Phil Capone looks at the influential Brit R&B guitar syles of The Rolling Stones.
Famed for their longevity, incredible back catalogue, and Keith Richards’ ability to confound medical science, The Rolling Stones’ roots go back over half a century, to the birth of British R&B. Formed in 1962, the original line-up featured Mick Jagger (vocals, harmonica), Keith Richards (guitar), Brian Jones (guitar, harmonica), Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums), and Ian Stewart (piano). Stewart was soon ‘sacked’ by manager Andrew Loog Oldham because he didn’t fit the band’s young, bohemian image, but he remained as the group’s road manager and continued performing and recording with The Stones until his death in 1985.
Until Jones’ own untimely demise in 1969, he and Richards were the guitar dream team; the cutting edge of the new and exciting R&B sound. Keith has often cited that this was the period when ‘the ancient art of weaving’ (ie two interlocking rhythm guitar parts) began.
Richards’ primary soloing influence was Chuck Berry, and that double-stop style remains part of his sound to this day. Keith was also enamoured by Chicago bluesmen such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and Bo Diddley, and from these he
Until Brian Jones’ untimely demise in 1969, he and Keith were the guitar dream team; the cutting edge of the new and exciting R&B sound.
learnt the importance of riffs and groove. During the early years, Keith played in standard tuning; his experiments with open tunings did not begin until 1967. His raw and bluesy style was pivotal in defining British R&B; in the decades that followed, he ignored changing musical fashions, refining his style into what would ultimately become one of the most instantly recognisable in rock ’n’ roll.
Jones was a gifted multi-instrumentalist who could pick up anything and play it. This is evident by the wealth of instruments he used on Stones records, including sitar, harmonica, recorder, marimba, harpsichord, saxophone, trumpet, mellotron, and autoharp. Brian played six- and 12-string electric, acoustic, and, most importantly, slide guitar (often in open tunings). He is reputed to have been the first on the British scene to play slide. Back in 62, most people didn’t even have TV. So when Brian first appeared in London clubs wielding his bottleneck, audiences must’ve gaped in awe! Brian’s influences, too, were drawn from American R&B. His hard-riffing style was authoritative and grooving, always complementing whatever Keith played.
During their early years, The Stones performed and recorded covers of their favourite R&B artists, such as Come On (Chuck Berry), Little Red Rooster (Willie Dixon), and Route 66 (an R&B standard). In the mid-60s, they experimented with other styles including Motown (listen to Keith playing backbeat ‘chips’ on Out Of Time) and psychedelic rock (2000 Light Years From Home). But only when they returned to their R&B roots at the end of the decade, with songs like Honky Tonk Women and Street Fighting Man, was the ‘Stones sound’ fully realised. By this time, Richards was using open-G tuning almost exclusively, and the British R&B legends’ evolution was complete.
Brian with his Gretsch Double Anniversary; Keith is playing an Epiphone Casino