In Chicago, the Stones’ history rolls deep

This weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)


By Dave Wischnowsky

The Rolling Stones may have grown out of London.

But it’s in Chicago where their roots actually lie.

Back in 1960, former childhood pals and classmates Keith Richards and Mick Jagger bumped into each other at a railway station in Dartford, Kent. In his hand, the teenaged Jagger was clutching a collection of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, which revealed to Richards a mutual interest and, in turn, sparked a budding musical partnership.

Over the next two years, the pair went on to meet a handful of like-minded young musicians in London, and in 1962 formed an R&B band dedicated to playing the Chicago blues. Of particular interest was the gritty urban brand of the genre promoted by Chicagoan Muddy Waters, the legendary Chess Records artist who wrote the song “Rollin’ Stone.”

According to Richards, Brian Jones – the guitarist who he and Jagger had linked up with in London – christened the band in June 1962 when a reporter from Jazz News asked during a phone interview what the fledgling group was calling itself. Pondering that question, Jones spotted a Muddy Waters LP lying on the floor in front of him and told the reporter that the band was named “The Rolling Stones.”

The rest, as they say, is history – as well as the present.

On Monday night at the United Center, I was in attendance for the third and final Chicago show of the Stones’ “50 and Counting Tour.” Midway through the concert, the ageless Jagger told the crowd, “I want to thank you for coming for so many years. We’ve been coming here since 1965.”

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Caro, the Stones actually first played in Chicago in late 1964 at the Arie Crown Theater. By that time, however, they’d already recorded at the Chess Studios, whose address was immortalized by the Stones’ instrumental song, “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” that the band recorded in Chicago during that first U.S. tour.

For a Tribune story on Wednesday, Caro asked whether Monday’s concert at the UC closed the book on the Stones’ long history in Chicago, providing fans opportunity to say “I was there” for the rest of their lives.

“I think it is history,” 22-year-old Nick Harrison of Chicago’s Western suburbs said. “It’s their last show in Chicago.”

If that indeed is the case – or even if it isn’t – I’m glad that I got the opportunity to see the Rolling Stones perform at what remarkably remains near the peak of their considerable musical powers despite all their wear and tear . A friend of mine who attended the Rolling Stones’ concert at Soldier Field in 1997 said Monday night’s show at the UC was even better.

And while time may no longer be on the Rolling Stones’ side, Jagger’s energy certainly is even as he approaches 70. Watching him shimmy his skinny hips, march his way about the stage and belt out song after song for more than two hours exhausted both my fiancée and me.

And we were just standing there.

Not to mention about half Mick’s age.

A few months before the Stones’ first Chicago show, the Beatles made their inaugural appearance in the Windy City on Sept. 5, 1964, after which the Chicago Tribune quoted a pair of mothers whose daughters had attended.

“I feel sorry for them,” one said.

“Who do you mean,” the second responded, “the Beatles or the girls?”

“The Beatles,” replied the first. “What will happen to them when all this adulation has passed them by?”

For the Beatles, that question has never been answered.

The Rolling Stones haven’t found out, either.

Considering their vitality at 50 and counting, perhaps they never will.