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Ben Waters - Boogie for Stu – A Tribute to Ian Stewart

Eagle Records

11 tracks/42:10

Some of you may be wondering who Ian Stewart is – and why he deserves a tribute album. Stewart passed away in 1985, so the years have dimmed the light on his contributions. Often referred to as the “sixth Rolling Stone”, Stewart was an original member of the legendary band before stepping to the sidelines as the group's road manager. But he continued to add his distinctive piano playing to recordings like Aftermath and Let it Bleed in addition to the band's live shows. Stewart also played piano on Howlin' Wolf's London sessions and recorded with Led Zeppelin.

Stewart loved the boogie woogie style of piano playing. When he wasn't touring with the Stones, he played with Rocket 88, a British band that featured a formidable horn section. Ben Waters was nine years old when he saw Stewart playing live. Water's decided to learn to play piano after Stewart's death, using Stewart's video collection of great players like Albert Ammons as inspiration. Eventually Waters was invited to join Rocket 88 to fill the chair that once belonged to his mentor.

Waters decided to do this project as a fundraiser for the British Heart Foundation. When he mentioned the project to Charlie Watts, the Stones drummer quickly agreed to participate. As word spread, all of the Stones jumped on board.. Before long, Water's had the free use of Jools Holland's recording studio and the famous producer Glyn Johns also offered his services at no charge.

The disc opens with Waters showing off his keyboard skills on a vigorous run-through of Ammons' “Boogie Woogie Stomp”. Next up is a romping take on Amos Milburn's “Rooming House Boogie” with Keith Richards on guitar and Bill Wyman on bass plus Derek Nash and Clive Ashley on sax. The pace slows on “Worried Life Blues” with Richards worn vocal fitting the tune while Ronnie Woods adds some biting slide guitar. Waters plays some nice piano fills while Holland spices up the arrangement on the organ. The title track is a Waters original featuring the leader and Holland on piano with Watts laying down a swinging beat behind the dueling saxes of Willy Garnet and Don Wellor, both veterans of Rocket 88.

Mick Jagger sounds like he had a fine time laying down the vocal on Dylan's “Watching the River Flow”, backed by the rest of the Stones plus Waters on piano. The track has an extended closing segment with Jagger blowing some harp while Holland wails on the organ. Other highlights include another Ammons tune, “Suitcase Blues”, with great unaccompanied playing from Waters and an exciting rendition of “Roll 'Em Pete” with Hamish Maxwelll on vocal backed by the Stones rhythm section and more dazzling piano from Waters. Stewart and Holland shared an affinity for the work of the legendary Jimmy Yancey. They cover his “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” with Holland delivering a heartfelt vocal and playing the piano while Waters switched to the organ. The only track that misses the mark is “Lonely Avenue”, hampered by a whispered vocal from P.J. Harvey. Waters plays Stewart's old upright piano on the cut.

The disc closes with a live recording from the 1984 Monteux Jazz Festival with Stewart playing with Rocket 88 on a hard-charging version of “Bring it on Home to Me”. The horn section gets a chance to strut their stuff before the spotlight shifts to Stewart's dazzling piano playing. It serves as a fitting close to the tribute and illustrates how well Waters incorporated the lessons learned from Stewart into his own style. It's not often that an entire band of rock-n-roll legends volunteers to take part in a tribute project. The fact that all of the Rolling Stones are on board for this one makes it a noteworthy recording. Better yet, Waters and all of his cohorts have captured the true spirit of Ian Stewart's musical world in this potent collection. Definitely worth a listen!

Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.

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