The Rolling Stones have been satisfying fans for more than 50 years. And as Anthony Mason explains, that most definitely includes the year now coming to an end:
It’s been a busy year for the world’s biggest rock band. The Rolling Stones kicked it off with a tour of Latin America, that ended in March in front of half a million fans in Havana.
So, Mason asked Keith Richards, “how you feeling about the band these days?”
“Band’s rocking, man,” he replied. “They’re really -- no, it’s kind of weird at our age, but it’s getting better.”
In October, the Stones joined a lineup of legends that included Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan and The Who, at the Desert Trip Festival in California.
Jagger described the gig as “very dusty. But it was fun.”
“You were a little wary ahead of time about a concert with --”
“Too many white people!” Jagger laughed. “Well, old white English people!”
“I mean, to have Bob Dylan open up for you, sort of, in a way, ludicrous, you know?” Richards said. “And then of course the second week he gets the Nobel Prize.”
“Now you got a Nobel-winner opening for you,” Mason said.
“Yeah, right. Well, I said, ‘I want mine for chemistry,’ you know?”
They’re ending the year by releasing an unexpected album: “Blue & Lonesome,” a classic blues record, and their first studio album in more than a decade.
And no one was more surprised than the Stones themselves: “None of us would have ever looked each other in the eye and said, ‘Let’s make a blues album,’” Richards said.
“It had to happen on its own?”
“Yeah. And it just happened right there and then.”
It happened at Mark Knopfler’s London studio last December. The Stones had booked session time and started playing some old blues songs just to warm up the room.
It was, Jagger said, “an organic little moment, you could say. And Keith would say, ‘It was meant to be, the stars were aligned.’ And it’s all true.”
“You sort of felt that you were being compelled to do it by some higher being or something,” Richards added.
Over three days, they hit a blues streak and knocked out a dozen songs: “Straight through, live,” Jagger said. “I’ve never done a record like that. I mean, not even in 1963 or whenever it was.”
Mason asked, “When it was done, were you thinking there’s an album here?”
“I just thought, ‘We’ve got a damn load of good tracks here. And maybe it’s gonna end up in the archives or something,’” Richards said. “It took Mick a little while to be persuaded.”
Jagger laughed” I mean, it’s really nice and everything. But who’s gonna buy it? But the record company said, ‘No, we can put it out.’ They wanted to put it out for Christmas, with bells on it!”
“Blue & Lonesome” takes the Rolling Stones back to their roots.
Richards recalled, “We started this band to play music like that. And then of course, things got bigger. And then we started writing ourselves, and it became pop music. But this has always been the basic roots of the band.”
Richards and Jagger bonded over the blues back in 1961 at the Dartford train station, when Richards noticed some albums under Jagger’s arm, what he called “a chat invitation”: “The Best of Muddy Waters,” and “Rockin’ at the Hops” by Chuck Berry.
Richards wrote about the meeting in an April 1962 letter to his aunt. He referred to Jagger as the greatest R&B singer this side of the Atlantic. “And I don’t mean maybe.”
Richards at the time was playing guitar “Chuck-style,” as in Chuck Berry.
Richards and Jagger, who’d both turn 19 that year, began playing Saturday nights at a basement blues club in West London.
Mason asked, “Was that where you started to test your style, if you will?”
“I’d done it before that, actually,” Jagger said. “I used to sing with rock bands when I was 16. And I did stuff, dance around. People liked it! And I went home and didn’t tell my parents what I’d done.”
“What would they have thought if you did?”
“I don’t know. But rock music was for, like, uneducated working class people, so my parents wouldn’t have approved of it.”
“So you didn’t wanna tell ‘em?”
“No. So, blues and folk music had a kind of weird respectability. It’s hard to believe this now, but in those days it was slightly more respectable to play blues and folk music, than it was to play rock music.”
At the Ealing Jazz Club, Jagger and Richards would meet Charlie Watts and Brian Jones. When the new band booked its first gig in July of ‘62, Jones found its name on the back of that “Best of Muddy Waters” LP: Side one, track 5: “Rollin’ Stone.”
The “Rollin’ Stones” were born.
The rest, of course, is rock ‘n’ roll history -- more than half of century of it, now on display in New York at “Exhibitionism,” a collection of Rolling Stones memorabilia that opened last month.
It includes a recreation of the band’s first apartment, a second floor flat at #102 Edith Grove in London’s Chelsea neighborhood. And it actually looks like the original place. “Yeah, it really does,” Jagger said.
“It’s so uncannily accurate that I felt like, ‘I’m home!’” Richards said.
Only Jagger, Richards and Brian Jones lived there. Charlie Watts, Richards noted, “refused to come there.”
They’d live at Edith Grove for less than a year, but it would be the cradle of the Rolling Stones’ sound. “Brian Jones and I used to sit around in that old room just tryin’ to figure out how these guitar players worked their stuff together, their evil magic,” Richards said.
The next year, the Stones would ride the blues classic “Little Red Rooster” to the top of the British charts.
Many of their blues heroes never stopped playing, like Buddy Guy, still performing at age 80. Jagger is now 73. And Richards will match him later this month. But the Rolling Stones somehow seem eternal, their past still present.
Mason asked, “Do you ever run out of things you want to do?”
No, Richards replied, “I just want to see how long the string is.”
“What aspirations do you have for the band?”
“What’s there left?” Jagger laughed. “Well, there are always -- things weirdly present themselves. I mean, there’s a certain thing you have to keep going.”
“But I guess what I am asking is, ‘Do you have to keep going?’”
“No, of course not. I could have stopped 20 years ago. If we wanted.”
“But you’re still going, so...”
“Oh yeah, I am. So I don’t really explain that. It’s not something I analyze. You create a momentum yourself. And then something interesting comes up, which is outside the ordinary. You never know you;re going to play in Cuba for the first time, or make a blues album in three days; they just come up. And it re-invigorates your interest.”
“This never gets old to you?”
“No, no,” Richards said. “It gets more interesting, actually. And as long as I’ve got this solid group of guys around me, I feel immortal for a little while. On stage sometimes, I feel immortal.”
“That’s gotta be a great feeling?”
“Yeah, it is a great feeling. I know I’m blessed. I know that. I’ll come back as a frog.”
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