The Rolling Stones: Still The World's Greatest Rock And Roll Band?
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On the same day the Rolling Stones announced they will headline festivals in Belgium and Holland in June, a South by Southwest panel presented by the GRAMMY Museum debated how Mick Jagger, Keith Richards & Co. earned their status as "the world's greatest rock and roll band" — and whether they can still claim it after 50 years.
"It's Only Rock And Roll: 50 Years Of The Rolling Stones," the March 12 panel moderated by GRAMMY Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli, was the third installment in the museum's annual SXSW Musical Milestones series. The GRAMMY Museum will also present a special SXSW showcase featuring artists paying tribute to the Rolling Stones on March 13.
Panelists weighing in on the topic were keyboardist Ian McLagan of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Faces/Small Faces fame; Rolling Stone magazine senior writer David Fricke; former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer; John Doe, co-founder of punk band X; and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Associate Curator Craig Inciardi, who organized that museum's recent Rolling Stones: 50 Years Of Satisfaction exhibit.
Observing that the Rolling Stones' longevity wasn't even imagined early in the group's career, Fricke said, "Nobody talked about age, they just talked about doing it."
Even now, the band wonders why it's an issue, he added. "When you're alive, you do," said Fricke. "As long as you're drawing breath, you should do what matters."
McLagan agreed. Noting his Bump Band plays free gigs every Thursday in Austin, Texas, he said he would never be able to give up playing music.
"What they call a retired musician is a corpse," joked McLagan, who has toured and/or recorded with artists such as the Rolling Stones, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, and Bob Dylan, among others.
Doe was slightly more skeptical, saying that musicians "represent less danger as [they] get older."
Regarding the Stones' initial allure, Kramer said the band's effect on his generation "was like a tsunami." He recalls going to see the 1964 film The T.A.M.I. Show at a Detroit-area drive-in, and being so affected by the Stones and James Brown's performances, he returned the next five nights.
"There was no cynicism yet," said Kramer of the American youth who fell in love with the British rockers. "We weren't hardened. We had the certainty of youth.
"It was very exciting. The way they sounded, the way they looked, the way they dressed. Every generation is looking for their voice, their music, their artists, their clothing styles. The Rolling Stones [were] my generation. I embraced them completely."
Santelli observed, "For a lot of us, it was the first time we got to hear blues." Like many other fans, Santelli traced the composers' names he saw under the Rolling Stones' song titles and learned about the music's origins.
"The real power was that they created their own authenticity," added Fricke. "They actually devised a style that was true to the sources and respectful of the sources. They paid a great service to their inspirations by acknowledging them."
As for the age-old debate about who is better — the Beatles or the Stones — Fricke said he refused to choose, adding he's just happy he's old enough to have experienced the rush of hearing classics such as "Jumpin' Jack Flash" when they were new.
Calling the comparison an apples-and-oranges scenario, Doe said it boiled down to one issue: "Do you want it from your brain or do you want it from your groin?"
(Austin-based writer/editor Lynne Margolis contributes regularly to print, broadcast and online media including American Songwriter and Lone Star Music magazines. Outlets also have included the Christian Science Monitor, Paste, Rollingstone.com and NPR affiliates. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.)