How Childhood Friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Formed the Rolling Stones
The story of the Rolling Stones begins with an encounter between its foundational pieces, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, at a train station in Dartford, England, in October 1961.
This wasn’t the pair’s initial introduction, as the two grew up in Dartford and attended grammar school together, but they had since lost touch. At the train station, with Jagger off to the London School of Economics and Richards on his way to Sidcup Art College, the old friends got to talking, particularly about the collection of blues and R&B records under Jagger’s arm.
Both had been influenced by the exciting sounds drifting from across the Atlantic to their radios, according to The Rolling Stones: A Musical Biography. Jagger, with his talent for mimicry, had already developed a unique singing style. And Richards, who hailed from a musical family and once sang in a church choir, was rapidly gaining ground with his guitar.
They realized they had a mutual friend in guitarist Dick Taylor, who played with Jagger in a band and jammed between classes with Richards at Sidcup. Soon, the three were regularly getting together to listen to records and explore their own budding talents, teaming with two others to form Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys.
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The band’s name was inspired by a Muddy Waters track
In April 1962, Jagger and Richards ventured to the Ealing Club in London to check out a set by Alexis Korver’s Blues Incorporated. The band’s jazz-influenced drummer, Charlie Watts, was sure-handed, but the 19-year-olds were particularly taken with slide guitar work of Brian Jones – then performing under the name “Elmo Lewis,” after his blues hero, Elmore James.
Jagger and Richards began performing with Blues Incorporated, but Jones, determined to forge his own blues-based act, soon pried them away for his fledgling band. They were joined by Taylor, and an ad placed in Jazz News brought in a keyboardist named Ian Stewart.
That summer, when Korner pulled Blues Incorporated out of their regular gig at London’s Marquee Club due to a scheduling conflict, he suggested Jones, Jagger and the rest as replacements. Their group still without a name, Jones drew inspiration from a Muddy Waters track titled “Rollin’ Stone,” and the rest is history.
On July 12, 1962, the band debuted as the Rolling Stones, with Jagger as lead singer, Richards and Jones on guitar, Taylor on bass, Stewart on keyboards and Mick Avory – later of The Kinks – on drums.
Tough times gave way to the key additions of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts
Although the Marquee owner invited the Rolling Stones back for regular gigs, the months ahead would be trying ones for the band’s members. Jagger, Richards and Jones found a place together in the Chelsea section of London, living in squalor as they stretched the leftover money from Jagger’s scholarship between the three of them.
In December, after Taylor threw in the towel and returned to art school, The Stones gave a tryout to bassist Bill Wyman of The Cliftons. A few years older than the others and less familiar with their R&B influences, Wyman nevertheless played well enough to earn approval, helping his cause by donating his amplifiers to the under-equipped band.
Early in the new year, another important piece was secured when Watts stepped in to give the group a reliable drummer. On January 14, 1963, the now recognizable early lineup of the Rolling Stones — Jagger, Richards, Jones, Watts, Wyman and Stewart — played in public for the first time at the Flamingo Club in Soho.
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A residency at the Crawdaddy Club paved the way for management and record deals
The band got their next boost from Soviet-born promoter Giorgio Gomelsky, who booked The Stones for a residency at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, London, beginning in February 1963. It was here that the group developed its first significant following, with students from the area pouring in to see this energetic R&B band and its whirling frontman. Local newspapers caught on to the act, with another budding group of rock royalty, the Beatles, even dropping by to see what the fuss was about.
In late April, 19-year-old promoter Andrew Loog Oldham caught wind of the sensation. Convinced the group’s combination of sound and sex appeal would catch fire – and with Gomelsky out of the country – he quickly moved in with his partner, Eric Easton, and signed The Stones to a management contract. By mid-May, a deal with Decca Records was in place as well.
Along with Gomelsky, the heavyset Stewart came out on the short end of the talks, as he was dropped from live performances (though he was allowed to remain as a session musician and road manager). It was part of the driving management style of Oldham, who urged the band to think big and quit their day jobs once and for all.
On June 7, 1963, the Stones released their debut single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” With their own acclaimed compositions soon to come, as well as lineup changes that would see the tragic departure of Jones but never the tandem of Jagger-Richards, The Stones were on their way to setting the rock ‘n’ roll standard with their string of unforgettable hits and staggering longevity.