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.


  1. June 11, 1964: Chess Studios, Chicago, USA.
    The Rolling Stones: Tell Me Baby (Broonzy) (1:56)
    The Rolling Stones: Reelin' And Rockin' (Berry) (3:40)
    The Rolling Stones: Around And Around (Berry) (3:07)
    The Rolling Stones: Empty Heart (Nanker-Phelge) (2:39)
    The Rolling Stones: If You Need Me (Bateman-Pickett-Strong) (2:05)
    The Rolling Stones: Look What You've Done (Morganfield) (2:19)
    The Rolling Stones: Down In The Bottom (Dixon) (2:46)
    The Rolling Stones: Don't Lie To Me (Berry) (2:00)
    The Rolling Stones: Down The Road Apiece (Raye) (2:56)
    The Rolling Stones: Confessin' The Blues (Brown-McShann) (2:50)
    The Rolling Stones: Hi-Heel Sneakers (Higginbotham) (2:59)
    The Rolling Stones: 2120 South Michigan Avenue (Nanker-Phelge) (3:38)
    Bill Wyman and Keith Richards: Meeting their idols at Chess
    Bill: At Chess Studios in Chicago, Willie Dixon walked in to see us and talked about the scene. So did Buddy Guy. We felt we were like taking part in a little bit of history - after all, those studios were used by Muddy Waters as well as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. We knew pretty well what numbers we wanted to get in the can, like It's All Over Now. And the atmosphere was so marvelous that we got through them in double quick time. Then, on the next day, both Chuck and Muddy came in to see us. Fantastic.

    Keith: I have several memories of Muddy Waters. The weirdest one is when we first went into Chess Studios in 1964, the first time we came here. There's Phil Chess and there's Ron Malo, the engineer, and this guy in white overalls painting the ceiling. As we walked by into the studio, somebody said, oh, by the way, this is Muddy Waters, and he's painting the ceiling. He wasn't selling records at the time, and this is the way he got treated. I'm dying, right? I get to meet The Man - he's my fucking god, right - and he's painting the ceiling! And I'm gonna work in his studios. Ouch! Oh, this is the record business, right? And bless him.

    640611D 11th June: Chicago, Chess Studios. Producer: Andrew Oldham. Sound engineer: Ron Malo. - Tell Me Baby (Broonzy)
    - Reelin' And Rockin' (Berry)
    - Around And Around (Berry)
    - Empty Heart (Nanker-Phelge)
    - If You Need Me (Bateman-Pickett-Strong)
    - Look What You've Done (Morganfield)
    - Down In The Bottom (Dixon)
    - Don’t Lie To Me (Berry)
    - Down The Road Apiece (Raye)
    - Confessin' The Blues (Brown-McShann)
    - Hi-Heel Sneakers (Higginbotham)
    - 2120 South Michigan Avenue (Nanker-Phelge).
    Note: The best memento of this two-day session at the famous Chess Studios is the second Stones EP, Five By Five (released August, 1964). The tracks on this truly R&B inspired record are If You Need Me, Empty Heart, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Confessin’ The Blues and Around And Around. The band also recorded the fourth single, It’s All Over Now, and a couple of tracks that ended up on the second album, The Rolling Stones No.2, namely I Can’t Be Satisfied and Down The Road Apiece.

    Line-up: Mick Jagger (voc, harm, tamb)/Brian Jones (gtr, harm, tamb, bvoc)/Keith Richards (gtr, bvoc)/Ian Stewart (p, org)/Bill Wyman (bass, bvoc)/Charlie Watts (dr).