Blues Music and The Rolling Stones

Muddy Waters once said in regards to the Rolling Stones, “They stole my music but they gave me my name.” The Rolling Stones have been critically appraised and at times, condemned for their unapologetic reproduction of blues music as well as the explicit influence blues has had on their own chart topping songs.

As a young British band, The Rolling Stones understanding of southern culture was different from that of white teenagers growing up in American during the 1960’s. Having been completely infatuated with the blues musicians they heard from the United States, the Stones may have had an idealized image of what being an African American was truly like in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Naming themselves after a Muddy Waters song, the Rolling Stones played almost exclusively blues covers until 1965. Mick Jagger was quoted in ’63 stating, “Can you imagine a British composed R&B song? It just wouldn’t make it.” The group was harshly criticized in 1965 by black poet Leroi Jones, “What is the difference between Beatles, Stones etc. and Minstrelsy? Minstrels never convinced anybody they were black, either.”

In light of this criticism, in 1965 the Rolling Stones all but demanded Howlin’ Wolf, legendary blue guitarist, join them on the television program Shindig. This performance subsequently exposed him to millions of Americans who otherwise, because of his race, may have never known his name.

Alongside several British groups, the Rolling Stones have been viewed as responsible for the resurrection of many black blues musicians in the 1960’s. Before this time it had been reported that Muddy Waters, one the Stones major influences, had been reduced to painting Chess Records when the Rolling Stones arrived there to record. This sad truth alludes to the harsh reality of racial segregation and oppression that many, if not all, black musicians and black people under took during this time in history.

When Keith Richards inducted Chuck Berry into the Rock N’ Roll hall of Fame he said, “I lifted every lick he ever played.” The Rolling Stones have consistently throughout the longevity of their career payed tribute and credited black blues musicians for their sound. This admiration created a platform for these often underappreciated artist to gain recognition for the music that they created and the impression they left on the musicians following in their wake.

It is understandably frustrating that a white band often gained greater success, income, and notoriety than the outstanding musicians that originally produced the music for this historically black genre of music. Though the truth of this matter is heartrendingly unfortunate, this does allude to music’s magical ability to transcend race and reach people around the world. The Rolling Stones bravely embraced and supported a culture different from their own during a time when it was out of the ordinary to do so and because of this we can all continue to pass on the astounding music originally produced by black blues musicians.

–Victoria Shaffer

Einav, Dan. “Did The Rolling Stones Steal The Blues?” HuffPost UK. The Huffington Post, 07 Dec. 2016. Web. 26 July 2017.
 Maycock, James. “Music: White Men Sing the Blues.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 03 June 1999. Web. 26 July 2017.

13 thoughts on “Blues Music and The Rolling Stones

  1. Great article! As a native Chicagoan and a huge (I mean HUGE!!!) fan of the Rolling Stones and Chicago Blues, this is a subject dear to my heart. While the Stones did hijack a lot of Black American music, they made it their own in a very unique way — and most of their greatest hits were their own (blues influenced) compositions. Today (July 26th) was Mick Jagger’s birthday too, so your timing is perfect! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. His birthday is what inspired my Stones driven topic! I have tremendous amounts of respect for them and their continuous praise towards the blues visionary’s before them. I feel that the Rolling Stones bridged a gap that not many, if any, had done before them. I also love hearing a Chicagoan’s impression about the blues! Thank you for your continued input! Keep it rockin’ up there in the windy city 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are very proud of our Blues roots! When the Stones come to town, they are known to slip into Blues clubs unannounced, in the late hours, to do some impromptu jamming. I have never witnessed such (not yet!) but I know people who have. Anyway, great music and great blog! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice! I feel pretty fortunate to have seen the Stones multiple times (here is a stub from a close encounter with Mick:

    Also got to see Chuck Berry with Donovan for free:

    But best of all, got to see Muddy Waters’ final performance, when he came out as a surprise guest at an Eric Clapton show:

    Thanks so much for bringing back all the great rock and roll memories. Keep the posts rollin!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a long history of white musicians taking African American music, and garnering most the money. Elvis, the Beatles, back to Benny Goodman. Nearly all the British groups idolized the great Black musicians. Same story in the. Jazz world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great piece. I heard an interview by the son of the founder of Chess Records in Chicago. Muddy Waters and Etta James’ label. His father knew the Stones and was supportive. The Stones best album in my view was recorded at Staxx records in Memphis – Honky Tonk Woman remains a favorite.

    Being a southerner, white radio stations would not play African-American musicians. Johnny Rivers made a lot of money covering their songs. Beach music became intoxicating as the stations’ signal from up north could be heard down the coast in Myrtle Beach.

    As a result, the British Invasion including the Stones introduced White Americans to the music style made in the US by African-Americans. The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwoof all www influenced by African-American performers.

    Thanks for the reminder of this important history lesson. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love Muddy Waters’ performance in The Last Waltz. According to Levon Helm’s memoir (This Wheel’s On Fire), he had to fight to include Muddy in the final lineup, and that was 10+ years after the Stones demanded that Howlin’ Wolf perform with them on Shindig. Today America is faced with yet another demonstration of racism and hate, and racial and ethnic strife continue around the world. Makes me wonder if we’re doomed to repeat history for eternity.

    Nevertheless, no one can argue with “music’s magical ability to transcend race and reach people around the world.” It (music) may not be able to solve the problem, but it sure can keep the issue at the forefront and keep the dialog going. Great article. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Though the war against racism is far from over, (at times, seemingly worse) I find solitude in the fact that the Rolling Stones were able to idolized these musicians, who were different from themselves, during a time when it was unpopular to do so. It gives me hope. Thank you for you kind words and input! Have a great day! 🙂


  6. This is an excellent article. Blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker might still be laboring in semi-obscurity had bands like The Rolling Stones, the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, and The Yardbirds not popularized their music and told their audiences where the music came from. I grew up in Chicago and had no idea until I was in high school that so much of the music that I liked came from bars on the South and West Sides.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I am honored you enjoyed my article. Though a tough subject to breach, I find it incredibly important and necessary to recognize the roots of the music so many people love and to commend the individuals that celebrated the musicians it came from. Have a great day!


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