that “Stu” was more responsible than anyone for forming the band in the beginning. Richards once said, “He basically hand-picked all of us.”

Upon Stewart’s death from a heart attack at age 47 in December 1985, Mick Jagger stated correctly, “Stu was the guy that we strived to please.”

Stewart’s obituary in the New York Times was titled, “Ian Stewart, 47, Dies; Helped Found ‘Stones“.

Not only was Stewart the founding member and piano player, but he also was personally responsible for getting the band their first booking. Many consider Stewart’s hard work in the early days for being responsible for their getting the Stones on the radar screen.

Unfortunately, the Stones’ first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was responsible for demoting Ian Stewart out of the band. Oldham felt that Stewart was too ugly and that he spoiled the look of the band. The manager agreed to allow Stewart to appear on records and radio, but not on television or in photos. Oldham also felt that having six members would put the Stones at a disadvantage because no other band had six members. The Beatles only had four.

In his 2011 biography Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue, author Marc Spitz writes of Stewart’s expulsion from the band, “Oldham successfully lobbied to have Stewart removed from the Stones-proper lineup. Stu’s Jay Leno jaw and lack of androgyny was deemed a marketing liability, so he was relegated to erstwhile pianist and roadie. ‘Look, from the first time I saw you, I felt I can only see …… five Rolling Stones,’ Oldham informed them. ‘People worked nine-to-five and they couldn’t be expected to remember more than four faces. This is entertainment, not a memory test.”

Christopher Anderson’s 2012 biography Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger contains a passage on the sacking of beloved “Stu” that reads, “The Stones’ pianist Ian Stewart was another matter. The brawny, lantern-jawed, crew-cut Stu ‘didn’t have the right look; he just didn’t fit,’ Oldham said. Stewart was out – but not entirely. He agreed to become road manager, and he would still be allowed to take part in recording sessions.”

Stewart easily could have walked away bitter from the Stones, but instead he stayed on as their road manager, while continuing to play piano for the group on both record albums and in concert. In fact, he was working with the band on their album Dirty Work when he died of a heart attack in 1985. Stewart contributed to every Rolling Stones album between 1964 and 1986, with the exception of Their Satanic Majesties Request and Beggars Banquet. He played in every Stones concert until his death.

In spite of helping the band on albums and in concerts as a pianist and organist, he was legally not a full member of The Rolling Stones, but rather a salaried employee.

Apart from the group that he founded, Stewart played on two Led Zeppelin albums, as well as albums by artists such as B.B. King and Eric Clapton.

The Scottish born-and-raised Stewart was a golf fanatic so as the band’s road manager he always tried to arrange for the band to stay at hotel that had a golf course.

On February 23, 1986, the Rolling Stones took the stage together for the first time in four years on the occasion of a tribute concert to Ian Stewart at the famous 100 Club in London. The band had declined the invitation to play at Live Aid the previous summer, giving the reason that “they were no longer a band.” Even in his death, Stu kept the band together once again by their appearance at this tribute, which included the Stones being joined by rock greats such as Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend.

However, when The Rolling Stones were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Ian Stewart was finally recognized for his contributions and his legacy as he was inducted as a full member of the Stones just like his former band mates were. Jagger gave glowing praise to Stewart’s contributions to the band in his acceptance speech.

To Stones insiders, “The Sixth Stone” was the heart and soul of the group and kept the band together during difficult times. After all, he was responsible for starting the band and picking the members. Furthermore, he was a great pianist.

Have a listen to Ian Stewart’s piano work on “Brown Sugar”, one of the many Stones’ hits on which he played piano or organ: