The artists and bands that made up the British Invasion were heavily influenced by blues artists who, unable to find an audience in the United States, found new fame in the UK and on the European continent. Many of the bands started out primarily covering material by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, Jimmy Reed, and, though not a blues artist per se, Chuck Berry. The Yardbirds, Them, The Animals, and later acts such as the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, owe much of their early success to playing the blues.
Possibly the most popular of the bands that started out playing the blues was The Rolling Stones. They took their name from a Muddy Waters song, “Rolling Stone,” a song that goes all the way back to the Delta and Robert Johnson. Supposedly, Keith Richards met Mick Jagger, a friend he had lost contact with, at a bus stop in the early 1960’s, saw Jagger was carrying a Chuck Berry album under his arm, and recognized a kindred soul. The original lineup consisted of Jagger on vocals and harmonica, Richards on rhythm guitar, Brian Jones on lead guitar, harmonica, and other instruments (e.g. marimba on “Under My Thumb,” sitar on “Paint It, Black”), Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on drums, and Ian Stewart on keyboards (Stewart would leave the band in 1963, but would continue with them on and off until he died in 1985). Jones left the band in 1969 and died a month later, and was replaced by Mick Taylor, who was then replaced by Ronnie Wood in 1975. Wyman retired in 1993, and the band has carried on with Jagger, Richards, Wood, and Watts to this day, over 50 years later.
James Altucher, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote a post recently that examined the success of the band and how they’ve managed to stay together all these years, especially when they don’t seem to like each other very much. It’s an interesting read, and I hope you zip over there and read it sometime. The short version is: they love the music, they’ve worked hard together to build the band and its following, and they never say no to work.
The Stones have recorded so much music in those 50 years, it’s hard to pick just two songs. They really hit their stride in the 1970’s with songs like “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Tumblin’ Dice,” but when we restrict ourselves to the 1960’s, the job… well, just gets harder. So I’m, going to pick a couple of my favorites. First is “Mother’s Little Helper,” released in June 1966. It reached #8 on the Hot 100 and #4 on the Cash Box survey.
The Stones recorded much of the music for their second EP at the studios of Chess Records, the Chicago-based label synonymous with blues records. One of the songs on that EP was an instrumental, “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” also the name of an unreleased LP (which you can hear on YouTube, as always). The address is the address of Chess Studios. There were several versions of the song recorded; this is the long version of the original tune. Brian Jones plays harmonica, Ian Stewart plays organ, Jagger plays tambourine, and Richards, Wyman, and Watts contribute their musical abilities.
Sunday was Mick Jagger’s 72nd birthday. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.
The Rolling Stones, your Two for Tuesday, July 28, 2015.