Bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts joined a star-studded list of guests at the London launch of The Rolling Stones: 50. A free display at the Somerset House opening to the public on Friday, the retrospective photo exhibit (and accompanying book) charts the R&B, blues and soul-inspired rock band's five decades in music, from the group's first official photo shoot to myriad performances at tiny venues to recent massive arena tours.
"It's like walking into an old diary," Richards said of the exhibit after having described the band's career as "an incredible adventure."
The band touts July 12, 1962 as the inaugural Rolling Stones performance, with the group — then comprising Jagger, Richards, Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, Dick Taylor and Tony Chapman — taking the stage of London's influential Marquee Club with a name inspired by a Muddy Waters song.
British-Canadian photographer Barrie Wentzell, who photographed the Stones in London in the early 1960s, said the band had an electric stage presence even then.
"This is the most amazing thing I've ever heard!" he recalled thinking upon first seeing the Stones at a London club called Studio 51.
"They were so into what they were doing. I guess the personality, the individuality, came from that and was expressed in the fashion and the style and the attitude — and there was a lot of attitude!" Wentzell told CBC News on Thursday.
Though first making the music charts with covers of Chuck Berry and other artists, the group soon found its own voice. Hits including Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the Devil, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, You Can't Always Get What You Want, Start Me Up and Wild Horses helped the Stones achieve album sales of more than 200 million copies.
Though membership has fluctuated over the years, the band has outlasted many contemporaries.
"Groups, in those days, and singers didn't really last very long," Jagger, 68, recalled in an interview with the BBC. "They weren't supposed to last. It was supposed to be ephemeral. It was only really Elvis and The Beatles that were the biggest things that ever happened in pop music, that I can remember."
That the Stones have remained together creating music for so many years is among the reasons younger artists continue to look up to them.
"I admire what they've accomplished … They've released some of the finest music from the last century," said Jay Ferguson of Sloan, a Canadian band that has opened for the Stones. "The fact that they’ve gone on so long is inspiring."
Five years since the conclusion of the band's last blockbuster, globe-trotting A Bigger Bang tour, the individual members are now most often engaged in side music and art projects. However, they reunite occasionally for album re-releases, exhibits, films and other efforts that honour their career.
As a testament to the band's continued staying power, co-founder Richards noted on Thursday that the band had recently rehearsed and that the door remains open for a new album and new performances.
"There's things in the works," Richards said in London. "It's definitely happening, but when I can't say yet."