Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stu on stage

October 17, 1969 the Rolling Stones and their entourage - including aide Ian Stewart and engineer Glyn Johns - flew from London to Los Angeles to prepare for their first US tour (November 7-30) since 1966. During their stay in Los Angeles the Stones spent time at Elektra Studio and Sunset Recorders to complete tracks for their upcoming album "Let It Bleed". Jimmy Miller and Glyn Johns assisted with the sessions, just as they did back in London.

Then rehearsals for the US tour moved to a soundstage at Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank. There the band worked out a polished yet raw selection of instantly identifiable Rolling Stones numbers. The only concession to the old days were two Chuck Berry numbers, 'Carol' and 'Little Queenie', while three blues numbers were featured regularly - Robert Johnson's electric 'Love In Vain' plus an acoustic interlude featuring Mississippi Fred McDowell's 'You Gotta Move' and Robert Wilkins' 'Prodigal Son'.

The rest of the numbers were Jagger-Richards songs. Besides Ian Stewart coming on stage (though not really visible to the audience) to play piano on 'Carol' and 'Little Queenie' (and sometimes 'Honky Tonk Women') there were no auxiliary musicians beyond the Stones' basic band.

Adapted from the following source: Christopher Hjort, Strange Brew. Eric Clapton & The British Blues Boom, Jawbone, 2007.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Recordings: an insider's view

In August 1969 New Musical Express relays reports on the Rolling Stones' plans for the autumn. At first, a visit to North America (Sunset Sound Studios and Elektra Studios, Los Angeles) is booked to mix and overdub songs for the upcoming "Let It Bleed" album. From February on, the Stones had been working on some 15 new tracks, rehearsing at Bermondsey and recording at Olympic Sound Studios. As Christopher Hjort recalls:

The Stones have recently updated their rehearsal place-cum-studio in Bermondsey, east London, installing an 8-track Ampex tape recorder, a Hammond C3-organ, drums, amps, and various instruments. Trusted Stones aide Ian Stewart is in charge and shows Rick Sanders of Beat Instrumental around the premises. He explains that the rehearsal space is rented out to other groups such as the Spencer Davis Group, Noel Redding's Fat Mattress, and Faces.

Discussing the Stones' new album, Stewart tells Sanders: "They've been working at it on and off from February, rehearsing here, recording at Olympic, and it's now finished as far as we're concerned, except for some of Mick's singing. The reason it took so long was that it was simply a case of taking studio time when it was available. They've got plenty of good songs written, so it's not a problem waiting for that. The record is really great.

The numbers are much stronger and the playing is better, and all the group were really enthusiastic about making it. Sometimes in the past, if one of the group wasn't needed at a particular session, he wouldn't come. On this one, everyone was there nearly all the time, even on the mixing sessions". Stu then provided an interesting insight into the Stones' recording methods. "Producer Jimmy Miller is more a link man between the group and the engineers (Glyn John, George Chkiantz and Vic Smith) in the control room, and he's great".

Stewart explains that the group usually uses very small amplifiers in the studio. On the recent sessions they have used a 15-watt Watkins amp, an early Vox- AC-30, and some Fender models, while Bill Wyman uses a Hiwatt amplifier.

Adapted from the following source: Christopher Hjort, Strange Brew. Eric Clapton & The British Blues Boom 1965-1970, Jawbone, 2007.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Red Weather

In late 1968 lead guitarist Leigh Stephens left the San Francisco based power trio Blue Cheer. He then signed a solo deal with Philips and moved to Great Britain, to rehearse with members of the newly formed band Faces, amongst others. In 1969 Stephens released his debut solo album, "Red Weather". The self produced album was recorded at Trident Studios, London.

The music on "Red Weather" had a well structured psychedelic sound. Both Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart played piano on the album, with Stu performing on two tracks, "Indians" and "Joannie Mann". Amongst the other musicians on the album was Eric Albronda, Stephens' ex-band mate from Blue Cheer. Here's the complete line-up: Leigh Stephens (gtr, bass, voc, perc), Eric Albronda (guitar, voc), Nicky Hopkins (p), Ian Stewart (p), Kevin Westlake (bass, drum, perc, voc on "Joannie Mann"), Micky Waller (dr).

Friday, December 23, 2011

I Don't Know Why

On June 9, 1969 the Rolling Stones issued a statement announcing Brian Jones' departure from the group, and a couple of days later the band held a press conference in Hyde Park, London, to present Mick Taylor as their new guitarist. Taylor had been recording with the Stones at Olympic Sound Studios from May 29 on, and on June 30 the band, with Ian Stewart on piano, taped a version of Stevie Wonder's "I Don't Know Why".

Two days later the Stones were back at Olympic, in order to mix tracks for their upcoming studio album. During the mixing of "I Don't Know Why" the studio phone rang. Bill Wyman: "I'd left the others at Olympic Studios just before 2 a.m., where they were mixing tracks for "Let It Bleed". The news of Brian's death was broken to Mick Jagger in a phone call from Tom Keylock's wife. He, Keith and Charlie sat around, dazed and disbelieving".

Brian Jones died on July 3, 1969, and the news was broken to the Stones while mixing a song called "I Don't Know Why". Weird, to say the least. The Stones' cover is played very much in Stevie Wonder's mould. The brass sounds were mixed in later in the year. The track didn't make the "Let It Bleed" album, but eventually got released on 1975's "Metamorphosis". I Don't Know Why.

Adapted from the following sources:
Bill Wyman, Stone Alone, Penguin Books, 1990.
Martin Elliott: The Rolling Stones. Complete Recording Sessions 1962-2002.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Three-chord wonders

Keith Richards, in his autobiography Life: "Ian Stewart used to refer to us affectionately as "my little three-chord wonders". But it is an honorable title. OK, this song has got three chords, right? What can you do with those three chords? Tell it to John Lee Hooker; most of his songs are on one chord. Howlin' Wolf stuff, one chord, and Bo Diddley. Songs like "Honky Tonk Women" and others all leave those gaps between the chords".

Adapted from the following source: Keith Richards, Life, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2010.

Suggested further reading on the five-string guitar playing: Life, p. 241-247.

Honky Tonk Women

After the release of "Beggars Banquet", and the "Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus" extravaganza in December 1968, the Stones took a two months break before starting recordings for a new studio album. During various sessions at Olympic Sound Studios (February-May, 1969) the band, mainly without Brian Jones, recorded some 10 new tracks, among which gems like "Midnight Rambler", "Gimme Shelter", "You Can't Always Get What You Want", "Sister Morphine" and "Love In Vain".

Nicky Hopkins and American guitarist Ry Cooder played important roles during the recordings, but Ian Stewart was invited to play piano on the band's next single release, "Honky Tonk Women". Author Martin Elliott recalls: "A short session in May 1969 enabled Mick Taylor to establish himself as suitable for an honorary guitar position with the Stones, and one of the first songs he played on was "Honky Tonk Women".

Jimmy Miller taps out the first few beats on the cowbell. Charlie Watts then hits the snare and kicks into the bass drum. Keith Richards follows shortly with the guitar riff. "Honky Tonk" is a unique piece of rhythm artistry. The released take features Ian Stewart's piano and brass instruments in the background. Was this Jim Horn who was playing with Leon Russell at the time or Bobby Keys and Jim Price who where recording with those soul stax rockers, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett?"

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011


As said before, from "Satanic Majesties" on, Nicky Hopkins was the prominent piano player on the Rolling Stones' records. Not so strange, since 'the thin man', as Nicky was called, was a brilliant player, with a style completely different from Stu's. And although Nicky and Stu got along with each other very well, Ian Stewart instantly knew he couldn't cope with Hopkins' incredible talents. Ian McLagan, a piano player himself, recalls:

"One day when I walked in the door at Bermondsey, Stu ushered me into his office on the ground floor and played me Delaney and Bonnie's album "Accept No Substitute" that had just been released. There were photographs of the musicians on the back cover, and it was the first time I had knowingly heard Jim Keltner, Carl Radle, Bobby Keys, Jim Price and Bobby Whitlock, and Delaney and Bonnie's soulful singing. But what seemed exeptional to me was Leon Russell's piano playing on "Ghetto". He soared!

Stu played the song over and over for me, and I was amazed at how the piano on the end section built like a skycraper, layer after layer, up and up. It just got more and more exciting. Stu turned me on to this new gem, and then he told me a revealing story about Nicky Hopkins, our mutual pal, and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood's mate in the Jeff Beck Group.

'That bloody Nicky', he said with a scornful look, 'I played it for him the other day, and that's what I hate about him. I only played it once and he went straight to the piano and played the whole thing, note for note. It really pisses me off!'. It was funny because he was serious, but I understood his frustration as neither of us could compete with Nicky as a piano player. Our talents are our own, but we couldn't play something just that brilliant after hearing it for the first time. He really was annoyingly, incredibly talented".

Adapted from the following source: Ian McLagan, All The Rage, Pan Books, 1998.

Background Matters (2)

Also around May 1969 Ian Stewart offered his help to newly formed band Faces, a collaboration between ex-Small Faces members Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, and singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood, who had just left the Jeff Beck Group. In his great biography Faces, Before During And After, author Andy Neill recalls the situation:

"Ian Stewart, the Rolling Stones' chief road manager and piano player, offered his help. Small, stocky, with a protruding jaw, Stu looked more than a garage mechanic than a rock musician, but his boogie-woogie licks captivated those who heard them and his forthright opinions often contained good advice for those within rock's hierarchy to whom he became a dear and valued friend. Stu had shared a house in Surrey with Glyn Johns and first met the Small Faces in 1967 at Olympic while the Stones were recording in the next studio.

In 1968 the Stones invested in a warehouse at 47 Bermondsey Street, south-east London to use as a rehearsal and storage facility. Because they spent so much time at Olympic the basement space wasn't being utilised, so Stu offered it to Ronnie Lane to rehearse in. Ian McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Glyn Johns were good pals, and Glyn and Stu had always been tight, so Ronnie would go and visit Glyn and hang out. Stu had faith in us, he said, 'I know you've got no money now but you can use the studio as much as you like and pay us when you get a record deal'. That was how things happened in those days".

In his autobiography All The Rage, Ian McLagan quotes Stu: 'You might as well use the room, they never go down there, it's a bloody waste of space, if you ask me', he said, his chin to the wind. It was exactly what the doctor ordered, and although it was only a cellar below a flag-maker's warehouse, it was everything to us. He'd had it painted and carpeted, and had a C3 Hammond with a Leslie, assorted guitar amps and a drum kit
already set up".

Adapted from the following sources:
Andy Neill, Faces, Before During And After, Omnibus Press, 2011.
Ian McLagan, All The Rage, Pan Books, 1998.

Note: three recordings from these Bermondsey sessions are contained on Faces' 4-disc retrospective "Five Guys Walk Into A Bar...".

Friday, December 16, 2011

Background Matters (1)

While Nicky Hopkins got central to the Rolling Stones' rhythm section (Nicky plays piano on most of the "Satanic Majesties" and "Beggars Banquet" songs), Ian Stewart, as usual, played his role in the background. In London's late sixties British blues scene, Stu actually was the first Stone to have contacts with future Stones guitarists Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood. In fact it was Stu who suggested that the band checked out Taylor as their new guitar player.

Bill Wyman, in his book Rolling With The Stones: "Matters where coming to a head over Brian Jones. Things could no longer go on the way they were. Brian was no longer a musically integral part of the band. He was unhappy with his role in the band, nor could we realistically tour America with him given his problems with US immigration. In view of our upcoming shows, we needed a solution.

Stu, as usual, came up with trumps, and recommended Mick Taylor (recognised guitarist with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers) as a replacement. Mick Jagger invited him to come to the recording session in  Barnes that evening. So it was that Michael Kevin Taylor arrived at Olympic on May 31, 1969. He was about to become a Rolling Stone".

Adds Christopher Hjort, in his book Strange Brew: "Ian Stewart already knew Mick Taylor, since he sold him a guitar in 1967. "Taylor: I've got no idea why Keith Richards wanted to sell the guitar, but I remember going down to the studio and getting it. I don't remember actually meeting him, I met Ian Stewart, their roadie. I told him I was looking for a Gibson Les Paul because my own one was stolen. Stu said: "Well, we've got one that we want to sell, come to the studio and look at it. It was funny when I met Keith later and turned up with the same guitar that he'd had".

Adapted from the following sources:
Bill Wyman, Rolling With The Stones, Dorling Kindersley, 2002.
Christopher Hjort, Strange Brew. Eric Clapton And The British Blues Boom 1965-1970, Jawbone, 2007.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

No Expectations

Although he didn't appear on "Beggars Banquet", an outtake of one the album's finest moments, "No Expectations", is availabe on which Stu's organ competes for space with Nicky Hopkins' piano. Martin Elliott:
"No Expectations is a tranquil pensive song, and a complete contrast to the electric riffs tried out during the Surrey rehearsals.

Nicky Hopkins lays down a soft melody on the piano and a skilful, effortless bottleneck guitar by Brian Jones accompanies it. One can almost detect the atmospheric ripples of water, splashing on stone. It was one of Brian Jones' career highlights. He was thrilled at the return to Robert Johnson country blues.

The outtake version has studio conversation introducing the song. The take does not have the bottleneck guitar and has more use of the (uncredited!) single key soft organ which is used in great juxtaposition with the piano. From this version, one can appreciate the acoustic guitar playing by Keith Richards and the subtle bass arrangement".

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

Jumping Jack Flash

The Rolling Stones' new studio album, "Beggars Banquet", was recorded during three (March 17 - April 3, May 13-23, June 4-10, 1968)  lenghty sessions at Olympic Sound Studios, London, with producer Jimmy Miller and sound engineer Glyn Johns. Final mixing and overdubbing of the album took place at Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles (July 7-25).

For the first time in the band's history, Ian Stewart didn't appear on the new Stones album, although he contributed to the recording of one of the band's signature tunes, "Jumping Jack Flash". Author Martin Elliott puts the recording of "Flash" in some fine perspective: "The band's decision was to return to rhythm and blues in English studios, and this they did with the precision of Jimmy Miller at the controls.

The song's  foundations were laid by Bill Wyman during the Surrey rehearsals as he 'mucked around' with a chord sequence on the piano. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger knew instantaneously that the sound had great possibilities. The heavy guitar chords which run throughout the track immediately assault the senses. They are heavy but acoustically based. Jagger shouts 'one two' and the band join in supplying the incessant riff around the uplifting vocal. Brian Jones shuffles his demonic maracas as Richards' distorted lead guitar provides the Stones with their most powerful rock sound to date. Ian Stewart contributed a background piano".

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

Surrey Rehearsals

It's often been said that a mind unlocked by psychedelics is better equipped to perceive simple truths. The Beatles' cure for an LSD-induced hangover was a return to rock 'n roll ("Lady Madonna"), while Bob Dylan re-emerged with an album of country songs. The Rolling Stones also started work on a new album within this back-to-basics framework, with new producer Jimmy Miller in control.

Songs were worked on prior to the sessions, and time, plus a grim determination to put the musical uncertainties of the past eighteen months behind them, all contributed to a new mood of optimism. And with Andrew Oldham out of the picture, and Brian Jones slowly but unquestionably fading, the Jagger-Richards partnership had become absolutely central to the quest.

March 1968 The Stones, except for Brian Jones, but with Ian Stewart in tow, started rehearsals for the forthcoming new album in the small, but familiar R.G. Jones Studio, Morden, Surrey. "I'll Coming Home" is a fine example of the energetic jam sessions, during which many songs were worked on for the first time. It's pretty clear that the band intended to shift their style back to the blues, with a harder rock edge and feel.

Adapted from the following source: James Hector, The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones, Omnibus Press, 1995.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Drinking Muddy Water

Although Nicky Hopkins played piano on two tracks of "Between The Buttons", he and Ian Stewart obviously hadn't met yet. Most probably Hopkins' parts were recorded during mixing and overdubbing sessions in January 1967, which Stu didn't attend. According to author Len Comaratta "in the spring of 1967, guitarist Jimmy Page invited Nicky Hopkins to record on some songs for the Yardbirds' "Little Games" album. During these sessions, Hopkins made his impression on the Rolling Stones' founding member and pianist, Ian Stewart".

Both Stu, who already knew Jimmy for a long time, and Nicky perform on the final album. Hopkins contributed to the tracks 'I Remember The Night', 'Stealing, Stealing', and "Smile On Me", while Stu lended his boogie piano to "Drinking Muddy Water". When we take in mind Stu's disliking of what was going on at Olympic Sound Studios, he must have felt comfortable during the "Little Games" sessions. Session player Nicky Hopkins had of course another stake, and afterwards joined the Stones to record "There Satanic Majesties Request", eventually performing on all album tracks.

Adapted from the following source: Len Comaratta, Icons Of Rock, Hot, 2010.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Their Satanic Majesties Request (2)

Actually, where was Ian Stewart in last post's story? Nowhere near really, because Stu disgusted (the making of) "Their Satanic Majesties Request". Even on a topic that he might have liked, Andrew Oldham's leaving, Stu showed a lot of distance (all them 'they's') to what was going on at the time. Ian Stewart: At some stage the band realized that Andrew Oldham's ideas on producing were only ideas he'd got from them in the first place.

There must have been some sort of bust-up with Amdrew 'cause all of a sudden they wanted to get rid of him. Before they started "Satanic Majesties" a lot of time was booked at Olympic. Andrew was supposed to be there as producer. And he was there only in a literal sense. We went in and played a lot of blues just as badly as we could. Andrew just walked out. At the time I didn't understand what was going on. They were probably a bit fed up with Oldham wanting to be the record producer and not really producing.

With less distance, and with a lot more of emotion, Stu (in Bill Wyman's Stone Alone) describes Brian Jones' estrangement from the Stones. "The only time Brian looked like coming into his own was when they did that awful "Satanic Majesties", where he got the chance to dabble with the mellotron. It was a terrible shame. He'd do anything. He would turn up at the studio with saxophones, and he even played harp on one number. He had the ability to actually sit down and fiddle with it, and got something out of it fairly easily.

The talent and ability was there, but he just screwed himself up. It was tragic, because Brian really was a good player, but all he wanted to do was fiddle about with reed instruments and Indian drums. He just dabbled and was too out of it to play anything. Being a star just got to him totally". As an illustration of his disliking of the album, Stu just played (some) organ on one album track, Bill Wyman's "In Another Land". Almost all other keyboards on the album were played by Brian Jones and Nicky Hopkins, who by now had found his place in the inner circle of the band.

Adapted from the following sources:
Ian McPherson, Time Is On Our Side (website, original source unsure, maybe Melody Maker).
Bill Wyman, Stone Alone, Penguin Books, 1990.

Their Satanic Majesties Request (1)

Perhaps more than any other record in rock history, the Rolling Stones' sixth studio album, "Their Satanic Majesties Request", was shaped by non-musical events. To understand the album necessitates a detailed trawl through 1967, a year that started in unpromising fashion for the band, and rapidly got a whole lot worse. The preceding album "Between The Buttons" became the Stones' least succesfull record to date. Meanwhile the Beatles were in the midst of working on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", and Mick Jagger was an interested observer at several sessions.

In February both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were charged for the possession of illegal drugs. Recording sessions at Olympic Sound Studios, London (Februay 9-24) were rudely interrupted. A European tour (March-April) proved a further strength-sapping distraction. Because of the court appearance of Mick and Keith in May and June the sessions for the forthcoming album had slipped low down on everyone's list of priorities. And with the release of "Sgt. Pepper" on June 1, it was clear that the Stones had lost the race to set the tone for the Summer Of Love.

At the end of the month Jagger and Richards were sentenced, but with the appeal pending the band reconvened at Olympic to work on the proposed album. Much of "Satanic" was completed in July (7-22) with sound engineers Glyn Johns and Eddie Kramer, but without producer Andrew Oldham, whom the band ditched earlier in the year. The album was completed in October, and finally released in December. But it wasn't very well received. More than forty years later, many of the accusations aimed at "Satanic" seem unnecessarily harsh, and the album's got an enhanced posthumous status.

Adapted from the following source: David Wells, The British Psychedelic Trip (Part 12: The Rolling Stones), Record Collector, 1999.