Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Howlin' Wolf: The London Sessions

On May 1, 1970, Howlin' Wolf arrived in London to record with British players, especially guitarist Eric Clapton. He was accompanied by producer Norbert Dayron, Chess company chief Marshall Chess, Wolf's life-long guitarist Hubert Sumlin, and harp player Jeffrey M. Carp. In an interview Dayron recalled that he secured the co-operation of Clapton earlier in the year, but it is also safe to assume that the well-connected Glyn Johns, engineer at Olympic Sound Studios, was instrumental in gathering the musicians who eventually appeared on the sessions (May 2-7, 1970).

On the first studio day (May 2) a hurriedly put-together assembly consisting of Eric Clapton, Ian Stewart, bass player Klaus Voorman and Ringo Starr backed the Chicago contingent on three tracks, but Voorman and Starr in particular had trouble adjusting to Wolf's needs, and both of them decided not to return to the sessions. They were replaced by Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts. Wyman and Watts have a natural affinity for the music and, teamed with Stu's piano, probably no other British rhythm section could so well approach the true Chess sound as these three.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2012


During Rolling Stones recording sessions at Olympic Sound Studios and Stargroves (with the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit, March-May 1970) Ian Stewart, together with brass players Bobby Keys and Jim Price, also recorded with Detroit-based band Sky. In 1970, Sky, whose members included Doug Fieger, John Coury and Robert Greenfield, was achieving local success in Detroit.

In a display of youthful bravado Fieger and Coury sent a letter to producer Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones, Traffic, Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith) saying that if he ever found himself in Detroit he should come by and listen to their band, and to everyone's  surprise, Miller took them up on the offer. With Miller on board, and Andy Johns engineering, Sky released two albums, "Don't Hold Back" (1970) and "Sailor's Delight" (1971).

Besides Stu, Keys and Price, other well-known musicians that turned up at the sessions included Nicky Hopkins, Chris Wood (Traffic) and Gary Wright. After their return to the US in 1971 the band broke up and members went their separate ways. Here are two songs from 1971's "Sailor's Delight", with Stu on piano.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Rolling Stones Mobile Studio

The Rolling Stones entered 1970 with already five songs for a new studio album in the can. 'Sister Morphine', with Ry Cooder on guitar, already got recorded early 1969, while 'Brown Sugar', 'You Gotta Move', 'Wild Horses' and 'Dead Flowers' were first taped in December. But due to several (legal) reasons the release of the new album, "Sticky Fingers", was postponed until April 1971.

On January 20, 1970 is was announced that the Stones had their own mobile studio installed in an articulated truck. The concept for the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit first came about in 1968 when the band decided they needed a new environment in which to record music. The band decided to use Mick Jagger's new country house, Stargroves, to record.

All the necessary equipment had to be brought to the house, so the idea of putting a control room into a van was brought up by road manager Ian Stewart. Under Stu's guidance a variety of top engineers and producers, including close friend Glyn Johns, were consulted in the project's creation. Originally only intended for use by the Stones, the mobile unit soon gained popularity among the likes of other classic bands, such as the Who, Led Zeppelin and Faces.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dead Flowers

Right after the Altamont disaster the Rolling Stones returned to the UK and went straight (December 9-10, 1969) to Olympic Sound Studios to finish off the three tracks recorded earlier at Muscle Shoals. In addition, treading now on ever more familiar ground, the first takes of "Dead Flowers" were recorded. "Dead Flowers" is another Nashville ringer but up-tempo. The song was written by Mick Jagger and features Ian Stewart on a joyous boogie-woogie piano roll.

The Stones' love for country and western was not simply a popular fashion or cheap imitation - the band seemed to have an in-built love for the music and country songs were to be included on most future albums, even if they were not treated as seriously as "Wild Horses". "Dead Flowers" was completed in 1970. After "Honky Tonk Women" and "Let It Bleed", the song completed Stu's 1969 trilogy...the sixth Stone in fine form!

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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fact sheet: Let It Bleed

December 1969 the Rolling Stones released their eighth studio album, "Let It Bleed". Author James Hector puts the album in some fine perspective: "By the time "Let It Bleed" appeared, it had virtually been eclipsed by the band's winter tour of the States. The greatest noise of all came from the highly charged atmosphere of a bitterly divided America. Against this background, the group organised the free concert at Altamont, an ill-fated show which ended in the kind of chaos and murder that many felt was synonymous with the Stones' music.

Like "Beggars Banquet", "Let It Bleed" opened with the sound of cultural catastrophe, but while 'Sympathy For The Devil' was Mick Jagger in fantasy role-playing mode (albeit rather convincingly), 'Gimme Shelter' used no such distancing artistic device. No wonder the Maysles' Brothers closed their film of the band's US tour with the song: after the unrestrained violence which prevailed at the festival, and which provided the film's climax, the song's apocalyptic scenario seemed to be uncannily prescient.

But until that moment, "Let It Bleed", recorded during the last months of 1968 and the first half of 1969, was more a collection of personal revelations than the grand socio-political anthems that some of the songs later became. Things had altered considerably since "Beggars Banquet" provided the right cure for the psychedelic hangover. Brian Jones was sacked in May 1969, and his replacement, Mick Taylor, had little chance to leave his imprint on the album. By 1969 the Stones centred on Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, while exotic new courtiers, like Ry Cooder, Gram Parsons and Al Kooper were introduced into the inner circle for added musical muscle".

What about Ian Stewart? Stu played piano on the album's title track, and also on the non-album tracks 'Honky Tonk Women' and 'I Don't Know Why'. Nicky Hopkins (on four tracks), Leon Russell and Al Kooper were the other keyboard players on the album. Hector, on the album's title track: 'Let It Bleed' lays bare Keith's increasingly fluid slide guitar playing, prompted by his continued association with ex-Byrds guitarist and passionate country music fiend Gram Parsons. The song is also notable for welcoming pianist Ian Stewart back into the fold: with Nicky Hopkins almost always on hand, Stu only managed this one performance on the album".

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

Friday, January 13, 2012


Right after their US tour and the Muscle Shoals recordings the Rolling Stones headlined a free concert at the Altamont Speedway, California. Approximately about 300,000 people attended the concert, and some anticipated that it would be a second Woodstock festival, West Coast style. Instead, the event is best known for having been marred by considerable violence, including one homicide and three accidental deaths.

Although a lot has been written about the ill-fated Altamont festival, hardly any source mentions Ian Stewart being there. But he was, as author and photographer Ethan Russell, who was at the scene, recalls: "I followed Mick and Keith with my cameras. I hoped that once we were onstage things would return to normal. Covered with people, the stage was actually sagging under the weight of all the bodies on it. Hells Angels were roaming across it at will.

I saw the imperturbable Ian 'Stu' Stewart on the other side of the stage. Stu had left the group officially, but he still played with them on records and traveled with them as their equipment man and main man in general. On the 1969 tour Stu did what he always did: helped get the band on the stage, performed with them, and was, as Stanley Booth puts it, "the only grown-up". Stu had been with the Stones everywhere, been through everything with them. When I saw Stu on stage at Altamont, it was the first time I had ever seen him worried. I knew then we were in trouble".

Adds Keith Richards, in his autobiography Life: "As the evening went dark and we went on stage, the atmosphere became very lurid and hairy. As Stu said - he was there - "Getting a bit hairy, Keith". I said, "We've got to brass it out, Stu". Such a big crowd, we could only see in front of our immediate circle, with lights, which are already in your eyes, because stage lights always are. So you're virtually half blinded; you can't see and judge everything that's going on. You just keep your fingers crossed".

Adapted from the following sources (all suggested further reading):
Ethan Russell, Let It Bleed. The Rolling Stones, Altamont, And The End Of The Sixties, Springboard Press, 2009.
Stanley Booth, The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones, A Cappella Books, 2000.
Keith Richards, Life, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2010.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Muscle Shoals (2)

"Wild Horses" is a classic Stones song of course, but so is "Brown Sugar". Even more so, "Brown Sugar" is literally a rock and roll overdose, with Ian Stewart playing a mean bar room rock and roll style piano. Sax player Bobby Keys also contributed enormously to the success of the song. His driving sax is inspirational, but Keith Richards created the foundation for the song with his open-G riff.

In his book The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones author Stanley Booth mentions the frustrations felt by Ian Stewart during the recording of "Brown Sugar". Keith knew nothing about chords and Stu had to wait for Bill Wyman to interpret the right keys for him. Ian Stewart and a rock and roll overdose...hard to imagine, don't you think? Various versions of the song exist, e.g. this one with Eric Clapton on guitar, but the basic track was cut at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, on December 4, 1969.

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

Muscle Shoals (1)

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.