R&B-derived rock & roll

The golden era of rock and roll was the second half of the 1950s. Upon its arrival in 1954-55, aimed at an almost exclusively teenage audience, it completed changed the face of popular music. The rock greats of the 1960s like the Beatles and Stones grew up with, and essentially founded their music on, the pioneers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others.

Significantly, rock & roll was one of the first music genres to break racial barriers. Merging country, gospel and R&B influences, both black and white American artists played the music. I divide them here, however, because the Stones, though they WERE influenced by white rock and roll performers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, predominantly covered the music of African-American artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and the Coasters.

The reasons for this are possibly many. Part of the reason was definitely musical. Inspired by blues and rhythm and blues, the music that the majority of these African-American artists made was closer in sound and style to electric Chicago blues, and in continuity with earlier rhythm and blues, than the strongly country-influenced rockabilly of artists like Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran. Part of the reason was also very probably related to an image the Stones sought to cultivate. There was definitely something the Stones enjoyed about - something rebellious and elitist - playing music almost exclusively made by African American artists. In addition, by the early '60s when the Stones formed, most of the great rock greats had vanished in one way or another and the "rock and roll" field was dominated by washed-out, lightweight, Elvis-wannabes like Ricky Nelson and Bobby Vee (and Cliff Richard in the U.K.) - which the Stones fervently did not want to be associated with.

CHUCK BERRY  (1926-2017)

If ever there was a legitimate challenger to the throne of Elvis Presley as the king of rock and roll, it would have to be Chuck Berry. By translating boogie-woogie piano patterns to electric guitar, Berry invented a highly distinctive and electrifying guitar style all his own which in some ways has become the standard for rock and roll guitar and music as such. He was not only a fine guitar player, but a tremendous songwriter, mixing melodic hooks, distinctive rhythm patterns and socially significant lyrics that have made many people call him rock's first great poet.

Chuck Berry has been influential to almost every rock artist, from the Beatles on, but perhaps no one else as much as the Stones. More so even than Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry is without a doubt the single most influential performer on the Stones' music. The archetypal, distinctive Stones sound that we recognize in their fast-paced numbers - whether it's Miss Amanda Jones or Respectable or Fight or All Down the Line or You Got Me Rocking - is all based on an adaptation and evolution of Chuck Berry's boogie-woogie-meets-rock-and-roll patterns. Ian Stewart's piano style definitely fit well with this style (it has often been said, by Keith notably, that Chuck forged his style by adapting his pianist Johnnie Johnson's boogie-woogie patterns to guitar, and Johnson was trained on the same boogie-woogie music that Stu was), and, most particularly, it was at the center of Keith's own, equally distinctive guitar playing and style, fueling most of the riffs of the Stones' tremendous catalogue. Keith as a teen was open to many influences - blues, country music, early Elvis, other rock and roll artists - but his main passion and idol was first and foremost Chuck Berry. It was Keith who helped convince Brian that Chuck Berry was equally R&B as Elmore James, for example, was, and gave a crucial dimension, a base if you will, to the Stones' sound and future development. Bill Wyman, who came from a more straight rock and roll background than the other Stones, was also a Berry fanatic.

I saw Berry in a film called Rock, Rock, Rock where he was playing You Can't Catch Me and I was completely won over.

                                                   - Bill Wyman

Chuck was my man. He was the one that made me say, I want to play guitar, Jesus Christ! And I'd listened to guitar players before that - I was about 15 - and I'd think, He's very interesting, nice, ah, but... With the the difference between what I'd heard before 1956 or '57 and right after that with Little Richard and Elvis and Chuck Berry, suddenly I knew what it was I wanted to do.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1992

Chuck Berry songs themselves formed an important part of the Stones' set lists and recorded material (Come on, Around and Around, Talkin' Bout You, etc. - see here), and the Stones have continued to add songs of his in their sets in later years (Let It Rock, Little Queenie, etc.). In addition to the many Chuck Berry songs they covered, they have performed or recorded a number of jump and swing classics that were based on Berry's rocked-up covers of them, including Amos Milburn'sDown the Road Apiece, Jay McShann's Confessin' the Blues and Bobby Troup'sRoute 66.

I learned a lot of things from watching Chuck Berry's hands on Jazz on a Summer's Day. It got shown a lot in Europe. I remember Brian, Mick and I on the way to one of our first gigs stopped into a cinema because we had a few hours to kill to see this movie. I had a guitar with me in just a soft case. We had just gotten in on Chuck Berry's bit, which is what everybody wanted to turn on to, particularly.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1971

Chuck Berry's path has met up with the Stones', and particularly Keith's, over a number of (sometimes hilarious) ways over the years. The Stones met Chuck Berry for the first time in June 1964, on their first American tour, when they recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago, where Chuck had recorded most of his hits. Later, he opened for the Stones on some of their shows during the 1969 American tour.

One of two embarrassing moments involving Berry for Keith happened in January 1972, in Los Angeles, when he joined Chuck onstage at a club and was thrown off by Chuck for playing too loudly after a few numbers. Years later, in the summer of 1981, a similarly humiliating occasion presented itself. Keith attended a nightclub in New York for a performance of Berry, and then went backstage after the show to congratulate him. When Keith tapped him on the shoulder from behind, Chuck turned around and swung at him, giving Keith a black eye. Berry later claimed he hadn't recognized Keith and thought he was just somebody hassling him.

On January 1986, however, Keith was the one who inducted Chuck Berry at the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies in New York, and participated in a jam with him afterwards. This led to Keith being chosen as musical director to celebrate Chuck Berry's 60th birthday in October 1986 with 2 concerts performed in Chuck's hometown of St. Louis. Keith played guitar, sang backup and was the musical director of the project, and had a lot of troubles dealing with Chuck Berry's ego and personality antics during the rehearsals and concerts. These were filmed for a concert biography called Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll, and also resulted in an album.

I went down to St. Louis to meet with Chuck and talk about our deal over the movie I helped him with - Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll. You know, don't hit me again, Chuck, because this time, you ain't gonna get away with it. There's a limit to hero worship.

                                                   - Keith Richards, 1988


THE COASTERS  (1956-1972)

Proof of how the Stones were always a "pop" band from the start, as well as a "blues" band, is the presence of many Coasters' songs in their early records and performances. The Coasters had evolved in the 1950s from a straight doo-wop group (the Robins) to an all-around rock & roll/pop band with a strong R&B base. Their success lied in great part in the great material that composers like Leiber and Stoller were writing for them, songs such as Yakety Yak and Charlie Brown. The Stones covered some of their lesser known hits on their early records such as Poison Ivy and Down Home Girl, as well as onstage.

BO DIDDLEY  (1928-2008)

Bo Diddley, like Berry, Waters and Jimmy Reed, was a tremendous influence on the Stones, especially during their formative years. The number of songs the Stones covered by him onstage (see the following list), and the frequency with which they played his material, tells of how much they appreciated his music and found it to be very closely related to the style they wanted to achieve. Born in Mississippi, Diddley, who also recorded (like Berry, like Waters and Wolf), for Chess Records in Chicago in the 1950s, never had the commercial success of Berry, but evolved a distinctive rhythmic format that became his characteristic and launched a number of rock classics: I'm a Man, Diddley Daddy, Road Runner, Pretty Thing and on and on. The Stones played this material onstage countless times in the years 1962-64 and the energy they produced with these songs was part of the start of their popularity in the clubs such as the Crawdaddy in Richmond in 1963.

The Stones met their hero as early as the fall of 1963, when they joined an English tour headlined by Diddley and the Everly Brothers. Although they officially released very little of his songs on their records (Mona being an important one, however), their hit Not Fade Away was highlighted by their emphasis of the Diddley beat on the Buddy Holly original. The Stones' I'm All Right was also built around a Diddley beat. Importantly also, Diddley, like Berry and to a lesser extent Jimmy Reed, was an artist who could somehow bring together R&B and a potential for commercial success. Diddley's emphasis on rhythm and his attacking riffs are definitely elements that, to this day, still characterize the Stones' approach to their fast-paced and "archetypal Stones" numbers.

In 1987, Keith was on hand in New York when Diddley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and jammed with him afterwards. Following which, in 1987-88 Ronnie teamed up with Diddley for a lengthy tour of North America, Japan and Europe as a duo. Some years later, Diddley was also invited onstage with the Stones during their televised concert in Miami during the 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour. Ronnie and Keith guested on a new CD of his in 1996. Bo Diddley passed away on June 2, 2008.

We used the harmonica a lot back then... and maracas, tambourines and that Bo Diddley jungle rhythm format. We tried to get that really earthy thing because we liked it. It wasn't fake. It wasn't pseudo. It was really down to earth and very, VERY exciting. We'd play this stuff to people's faces and we'd see their mouths gape.

                                                   - Bill Wyman


FATS DOMINO  (1928-      )

A boogie-woogie pianist and vocalist from New Orleans, Domino was a key player in inventing New Orleans' own distinctive style of rollicking R&B, becoming also a popular rock and roll star in the process. His hits, like Ain't That a Shame and Blueberry Hill, were many in the 1950s. Like many of the rock and rollers, however, his career essentially ended in the 1960s.

Domino was an early influence on the rock and roll fans that were Mick, Keith and Bill in particular. His songs, though never recorded by the Stones, were occasionally performed by them in 1962-63.

I was crazy over Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Fats Domino, not knowing what it meant, just that it was beautiful. My father used to call it jungle music and I used to say, Yeah, that's right, jungle music, that's a very good description. Every time I heard it, I just wanted to hear more.

                                                   - Mick Jagger

Fats Domino was the only performer of what's called rock and roll that I ever loved as a kid. I never liked Elvis or any of that. But I loved Fats Domino.

                                                 - Charlie Watts



A North Carolina native, Harrison began recording in the early 1950s, his R&B tinged with country or even calypso influences at times. His claim to fame, however, came with his 1959 recording of the Leiber & Stoller classic Kansas City, covered by the Beatles among others. The Stones performed it as well in their early days.

LITTLE RICHARD  (1935-      )

Georgia-born Little Richard was not a specifically major influence on the Stones, but inasmuch as he recorded several classic rock and roll hits, his songs were part of the music that inspired Mick, Keith and Bill in particular to play music. The Stones met Richard when he was brought in to help sales on their first tour of England in 1963, headlined by Bo Diddley and the Everly Brothers.

Little Richard and Chuck Berry really blew me away.

                                                   - Bill Wyman

When I was 13 the first person I really admired was Little Richard. I wasn't particularly fond of Elvis or Bill Haley... they were really good but for some reason they didn't appeal to me. I was more into Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and a bit later Buddy Holly.

- Mick Jagger

I was into Little Richard. I was rocking away, avoiding the bicycle chains and the razors in those dance halls. 

- Keith Richards


LARRY WILLIAMS  (1935-1980)

Born in New Orleans, Williams dabbled in many styles - blues, R&B, soul - but he is most well known for his rock and roll classics. When Little Richard quit rock and roll for the ministry, Williams took his spot on the same record label, and using Richard's band he pumped out a number of New Orleans-style classics in the late 1950s and early '60s. The Beatles were especially enamored of Williams, recording many of his songs (Slowdown, Bad Boy, Dizzy Miss Lizzie) and performing others (Bony Maronie, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Just Because) . The Stones recorded Williams' She Said Yeah in 1965.

Written by Ian McPherson, 2000-2017.
Like all files on Time Is On Our Side, it is the exclusive intellectual property
of Ian McPherson and cannot be duplicated, in any form, without his authorization.

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