Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sleepy City

While the Rolling Stones continued to build a huge live reputation (at home and abroad) and at the same time became more confident in the studio, manager Andrew Oldham occasionally took them away from their blues and R&B roots, and recruited members of the band, including Stu, for his own Andrew Oldham Orchestra. As mentioned before, there was no actual orchestra per se. The orchestra's name was applied to recordings made by Oldham using a multitude of session musicians, including members of the Stones.

Oldham's idea of capitalizing on the Stones' success by issuing some 'experimental' Jagger-Richards compositions to unsespecting artists was not exactly a commercial success. During the so-called 'Sleepy City' sessions at Regent Sound Studios and Decca Sound Studios, London (June 29-July 7, 1964) recordings were made for the Rolling Stones, the Andrew Oldham Orchestra and Marianne Faithfull. With Andrew Oldham producing, several tracks were laid down by a basic group comprising of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ian Stewart, with additional session musicians like guitarists Jimmy Page, Big Jim Sullivan and John McLaughlin helping out.

One Jagger-Richards track, (Walkin' Thru The) Sleepy City, was given to British band The Mighty Avengers. Predictably it flopped. The Stones' own version of the song is ruined by being over-produced. Simplicity, as they would soon learn, was the key to success. Of course one wonders if Stu felt comfortable with his piano playing on the Orchestra tracks. I don't know, but I doubt it.

Adapted from the following source: Martin Elliott, The Rolling Stones. Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2002, Cherry Red Books, 2002.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Time Is On My Side

During their first US tour the Rolling Stones bumped into Irma Thomas' cover version of the Jerry Ragovoy (alias Norman Meade) song "Time Is On My Side", and the band decided to record the song themselves. Right after the tour (June 24-26, 1964) they returned to Regent Sound Studios, London, to give it a first try. The song was destined to be an American single and it appeared on the second USA album "12x5".

Ironically the same song, recorded later in the year at Chess Studios in Chicago, was set for inclusion on the Stones' second UK album, a true transatlantic mix-up. The difference is that the UK recorded version has a full organ introduction and a more pronounced tambourine, while the Chess version has a guitar introduction, and stinging guitar throughout, a mark of the band's improving powers of interpretation.

"Time Is On My Side" is a worthy ballad, poignant in context, and given the full Stones' treatment. The band once again had accomplished the feat of transposing a song into a Stones' original, just as they had done with Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away". Ian Stewart supplies the gospel-type organ.

Adapted from the following sources:
Martin Elliott, The Rolling Stones. Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2002, Cherry Red Records, 2002.
James Hector, The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones, Omnibus Press, 1995.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Recording At Chess Studios: Five By Five

Perhaps the best memento of the two-day session at Chess Studios is the second Stones EP, "Five By Five" (released August 1964). As the title suggests, this truly R&B record contains five tracks: 'If You Need Me', 'Empty Heart', '2120 South Michigan Avenue', 'Confessin' The Blues', and Chuck Berry's 'Around And Around'. During the sessions the band also recorded their fourth single, 'It's All Over Now', and a couple of tracks that ended up on their second album, "The Rolling Stones No. 2".

In his book The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones James Hector presents a track-by-track review of the "Five By Five" EP. With engineer Ron Malo at the controls and many other legendary hands to shake, the group finally fullfilled a dream. Awestruck? It didn't show.

On 'If You Need Me' (Pickett-Bateman-Sanders) the band dispensed with the horns favoured by Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke, both of whom covered the song in 1963, but there was no mistaking the song's deep gospel origins, helped along by Ian Stewarts's organ playing.

'Empty Heart' (Nanker Phelge), recorded on the second day of the band's intensive sessions at Chess, was passable R&B, with some impressive harmonica playing by Brian Jones. Basically a jam hinging on a funky R&B bassline, '2120 South Michigan Avenue' (Nanker Phelge) was a musical tribute to Chess Studios - the title was simply the blues Mecca's full adress. Once again, Jones took the lead with some blueswailing harmonica, with some strong competition from Ian Stewart on organ.

Originally an early Forties swing jazz number by pianist Jay McShann and vocalist Walter Brown, 'Confessin' The Blues' was overhauled by Chuck Berry in 1960, from which the Stones took their cue. Having played it regularly since their July 1962 live d├ębut, the band were confident with their arrangement, and it showed.

Back in April 1962, a bed room band named Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys - featuring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and future Pretty Thing Dick Taylor - posted a tape to Alexis Korner. It included a version of Chuck Berry's 'Around And Around'. Little over two years later, the two first-named were recording at Chess in the presence of Berry himself. Eager to impress the assembled Godheads, the Rolling Stones turned in a tight, near-flawless performance, as Richards revealed himself as a master of Berry's technique. Stu's piano fills lent greater authenticity to the demonstration of R&B, London-style.

Source: James Hector, The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones, Omnibus Press, 1995.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Recording at Chess Studios: Stewed And Keefed

One year after Andrew Oldham forced him to step back from the band's basic line-up, Ian Stewart joined the Rolling Stones during their first US tour (June 5-20, 1964). The tour was timed to coincide with the release of their first US album and was promotional in purpose. But the band lacked hit material, and therefore the tour wasn't a great success, although it did include a highlight, as Martin Elliott recalls:

For the previous six months, the Stones had been trying to emulate the American blues and soul sound. They had played hundreds of gigs and the BBC radio sessions had also tightened and fused their sound. It was all to culminate when they were to realize an ambition and actually record at the renowned Leonard Chess Studios, previously used by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Etta James and Chuck Berry.

In fact the Stones were one of the first white acts to be recorded at Chess. The band were in their element with engineer Ron Malo at the controls and were not over-awed by the occasion. During a two-day session (June 10-11) the band recorded some 15 tracks. Stu played piano and organ on many of those tracks, thereby underpinning his ever valuable role in the musical output of the band. The first Chicago session was to produce a number of unreleased tracks, of which "Stewed and Keefed" was one.

It's an instrumental track which features two duelling instrumentalists, bar room shuffling Ian Stewart and the lazy blues guitar of Keith Richards. Like the Mississippi the track meanders inexorably to the blues delta. "Stewed And Keefed" is undoubtedly a worthy jam track, typical of the laid-back ambience achieved at Chess.

Adapted from the following source:
Martin Elliott, The Rolling Stones. Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2002, Cherry Red Books, 2002.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


After their third UK tour the Rolling Stones continued their hectic touring schedule, including a performance in Montreux (Golden Rose International TV Awards), the first time the band had gone abroad to play! During March, April and May, 1964 the band also recorded some UK radio sessions (BBC's 'Saturday Club', 'Blues In Rhythm', and 'The Joe Loss Pop Show'). As usual Ian Stewart didn't play during these sessions, with the exception of the May 25 show, where he played organ on "You Can Make If You Try".

In the meantime the Rolling Stones had become central figures in London's and British blues and R&B scene. But who knew who, and who played with whom? In his book Stone Alone, Bill Wyman confused everybody by stating that "the sixties were a great period for impromptu jam sessions as well as mass-hysteria concerts. Stu and I went on 6 May to Eel Pie Island and got onstage and had a jam session, with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitars, Stu on piano, myself on bass, Stu's friends Wint on drums and Knocker on harmonica. As we had no singer, everyone had a go at singing. I sang three or four songs. Stu said: "Nobody knew we were going, and we had a marvellous evening, just playing the sort of music we all like".

Who are Wint and Knocker, and did this jam session really take place? Just to add to the confusion: somewhere in 1965 Bill and Stu once again jammed with Jimmy Page, this time around accompanied by Eric Clapton, Chris Winters (Wint?) and Mick Jagger (credited as Knocker!). Is it very likely that Bill Wyman didn't recognize his bandmate in the first place? Who's who and when's when...anybody?

Source: Bill Wyman, Stone Alone, Penguin Books, 1991.