Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner reflects on 50 years of rock 'n' roll

Rolling Stone's 50-year anniversary

Nearly 50 years ago, Jann Wenner co-founded a small music publication in San Francisco. The rock 'n' roll newspaper was called Rolling Stone. He printed the first edition with $7,500 he raised from friends.

"We hope that we have something here for the artists and the industry, and every person who believes in the magic that can set you free," Wenner wrote in his editor's note in that first edition.

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Wenner Media

That hope translated into success. Rolling Stone has now published more than 1,200 issues. It covers and shapes music, politics and pop culture.

Two of its best-known writers, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, spoke with CBS in 1987 about what makes Rolling Stone so special.

"Rolling Stone has been extremely flexible and willing to take chances and not frightened," Wolfe said.

"With Rolling Stone, I was given, I was given the room and the range to really… you know, to 'stomp on the terra' as Lord Buckley said, and very few places will give you that," Thompson said.

The magazine is celebrating its golden anniversary with a new book, "50 Years of Rolling Stone," which features an introduction by co-founder Jann Wenner.

Wenner joined "CBS This Morning" Tuesday to discuss the magazine's inception, high points such as discovering legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, and the magazine's low point – a retracted story about a campus rape.

"I had no idea of what it would ultimately become. That it would become such a big mainstream publication," Wenner said.

Part of the mission was giving rock 'n' roll a voice.

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First edition of Rolling Stone.  Wenner Media

"At that time, the publications, the few publications that covered music were really teenage, you know, fan magazines," Wenner said. "There was no coverage of rock 'n' roll in The New York Times or the magazines or on television or anywhere," Wenner said.

Rolling Stone scored interviews with legendary artists like Pete Townshend and Mick Jagger in its first year.  

"We wanted to say something about it," Wenner said of rock 'n' roll. "We sort of became a voice of it, you know, and let the groups and artists talk through us and explain themselves to their audience through us."

Wenner says he always knew he wanted photography to be an essential part of the publication. He had no idea when he met Annie Leibovitz that she'd become one of the most important living photographers.

"Now, Annie just wandered into our office on her own and she was a student at San Francisco Art Institute and gave me some pictures she took and we started giving her assignments and she kept coming back better and better and better."

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Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Wenner Media

Leibovitz photographed one of Rolling Stone's most iconic covers – John Lennon embracing Yoko Ono.

Despite the many highs of the storied magazine, a 2014 story about a campus rape that was ultimately found to be untrue is a low point. The story was retracted, and Rolling Stone lost a defamation lawsuit.

"Unfortunately, the example we used turned out to be not true and on that mistake we got hung," Wenner said. 

But according to Wenner, it didn't damage the magazine's relationship with its readers.

Now, Wenner's son is taking over the magazine.

What does he bring that Wenner doesn't? "Youth, energy, all the things that I once brought to it myself."