Pleased to meet you: The night Rod Stewart first saw The Rolling Stones

In the 1950s, British record labels saw the market for jazz and blues developing and subsequently started to sell more records of the genre. The result was that by the time it got to the early ‘60s, there had been a British blues boom as the genre continued to gain traction and influence the next wave of musicians. As such, the blues shaped many of the rock bands that would eventually take over the world, including The Rolling Stones.

The leap from the blues to rock is a simple one to make. The latter stemmed from the former in what seemed like quite a natural progression, but that progression required bands affiliated with the blues to play more up-tempo. One of the early pioneers of this movement was Mick Jagger and Co.

Though it’s easy to pigeonhole The Rolling Stones as a band that wrote about sex and drugs and not much else, they were massive pioneers in the development of rock music. Their approach to writing music and performing started in the UK and exploded in America, to the point that they became one of the biggest bands on the planet in no time.

However, because of how interlinked the blues and rock music are, The Rolling Stones did not start simply by making the music they would eventually get famous for. Instead, they were a blues band, playing in small pubs in London, hoping people might give them the time of day. Generally speaking, many of those audiences at the time had little interest in the band, and as audiences watched on, they had a blasé attitude towards the performance. One of these early audience members was none other than Rod Stewart.

“It was a little ballroom in Twickenham, and there were 12 people there,” he said on the Kelly Clarkson show, recalling the first time he saw the Rolling Stones. For most of the set, the band played blues covers and got little to no response from the crowd. The only reason Rod Stewart went in the first place was because a friend of a friend convinced him to, but if it were not for them, there would likely have been one less person at the gig.

“Mick’s girlfriend was a girl called Chrissie Shrimpton, who was the sister of the great model Jean Shrimpton. My girlfriend and his girlfriend were friends, and she said, ‘Come and see my boyfriend, he’s a singer too,’” said Stewart, recalling the moment two would-be cultural giants laid eyes on each other for the first time. “There was literally no one there; they were all sitting on stools playing…”

Despite the gig being a fun story to look back on, the evening itself didn’t particularly leave a massive impact on Stewart. It’s likely because the band weren’t playing their original songs and also weren’t showing off the stage presence that would contribute to their success, but whatever the reason, Stewart, who has been particularly moved by music in the past, didn’t think much of his first Rolling Stones gig. “Then, within six months to a year, bash, that was it, they took off.”

The blues have influenced the majority of early British rock bands, so it’s not a surprise to hear that The Rolling Stones were performing the blues before they made it big. What is surprising is how blasé Stewart was about the gig, especially given the band was so close to making it big.

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