Thursday, 30 October 2014

10 Best Rolling Stones Live Tracks - Mick Taylor Years 1969 - 1973

The Rolling Stones in 1969

This selection of 10 (mostly unreleased) Rolling Stones recordings grew out of my last Rolling Stones at Chess Studios post. As I said there, the Rolling Stones are unique now in that unlike their contemporaries, the Beatles, Who, Byrds or Beach Boys, there are no official box sets or anthologies of unreleased gems, alternate takes or killer live material. However this doesn't stop the spread of some really classic material doing the rounds on the internet.

So, looking at what's available on Youtube, I decided to compile  some of my favourite live Stones cuts recorded between 1969 and 1973 when Mick Taylor was the lead guitarist. Many, including myself, consider this period to be the band's most creative period. Taylor added a virtuosity they had previously lacked. In the 5 years he spent with the band, they recorded a string of albums which are now considered some of the band's finest - Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock’n’Roll.

I also think that this was their peak as a live band. In the five years that Taylor was with them they went form being a band that was coming out of semi-retirement (as a touring band) and had to prove themselves to American audiences on the 1969 tour to "the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world" of the early 1970s.

Here are some recordings from the classic 69 - 73 Taylor years - mostly unreleased - which would surely gain a place on any Rolling Stones boxed set anthology.

1. Brown Sugar (with Eric Clapton on slide guitar) - December 1970
Raw and fairly rough sounding. Probably recorded on18th December 1970 at Olympic Studios in London at Keith Richards' birthday party.  It was a toss up which version to release. I think the band made the right decision as, although this version probably wins out on energy, the single version swings with a leaner, funkier feel.

2. Cocksucker Blues 1969
Not strictly live I know. Submitted as the band's last single for Decca in 1970. With a title like that the label understandably didn't want to know. Even so the band had fulfilled their contract and could therefore move on to a new deal with Atlantic which gave them their own label and greater control.There are a number of alternative versions of this knocking about including a full band version. I think this early version is superior if only for Jagger's vocal.

3. I'm Free - Live in Oakland. 1969 Tour of USA
From the "LiveR Than You'll Ever Be" bootleg - one of the first rock bootlegs ever released and still one of my favourites. Like most of the recordings from this tour, it has quite an informal feel and Jagger seems quite chatty.

After three years away the band have to work surprisingly hard to get audiences up and on their feet. A lot had changed since their last US tour in 1966 and the Stones now had to prove they really were “the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World” and could match the incendiary standards of the likes of the Who, Hendrix, Cream or San Francisco bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.

Although terminating in the disastrous Altamont festival, the tour was highly successful and put the band back on the rock royalty center-stage along with Dylan, The Who and the recently separated Beatles.

Originally released on 1965's Out Of Our Heads LP this version of is slower and has a pretty nifty Mick Taylor solo.

4. Roll Over Beethoven - Berlin 1970
Very few recordings of decent sound quality survive from the short 1970 European tour. Here is a revived and rather rough sounding Roll Over Beethoven. Keith takes the solo and the band rip through it and give it the definitive 1970s Stones raunch'n'roll

5. (I can't get no) Satisfaction - Leeds 1971
The Live at Leeds boot contains some of the best music the band have ever recorded. I have discussed its merits in more detail here  The Rolling Stones' finest hour - "Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out" This slowed down but mightily funked up version of Satisfaction is a highlight.
Sublime.The band at their peak.

6. Love In vain (Madison Square Garden, NY) - 1972
The 1972 US tour was an infamous, wild, drug-fueled ride through an America that had turned cynical and and pessimistic. The 60s dream was over. The Stones chaotic free concert at Altamont in 1969 had even, in part, helped to kill it. The band played amphetamine fueled 90 minute sets that tore through the songs and left everyone breathless, including Mick Jagger, who seems to bark out the words to many of the songs instead of singing them.

The singer may sound bored and the rhythm guitarist is starting to feel the effects of his heroin habit but new addition Mick Taylor comes into his own on this tour. His playing on the 69 tour seemed tentative but throughout the 72 tour he plays with total authority. On this version of Love In Vain he plays a stunning solo - both soulful and precise - and far superior than the one on 1969's Get Yer Ya-Yas Out.

7. Gimme Shelter - Philadelphia 1972
An absolutely breathtaking Taylor solo. A band at their live peak.
Listen to it twice. Both early and late sets. It's like having the inside of yer head tickled...

8. Bye Bye Johnny - (Madison Square Garden, NY) - 1972
More from the MSG show. Jagger introduces the band. Keith just can't wait - the band rip into it and the first one to the finish is the winner....

9. Midnight Rambler - Brussels, Oct. 17, 1973 (first show).
By the 1973 European tour the band had added Billy Preston to the touring party and were on the verge of sounding slick. Midnight Rambler is taken and breakneck speed and Mick Taylor spits fire.

10. You Can't Always get What You Want - Brussels, Oct. 17, 1973
I have seen the band play this song with Ron Wood and, compared to this version, it just seems an overlong rambling directionless mess to me.

This, thanks to Mick Taylor and Bobby Keys' sax solo, is majestic.

More stranger than known
The Rolling Stones' finest hour - "Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out"...

Key To The Highway - The Rolling Stones at Chess Studios 1964 and 1965

The Faces BBC Sessions - 5 Guys Walk Into The BBC....

Amazing Journey - The road to "Live at Leeds". The Who Live in Philadelphia 19/10/1969

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Key To The Highway - The Rolling Stones at Chess Studios 1964 and 1965

Key To The Highway
We are now 50 years on from the first Rolling Stones' Chess sessions in Chicago and also just over half a century on from the band's rise to fame so it's a pity that the Stones' vintage back catalog has become such a neglected thing. Unlike their contemporaries, the Beatles, Who, Byrds or Beach Boys, there are no box sets or anthologies of unreleased gems, alternate takes or killer live material. Stones' compilations tend to feature the same already well-known songs recompiled and repackaged as greatest hits CDs released every 5 years or so to coincide with the latest world tour.

And it's not like they are putting out any great new stuff either - their last album, the instantly forgettable A Bigger Bang, came out as long ago as 2005. So for a band that seems to have retired from doing anything new - never mind creative - it seems a shame that such a stunning back catalog - and one that helps define the rock era - should be so neglected. This dereliction has arguably led to their importance as the UK's foremost rhythm 'n' blues pioneers being undervalued. The Stones brought rhythm 'n' blues to a mass white audience - not only in the US but in the world. No mean achievement.

Fortunately, as is so often the case in the internet age, fans have taken care of any lack of interest the band or record company may have and "liberated" rare recordings previously hoarded or only available on expensive and shoddy bootlegs. As a result we have some pretty nifty compilations and playlists which in a more sensible world would have already seen official record company release but also serve to re-emphasize the importance of the band's legacy.

The Chess Sessions
One such is the "2120 South Michigan Avenue" compilation (see youtube clip below) of all the sessions the band recorded at Chess studios in Chicago in 1964 and 1965. In the early 60s many blues fans, and the Stones themselves, considered the Chess studios as the home of the blues. Muddy Waters (who according to legend helped the band unpack when they arrived), Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and a whole host of blues musicians and singers recorded for the label. On their first US tour the Stones were keen to visit and record there and, although Chess didn't let out their studios to non label artists in those days, manager Andrew Loog Oldham managed to blag a session for the band in the summer of 1964. For the full story go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame page here

The Stones at Chess studios 1964

This may not be the best music the band ever recorded but it is key to what came later. Herein are the seeds of some of the best rock music recorded in the 60s and 70s. Let us not forget that, arguably more than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones set the template for what a rock and roll band in the 60s and 70s should look like, sound like and be like. And in 1964, the band arrived in the USA with the self appointed task of re-educating the American teenage public about the blues - an American music which white America had either forgotten about or was simply unaware of - and placing it firmly in the mainstream culture of US and western music where, 50 years on from these sessions, it still remains.

Many of these tracks were originally released on the albums "Rolling Stones No. 2" and "Out Of Our Heads". The songs It's all Over Now and Little Red Rooster were released as singles and the remainder surfaced on British EPs, American LPs - which often had different track-listing to their British versions - or single B sides. To my knowledge, Key To The Highway, a version of Mercy, Mercy different to the one on Out Of Our Heads, and a Bill Wyman song, Goodbye Girl, are all still officially unreleased. But the great thing about this compilation is that it arranges the songs chronologically thus leading the listener to re-evaluate the Rolling Stones as a blues band.

Ian Stewart (seen behind) played piano on the sessions

Confessin' The Blues
Remember this is the Stones as blues purists. Before the the mania and excess that was still to come but also before they'd started to write their own songs. In fact at the time of these sessions, the band were still relatively unknown in the US and, although they followed in the wake of the Beatles and the other British invasion bands, they would not achieve real success in the US until the release of their own (I can't get no) Satisfaction in early 1965 - written around the time of the last session here.

These sessions are not just an apprenticeship though. The thing that stands out when you listen to all of them together is how superior, as blues players, they were compared to contemporaries like the Yardbirds, Pretty Things, Them or the Animals. Those bands tended to play the blues with a stomping heavy rock'n'roll beat. Listen to the Stones on these sessions, especially on Down The Road Apiece or Around and Around, and you hear a band that really knows how to swing.

And the man who put the swing in the band was, of course, drummer Charlie Watts. Charlie was at heart a jazz drummer and he had an instinctive feel for playing just behind the beat emphasizing what Keith Richards maintained was the "roll" in rock 'n' roll - in other words making it swing. Charlie is really the star of the show here. Add Keith's great sense of timing and Chuck Berry riffing to the mix (check Keith's outstanding solo on It's All Over Now - one of his best) and you have band that has much more of an innate grasp of the blues essentials than their rivals.

That's not to say that they have all it down just yet. Jagger's vocals on the blues numbers occasionally verge on mimicry and pastiche  ("Oh dee clap o' mah hands"). It is only on the later soul numbers like Don Covay's Mercy, Mercy, Otis Redding's That's How Strong My Love Is and especially Bobby Womack's It's All Over Now that he starts to sound assertive and comfortable with what he's singing.

British EP "5 by 5" featured 5 songs recorded at Chess

Exile on Main Street
By the end of these sessions Keith Richards and Mick Jagger had started writing their own material and Keith had come up with the Satisfaction riff - he actually woke up in the middle of the night with it in his head and, before he forgot it, quickly got it down on tape. With that now iconic song the band broke through to the American mainstream. They would go on to become the so called bad boys of pop beloved of the tabloid press and then, after the Beatles split, reinvent themselves as "the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world". Although the blues remained an important influence in their music, they never recorded again in the Chess studios after 1965.

However the spirit of these recordings does resurface rather spectacularly on 1972's Exile On Main Street, arguably their finest LP. With tracks like Rip This Joint, Shake Your Hips, Stop Breaking Down and Ventilator Blues, it is a classic rock album soaked in the sound and the spirit of Chicago blues. And these sessions act as handy curtain raiser to that album.

So, 50 years on, it's worth listening to these sessions again and remembering that without the Stones the blues would not be as central in mainstream culture as it is today. These sessions are a vital part of the band's legacy. And also some great music. Take a listen (tracklisting below).

Recorded At Chess Studio Chicago, USA, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, 10/11 June 1964:
1 - It's All Over Now     3:24   
2 - I Can't Be Satisfied     3:25   
3 - Stewed And Keefed     4:07   
4 - Around And Around     3:02   
5 - Confessin' The Blues     2:46   
6 - Down In The Bottom     2:42   
7 - Empty Heart     2:36   
8 - Hi- Heel Sneakers     2:57   
9 - Down The Road Apiece     2:54   
10 - If You Need Me     2:02   
11 - Look What You've Done     2:18   
12 - Tell Me Baby     1:53   
13 - Time Is On My Side (Version 1)     2:52   
14 - Reelin' And Rockin'     3:36   
15 - Don't You Lie To Me     1:59   
16 - 2120 South Michigan Avenue     3:40   

Recorded At Chess Studio, 8 November 1964:
17 - What A Shame     3:04   
18 - Fanny Mae     2:12   
19 - Little Red Rooster     3:06   
20 - Time Is On My Side (Version 2)     3:00   
21 - Goodbye Girl     2:08   
22 - Key To The Highway     3:18   
23 - Mercy, Mercy (Version 1)     2:43

Recorded At Chess Studio, 10 May 1965:
24 - Mercy, Mercy (Version 2)     2:45   
25 - That's How Strong My Love Is     2:24   
26 - The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man     3:22

Bonus track
27 - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction     2:44   

More stranger than known
The Rolling Stones' finest hour - "Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out"...

The Faces BBC Sessions - 5 Guys Walk Into The BBC...

Ry Cooder and Little Feat live - Rampant Slide Zone Syncopation

Peter Green - "A Mind To Give Up Living" - The Blues of despair and salvation

Monday, 1 September 2014

Views of Spain - The Art of Arlé Corte

© Arle Corte

Different views of Spain
People tend to have a stereotypical view of Spain - it's always hot and sunny and people spend all their time listening to flamenco and dancing Sevillanas. Nothing could be further from the truth. Spain is actually an astonishingly varied country made up of different regions all with their own languages, dialects, customs and cultures.

And northern Asturias is not like the south of Spain at all. If you go to Asturias expecting the stereotypical Andalucian / Mediterranean culture of bulls, flamenco and sun you will be surprised to find the historical and cultural influences there are Celtic, people drink cider and there is almost as much rain as there is sun. With its history of coal mining, heavy industry and shipbuilding Asturias also has a lot in common with Wales or the north of England.

The landscapes in Asturias are also different to the Spanish stereotype. The wet climate makes it very green and it’s actually one of the most mountainous regions in Europe - people go skiing in the Picos de Europa mountains in the winter.

The changeable weather and light seem to give a sense of movement to the Asturian landscape - the hills, mountains, cliffs, the sea almost have a kind of musicality to them.

Atardecer © Arle Corte

Arlé Corte
One of the Asturian artists who reflects that musicality is Arlé Corte. Although she says she is more interested in the warmer climes and dazzling deserts of Southern Spain, I think it is sill seen through the prism of Arle’s Asturian background.
What interests me is the musicality in her work and as you look at these pictures I’m sure you will, as she says, “see the trace of a dance in the movements of the brush”.

Jazz © Arle Corte

Influences and inspiration
In the following text Arlé comments on her work, her influences and what inspires her
(translated from Spanish - original at the bottom of this post).

You can contact or follow Arlé on her facebook page here

"Although I was born in a country with so many variations of green it's difficult to count them all, I really love the ochre, red and orange hues so redolent of deserts and hotter lands. Those are the shades usually found in my work".

"In some way painting is a way of travelling from within to an unknown place".

© Arle Corte

"Like everyone I've had phases and explored variations on different themes: Imaginary deserts, recreations of evocative Pre-Roman Asturian Art, the masculine nude seen from a woman's point of view, the coal mines that were so close to my life as a miner's daughter and grand-daughter... "

© Arle Corte

Guerrero © Arle Corte

Despertar De Xanes © Arle Corte

"In some ways I reinterpret the world and from time to time I go back to being a young girl playing with collages, where everything is possible." 

Collage © Arle Corte

Gijon © Arle Corte

"Inspiration is everywhere, opening my eyes, I don't touch it, I feel it. When that magic moment of creation arrives, "the good accident" as Kandinsky said, in which the canvas itself seems to guide the senses through the brushes, pencils or whatever is to hand, there is always a song in the background. Music forms part of that creative moment, as important as any other tool, guides the hand as well as the body. Yes you can dance and paint at the same time, You can shout in jubilation, or in frustration when you want to cover the whole canvas in black because nothing is working out as you want, just like anything else in life. So a note can escape from the frame like a wink of thanks. Sometimes it's even easy to see the trace of a dance in the movements of the brush."

Ola © Arle Corte

To Itaca © Arle Corte

San Lorenzo © Arle Corte

"Aunque nací en una tierra con tantas variaciones de verde que resulta tarea difícil intentar contarlos, desde hace ya un tiempo tengo verdadera devoción por los ocres, rojizos y anaranjados, esas tonalidades tan identificables con los desiertos y tierras cálidas. Esos son los colores que habitualmente se encuentran en mis trabajos. De alguna manera pintar es una forma de viajar desde dentro hacia un lugar inconcreto.

Como todos he tenido épocas y variaciones sobre diferentes temáticas: Desiertos imaginarios; recreaciones del sugerente Arte Prerrománico Asturiano; el desnudo masculino visto por ojos de mujer; la mina tan cercana a mi vida como hija y nieta de mineros…De alguna manera reinterpreto mi propio mundo y de vez en cuando vuelvo a jugar a ser niña con los collages, donde todo es posible.

La inspiración está alrededor, abriendo los ojos, no se palpa, se siente. Cuando llega ese instante mágico de creación,”the good accident” decía Kandinsky, en la que el propio lienzo parece guiar los sentidos a través de los pinceles, los lápices o lo que pueda tener entre las manos, siempre hay una canción que suena detrás. La música forma parte de ese momento creativo, tan importante como cualquier otro material de trabajo, guía los movimientos de la mano y del propio cuerpo. Si, se puede danzar y pintar. Se puede gritar en el momento de júbilo o en el de frustración cuando quisieras cubrir todo de negro porque nada es como se desea, al igual que en muchos momentos de la vida. Así alguna nota se escapa dentro del cuadro como un guiño de agradecimiento. Incluso, a veces, es fácil ver que en los movimientos del pincel hay el rastro de una danza." 

- Arlé Corte, 2014

More stranger than known
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Asturian Jazz: The Xaime Arias Trio at the Alambique, Gijon, Spain 7/8/2014

Horizonte Eléctrico - 10 Great contemporary Spanish bands...

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