I have been wanting to make this album for years. Stu was a massive influence and part of the reason I took up piano. As well as seeing him play when I was about 9, when I eventually took up the piano after his death I used his collection of video footage to learn piano. He had hours of footage of people like Albert Ammons, Lionel Hampton, Louis Jordon, etc. This was a big help to me as at this time living in Dorset it was quite hard to get hold of this material. I eventually took up the piano after Fats Domino's 60th birthday party came on TV with Fats, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis, I thought it was amazing. Ronnie Wood was on guitar with Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis, I never thought all these years later I would be playing on an album with him.
I started playing piano in pubs around Dorset and when I managed to get up to a reasonable standard I had a phone call from Willie Garnet, sax player with Rocket 88. He asked me to come and play with the band, I obviously jumped at the chance with excitement. It was an honour to be playing in my mentor’s band, but also a bit nerve wracking. I spent ages learning how he played piano as I didn't want to let them down. Stu had a really unique style and timing, it was a bit tricky but after a while I could do a reasonable emulation of him. I think this was very valuable to my piano playing, if you’re going to study anybody in this style.
When I decided to make this album for Stu I hadn't got any big plans and just wanted to say thanks to him. It felt wrong making money out of such a project so I decided to give the money to the British Heart Foundation. I then booked my friend’s studio in Weymouth to embark on my solo tribute album.
I wasn't prepared for what happened next. I told Charlie Watts what was happening and he thought it was a great idea and offered to play on it. This changed things a lot! I could no longer go into the small Dorset studio, because if there was now a drummer I needed a bass player, so I asked Charlie's oldest friend and jazz stalwart Dave Green who also was very keen to play. I then thought that as we now had a rhythm section it would be nice to do some of the tunes Stu and I did with Rockett 88,so I got in touch with Willy Garnet and Don Weller and asked them down. Again they were over the moon to be involved. This led to a slight problem though. We now needed a big studio and as I was funding this myself we needed a big studio on a budget! I phoned Jools Holland and asked if we could hire his studio, he said NO but we could have it for free and said he would also like to play on the album. He had met Stu a few times and really struck up a good friendship, they both loved Jimmy Yancey (hence Jools’ choice of song on the album). Jools wanted to be there for Stu as well.
The next day I phoned Sherry Daly ( my friend and executive producer of the album) to tell her what had transpired. She was sitting with Ronnie Wood and she in turn told Ronnie what was happening. I heard a voice in the background saying "You don't want guitar on there too do ya? Stu was my best mate!"
So everything was set, we went into Helicon Mountain (Jools’ studio) and did 2 days of recording of stuff we thought Stu would have liked. We had a great time - it was a party like atmosphere and everyone regaled me with stories of Stu.
I was really pleased with the results and was preparing to get the album mixed and mastered. I then popped into the Stones office to let Sherry hear what we had done. She then mentioned that as I was doing a tribute to the Rolling Stones piano player and half the Rolling Stones were on it that we should let the other guys know what I had been doing out of courtesy, because they might want to write something on the cover. So I sent a note to Mick, Keith and Bill, they all came back and said "We would love to play on it!"
Next thing I found myself on a plane to New York heading to One East to record with Keith. We went into the studio had a jam, talked about Stu and then he put his guitar onto 3 existing tracks. He told me that there were only two people in the world that he has never heard a bad word about - Stu and Charlie Watts
I Then e-mailed "Watching the River Flow" to Mick in France. He got the track, sang his part and it was e mailed back to me within the hour. His vocals sound amazing and to think he must have done it all in one take! I really feel it must be one of his best ever vocals.
The next person to offer her services was my cousin PJ Harvey. It was Polly's mum and dad, my aunt and uncle, who were friends with Stu. Polly was used to Stu staying with all of Rocket 88 and people like Willy Garnet, or Olaf Vass would teach her saxophone. She wanted to play to say thanks to Stu too. Eva and Ray (Polly's parents) still have Stu's upright piano so we thought we should do a track on that. We set up a studio in their living room and recorded one afternoon in a very relaxed fashion, if you listen carefully you might be able to hear Eva making soup in the back groundinitial session, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Having said that though Bill did such a good job that you couldn't tell that he wasn't there in the first place.
Bill Wyman was the last musician to add to the pot. It’s a bit strange for a bass player to come and overdub a part that has already been done, but we never knew the album was going to take on a life of its own and everyone was going to play on it. Had I known I could have asked Bill down for the
My next problem was now I had a full on album with some of the best musicians in the world on it and I thought that I didn't want to just mix it myself and stick it out, so I went to the top and asked Glyn Johns if he would be up for mixing it. Glyn said he wouldn't miss it for the world and he wouldn't take a penny for doing it. He shared a house with Stu and it was important for him to do it. Glyn was fantastic and made it sound big and rich, he was really important to this CD!
Last but not least Sir Peter Blake who is friendly with many people on this CD was approached by a friend of mine to ask if he would help out and design the cover. He is a big Stones fan and saw them many times in the early days and knew of Stu. He said he would be delighted to help because of Stu and because it was helping the Heart Foundation
It’s taken over a year, I have learned a lot, but most of all it’s been great to see how much love and respect there still is for Ian Stewart