On the few occasions he’s frequented bars in Aggieville, Robert Stokes is always pleased to find that many of the songs he loved in his youth live on in the jukeboxes that cater to a younger crowd.
The civil engineering professor is a baby boomer, part of a generation that was defined by ideas of change and revolution. The music that both influenced and took inspiration from that post-war cultural shift is something Stokes remembers fondly.
Stokes’ love for rock ’n’ roll and its blues foundations is evident in the memorabilia and instruments in his Fiedler Hall office. An autographed picture of Chuck Berry hangs next to a concert poster for the Rolling Stones’ first U.S. tour in 1965, the first time Stokes heard the band in concert.
One of Stokes’ favorite pieces is a framed 1960s photo of guitarist Brian Jones, a founding member of the Rolling Stones. Jones’ head is turned, his expression earnest under his moptop hairstyle, as he plays a white tear-drop Vox guitar.
"When I was younger, I always thought that if I had a guitar like that, my life would be complete," Stokes said with a chuckle. Growing up in Ohio, he played guitar in a garage band.
Years later, still a fan, Stokes purchased a Brian Jones autograph online; it’s displayed below the picture.
"I like to think it’s his signature, but it could be Brian Jones the football player," Stokes joked.
When asked to name his favorite Rolling Stones album, Stokes doesn’t hesitate to name "12 by 5," an album released in 1964 that showcased the band’s blues roots.
"I’ve always loved the blues," Stokes said. "It’s just basic, heart-felt music. The simplicity of it is appealing. While it may have simple chord structures, it’s only good if someone plays it with feeling, really puts their heart into it."
Stokes particularly enjoys Chicago-style blues (think Muddy Waters or the Paul Butterfield Blues Band), which is characterized by electric guitar stylings and usually has a drummer, bassist, guitarist, vocalist and sometimes a harmonica player or slide guitarist.
This love of music led Stokes into his other hobby: restoring guitars. Although he doesn’t display any of the retooled guitars in his office, Stokes does display a tiny homage to guitar innovator Les Paul.
Matted in a frame is a guitar pick used by Paul, along with an autograph that a former student got at a Paul performance.
"A lot of the stuff is given to me, since people know I collect this kind of memorabilia," Stokes said.
Although Stokes didn’t attend Woodstock, he does display a ticket next to his framed doctoral degree from Texas A&M. University. Cost of admission to the famous fest: $8.
But Stokes has seen many of the performers from that era. He can remember seeing Bob Dylan soon after the artist had switched to an electric sound.
"He was booed off the stage," Stokes said. "He played two sets, and the first one was acoustic, so people enjoyed it. But for the second set he played electric. People started leaving, booing and calling him a ‘sellout.’ He just politely thanked the crowd and ended the show."
Stokes saw Jimi Hendrix during the musician’s brief career.
"You knew that you were seeing someone who never played the guitar like that before," Stokes said.
Why does Stokes think that so much of the music from his generation has withstood the test of time?
"It was homemade music, simple enough music that anyone could to it," he said. "And it’s just good music that speaks to universal concepts."