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.