The Secret Jewish History of The Rolling Stones

Tel Aviv-Bound Band Was First To Use Yiddish in a Top 40 Hit

Ain’t Too Proud To Daven Many of the original members of The Rolling Stones started out with Blues Incorporated, a band led by Jewish blues guitarist named Alexis Korner.
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Ain’t Too Proud To Daven Many of the original members of The Rolling Stones started out with Blues Incorporated, a band led by Jewish blues guitarist named Alexis Korner.

By Seth Rogovoy

Published June 03, 2014, issue of June 13, 2014.
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When the Rolling Stones take the stage at HaYarkon Park in Tel Aviv on June 4, it represents more than just the world’s greatest and longest-running rock band’s first concert in Israel. It also marked one small victory in the war against a rock ’n’ roll boycott of Israel being waged by some English rockers, mostly at the instigation of Roger Waters of Pink Floyd who, despite some very public efforts, couldn’t sway Mick Jagger and Keith Richards against finally making their Holy Land debut.

The Rolling Stones, in fact, have had a long and fruitful collaboration with Jewish artists, friends and associates, and some Jewish themes have even made their way into their music and lyrics.

Like many early British rock bands, The Rolling Stones started out playing American blues. Most of the members of the Stones served their apprenticeship in Blues Incorporated, a band led by blues guitarist Alexis Korner, who was born in Paris to an Austrian Jewish father and a Turkish-Greek mother. Stones founding guitarist Brian Jones, drummer Charlie Watts, and keyboardist Ian Stewart all played with Blues Incorporated, and vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards jammed with the group on a number of occasions, before the five joined forces and formed The Rolling Stones.

Building on the lessons he learned as a protégé of Brian Epstein — the Jewish owner of a record store in Liverpool, who turned that city’s most popular bar band into the international sensation known as The Beatles — Andrew Loog Oldham, also Jewish, soon took over management of The Rolling Stones, reshaped their image, and steered them toward a broader musical palette.

For one, he turned them into the anti-Beatles, giving them a more “dangerous” and rebellious image — longer and unkempt hair, and an overt sense of sexuality and violence. Oldham enlisted the services of photographer Gered Mankowitz — the son of English Jewish screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz — who was responsible for the band’s early album covers and publicity shots. Mankowitz was as responsible as Oldham was for creating the Stones’s bad-boy image, and he was the official tour photographer on the band’s first United States tour in 1965.

Oldham also encouraged The Rolling Stones to cover a wider range of songs than the Chicago blues that they originally favored. Their first American Top 10 hit was a version of “Time Is On My Side,” originally written for Kai Winding by a Philadelphia-born Jewish rhythm and blues songwriter named Jerry Ragovoy (a first cousin once removed to this writer). Oldham also pushed Jagger and Richards toward writing their own songs, à la Lennon and McCartney of The Beatles.


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