Born in 1938 in the Scottish town of Pittenweem, in Fife, Ian Stewart was working as a shipping clerk at a London chemical company when he responded to a newspaper advertisement for R&B musicians.
It had been placed by Brian Jones.
Together Stewart and Jones formed the nucleus of The Rolling Stones, but by June 1963, the band’s flamboyant manager Andrew Loog Oldham decided Stewart’s burly, square-jawed features did not fit the Stones’ racy outlaw image.
Stu, as he was commonly called, then became the band’s road manager, continuing to play piano on tour and in the studio for 23 years.
He also took over management of the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio.
Stewart steered clear of drugs and was only a moderate drinker. His passions were golf, scuba diving, British history and old steam trains. He was also an avid jazz and blues enthusiast, heavily influenced by pianists like Professor Longhair, Fats Domino and Count Basie.
Although he never enjoyed the international celebrity accorded The Rolling Stones, Stewart was not unhappy with his role outside the band. Bill Wyman recalled sitting backstage at New York’s Madison Square Garden during the Stones’ 1975 tour while the upper crust of New York society (including Truman Capote) fawned over the band in their dressing room. Suddenly Stewart walked in, turned to the Stones and said, “All right, my little shower of shit – you’re on.”
“He always used to call us things like ‘My little three-chord wonders,’ said Wyman. “But we’d never go on stage until Ian Stewart said it was time to go on”.
Stewart died of a heart attack in London on 12 December 1985. The 47-year-old was sitting in the waiting room of his doctor’s office, where he was about to undergo a check-up for an old lung complaint when he suffered the heart attack. He died almost instantly.
A funeral service was held on 20 December, attended only by family members and close friends, including the five members of The Rolling Stones. “I’m going to miss him a lot,” Mick Jagger said of Stewart, who was frequently called the Sixth Stone.
“He really helped this band swing, on numbers like Honky Tonk Women and loads of others. Stu was the one guy we tried to please. We wanted his approval when we were writing or rehearsing a song. We’d want him to like it.”