Right after their 1969 US tour (November 7-30) the Rolling Stones flew to Atlanta, Georgia, and then on to Sheffield, Alabama, for three days of recording sessions at the eight-track Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. During these sessions the Stones taped three songs for a future album release. The first night the band cut Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move".
The second night they did "Brown Sugar", with Ian Stewart on piano. And on their last night in the studio the band cut a country ballad, "Wild Horses", with Memphis session player Jim Dicksinson on piano. Dickinson? Why not Stu, who was around? In his autobiography Life Keith Richards recalls the sessions: "Oiled up and running hot, in early December we ended up at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. There we cut three tracks in three days. Muscle Shoals was a great room to work, very unpretentious.
Jim Dickinson was a beautiful piano player. Probably at the time I did take him for a country player, just because he was a southern guy. I found out later he was far more wide-ranging. Jim, who was the only musician there apart from the Rolling Stones and Ian Stewart, was perplexed when on the third day we started running through "Wild Horses" and Ian took a backseat. The song started in a B-minor chord, and Stu didn't play minor chords, "fucking Chinese music". That's how Dickinson got the gig of playing on the track".
On "Wild Horses" the influence of Gram Parsons, Keith Richards' blood brother at the time, was evident, and it was his Flying Burrito Brothers who first released the song in 1970. But the song has since entered the premier league of the Rolling Stones' self-mythologising songs. A core Stones song, even if it was written in a minor chord!
Adapted from the following sources:
Keith Richards, Life, Orion Books, 2010.
Bill Wyman, Rolling With The Stones, Dorling Kindersley, 2002.
James Hector, The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones, Omnibus Press, 1995.