THE “WORLD’S GREATEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND” is five decades old, and fat chance there’s even a microscopic tidbit about any aspect of the group that hasn’t been debated to death, overanalyzed, decoded, exposed, scrutinized, glamorized, popularized, and/or demonized. In the 50 years since the release of their first single on June 7, 1963 (a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On”), the band has paid massive dues and attained such legend-making heights that it has morphed into something beyond flesh. The Rolling Stones is a temple. It exists for the ages. And, like all monuments, it can be worn down by the sands of time, but what it represents is a law unto itself that is unchangeable. How to celebrate something that’s such an integral part of a music lover’s DNA—so known, so understood, so always there?
For the most part, we decided to honor their words—not ours—and comb the Guitar Player (and Bass Player) archives for some of the most inspirational and educational lines that Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Ron Wood, and Darryl Jones have shared with our readers. These interview excerpts form the majority of this month’s cover story, and we hope you enjoy the blasts from the Stone-y past.
In addition, we opted to revisit pieces of the Stones’ aural history with modern viewpoints. Art Thompson takes a look at some recent vinyl reissues of classic tracks, and Barry Cleveland offers his assessments of the group’s first five album releases. Of course, we wouldn’t close out the party without giving you something to play. So we assembled five signature Stones riffs from one of Jesse Gress’ marvelous and comprehensive music lessons.
And you don’t have to stop rockin’ after you finish this issue, either. Get interactive and share your best Stones-influenced riffs and songs with GP’s online community. Just post links to your audio tracks and/or YouTube videos on our Facebook page. You can also log any remembrances, favorite song/solo/album lists, concert reviews, or other comments in our Rolling Stones Blog at guitarplayer.com. Start it up!
Excerpted from the April 1983 and December 1989 interviews by Tom Wheeler, and the December 1992 and October 1993 interviews by Jas Obrecht.
“What’s great is if I neglect something, Ronnie makes up for it. That’s the great thing about two guitar players, because if you get it right, you know when to lift one of his licks—and vice versa—without thinking about it. He lifts more of mine than I do of his [laughs]. Onstage, the communication is all done by semaphore and eye signals. It’s the only way you can really do it. But the thing is, there isn’t that much need for communication or looking at each other—except when things go wrong. Otherwise, the communication is just through the music. But if things are going wrong, then everybody is looking at me—‘How is he going to get out of this?’”
“Especially on the huge gigs, the show just takes its own speed from the start, and you go with it. It’s the tempo of the whole gig—the adrenalin. It might be great, or it might be terrible, but the tempos one night may be almost twice as fast as the night after. And you can always learn when you listen back, you see? You may find, ‘Wow, that should’ve been that tempo all along. We made the record too slow [laughs].’”
“I’ve decided that every night there’s another ‘world’s greatest rock
and roll band,’ because one night somebody has an off gig, and
some other sh*t band has a great gig. That’s one of the great things
about rock and roll—every night there’s a different world’s greatest
band. We’ve been maybe a little more consistent, for whatever
reason, mainly when we’re going together on a tour, and also
because we’ve managed to stick together. The chemistry—that has
nothing to do with musicianship. It has to do with personality and
characters and being able to live with each other for 20 years.”
“It’s really about finding the right guitar with the right amp. If you’ve got a good sound, you can always add a bit of this or that and fiddle around with it, but it’s got to be there. The main ingredients are the right amp with the right guitar.”
“Many people have a fixed idea that rhythm is sup posed to just do this, and the lead is supposed to be really loud, but I’ve been very fortunate. The guys I’ve always worked with, they’ve all gotten off in the same way as I have. Rather than going for the separation of the guitars, we get them to sound where it doesn’t matter which guitar is doing what. They leap and weave through each other, so it becomes unimportant whether you’re listening to rhythm or lead, because, in actual effect, as a guitar player, you’re in the other player’s head and he’s in yours, and you two are on this little mental plane where no one else is, trying to predict and guide and follow, all at the same time. You’re in the front and you’re at the back, and this is a fascinating thing, and, on a larger scale, that’s what a good band is. See, a lot of guys are scared to do that. They don’t want you to know what they’re thinking [laughs], or they’re out for personal glory, so with a lot of players, you can’t do that. Or you have to sort of put them through a rigorous re-education [laughs]—which is a lot of hard work.”
“I’m probably the most drummer-influenced guitar player around. Charlie Watts. There’s no way that you can escape that—not that I’d want to. It’s never intentional, but, over the years, we developed a style between us—a lot of it to do with the fact that for many, many years I couldn’t hear us onstage at all. I’d be forced right up against Charlie’s drum kit in order to hear the beat. Through all of those years, we developed that way, and the only other thing he could hear was me, with my amp right next to him. That’s all he needed to hear in dire circumstances to keep it together. I mean, here you are, the chicks are screaming, and the band has no P.A. [laughs], you’ve very soon got to develop a way of playing where it didn’t matter if we heard the voice or the bass. It was just Charlie and me. This is all hindsight, too—you don’t realize it’s happening. But, yeah, my playing would have been totally different if I hadn’t gone through that with Charlie.”
“The ‘Satisfaction’ sound—I mean, it was a miracle. I was screaming for more distortion: ‘This riff has really gotta hang hard and long!’ We burnt the amps up and turned the sh*t up, and it still wasn’t right. And then [Stones road manager] Ian Stewart went around the corner to Wallach’s Music City or something and came around with a distortion box: ‘Try this.’ It was as offhand as that. Whatever distortion box it was, it was the first one Gibson made. I never really got into the thing after that, either. It had a very limited use, but it was just right for that song. The riff was going to make that song or break it.”
“Playing with another guitarist is more fun. No one guitar player is that interesting. Not one. I don’t care if it’s Segovia, Hendrix—anybody. Robert Johnson is the most interesting idea of a solo guitar player to me, and he was looking to go for a band. I’m interested in what I can do with somebody else—how we can interact, and play things back and forth, and pick up a dropped beat, and fling things against the ceiling to see if they stick. To me, that’s the fun of it. And at the same time, you’re learning, because you’re turning each other on. The solo guitar thing is a vacuum.”
“I started making records by saying, ‘Do I like it? Does this turn me on?’ And I refuse to be budged from that criteria. Really. If I start to think about what do ‘they’ want to hear, then I say I’m out of here. That’s not the way I’ve ever done it. The only times people have liked my stuff is when I’ve done it because I like it. I’ll reserve that for my criteria for anything I do. If I start trying to second guess people, then I may as well be Liberace or Lawrence Welk. That means I want to be a star, instead of having to be forced to be one.”
Mick Taylor’s Blues
Excerpted from Jas Obrecht’s
interview in the February
1980 issue of GP.
“I was very honored and very flattered to be asked to join the Stones, but I also really felt it was the kind of band that suited me at the time. It sounds strange to say that, but they really were because I didn’t want to just play 12-bar blues. And I really felt I could add a lot to what they were doing.”
“When I joined the Stones, I had a ’58 sunburst Les Paul, an SG, and a Strat. The interesting thing about the Les Paul is that I bought it from Keith Richards some time before I joined the band. I’ve no idea why he wanted to sell it, but I remember going down to the studio and getting it from Ian Stewart [Stones road manager and pianist]. It was funny when I met Keith later and turned up with the same guitar that he’d had.”
“I definitely added something to ‘Honky Tonk Women.’ They had already laid down the backing track, but it was very rough and incomplete. I didn’t play the intro riffs—that’s Keith playing. I played the country kind of influence and the rock licks between the verses.”
“The jam at the end of ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ happened by accident—that was never planned. Towards the end of the song, I just felt like carrying on playing. Everybody was putting their instruments down, but the tape was still rolling, and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. It just happened, and it was a one-take thing. I played the solo on a Gibson ES-345.”
“While recording Exile On Main Street, it happened a lot that the band didn’t always get there at the same time. If we felt like playing, we would. On ‘Sway,’ for example, the backing track was done with just Charlie, Mick, and I. And I played bass on ‘Shine a Light,’ because Bill wasn’t there, and nobody bothered to wait [laughs].”
“After recording It’s Only Rock ‘N Roll, I was getting a bit fed up. I wanted to broaden my scope as a guitarist and do something else. I wasn’t getting tired of rock and roll, but after five years in the band, it was becom ing a bit too regimented and a bit too predictable. In fact, I was the lead guitarist. That’s all I was. By then, I was just beginning to write, and that influenced my decision, obviously. I knew that if I did write any songs, they wouldn’t be used. But I never expected them to be, anyway, because Mick and Keith are the identity of the Rolling Stones, really. They and the songs they write.”
“Goats Head Soup is not one of my favorite albums, but there are a lot of interesting things on it. I just think it’s a weak album—a bit directionless. I think we all felt that way at the time. I played quite a bit of bass on that album—‘Dancing With Mr. D,’ ‘Coming Down Again,’ and ‘Can You Hear The Music.’”
Excerpted from Art Thompson’s interview in the New Products 2011 issue of GP.
“Playing with Keith all these years has kind of put the reins on me, and made me think twice about just tearing in there like a bull in a china shop. i’ve learned what not to play, and to play pieces that mean something. often, we just talk through our guitars. a lot of playing with Keith is about having a conversation with the guitars.”
“We’ve never forgotten the roots of Gregory Issacs and the Heptones and Jimmy Cliff. Some of those early things are so deep—like Jacob Miller and that stuff. We came out of it with riffs like ‘Beast of Burden’ and ‘You Don’t Have to Mean It.’ But reggae got bastardized and kind of incestuous, and kind of fired back on itself. But for the rock stuff it sorted out the men from the boys. It put a lot of simplicity back in—like what you didn’t play became more important. It was a real contrast to where rock was headed at the time, which was about confusing you with science and fiddly bits.”
Licks of Wealth and Taste
Nail 5 Classic Rolling Stones Riffs
BY JESSE GRESS
Excerpted from Jesse Gress’ lesson in the August 2005 issue of Guitar Player.
WITH THE ROLLING STONES CELEBRATING more than half a century (!) in rock and roll with tours, specials, books, DVDs, and more, can you think of a better time to get intimate with five of their greatest guitar riffs? After all, they’re woven into the fabric of our lives. We’ve heard and, in many cases, played ’em a thousand times, yet they continue to sound amazingly fresh and energetic. Here are four classics from Keef and one from Mick Taylor to help you get yer ya-ya’s out. Dig in!
“19TH NERVOUS BREAKDOWN” This rave-up intro [Ex. 1] showcases how Richards was hearing chord-tone suspensions years before he discovered open tunings. Rather than simply adding the 4 (A) to the E chord, Richards includes the 9 (F#) in his suspended grips, which he alternates with E/B triads. Lock into these ninth-position grips and play the down-stemmed B quarter note (bar 1, beat one) on the first pass and the up-stemmed eighth-note diads on the repeat. A second, tremolo-effected guitar plays a straight, then syncopated, counter melody based on a root-octave5-octave figure. Honorable mention goes to Richards’ blaring truck horn of a fuzz riff played over the IV-chord breakdown in bar 17 of the verse progression.
“PAINT IT BLACK”
This is the riff that spawned the sixties raga-rock craze [Ex. 2]. During the verses, Richards doubles the vocal and sitar melody on a clean-toned electric capoed at the third fret (Gtr. 1). The capo creates the illusion of playing in open-D minor—which, incidentally, is the key the Stones have preferred since their Steel Wheels tour. A ska-like acoustic guitar part (Gtr.2) covers the ominous Im-V changes. The overall effect is mysterious, vibey, and way scarier than the Beatles’ flagship sitar tune “Norwegian Wood.”
Though he was primarily the Stones’ lead guitarist, Mick Taylor’s rhythm guitar fig ures were responsible for driving many a Stones’ tune between 1970 and December 12, 1974, when he announced his decision to quit the band, and if you had to pick one must-know riff, it’d have to be “Bitch” (Sticky Fingers). Ex. 3 presents Taylor’s classic four-bar riff that’s part 3/8+3/8+2/8, rock-and-roll clave (bar 1) and part two-fingered, four-on-the-floor double-stop stomp (bar 2), embellished with a syn-copated composite of the previous two measures in bar 3, and topped with hammered, Hendrix-style double stops in bar 4. Rock on, mates!
This is the instantly recognizable intro [Examples 4a and 4b] that established Richards as the king of open-G tuning. His signature two-fingered triads are con fined to the inside four strings during the opening riff, but Richards laces the ensuing four-bar progression (Eb-C-Ab-Bb-C) with some surprising and colorful variations. You could also opt for the full fivestring voicings throughout—as Keef often does in concert—but that’s not how it went down on the original studio recording. Savor the difference.
A textbook example of tender chordal embellishments and arpeggios, Richards’ beautifully conceived and flawlessly executed four-bar acoustic intro to “Angie” [Ex. 5] contains some deceptive time divisions. Though you can count the whole thing in 4/4, it tends to feel like two bars of 4/4, a bar of 2/4, and a bar of 4/4 followed by another bar of 2/4. However you choose to count it, your listeners will be enchanted by its acoustic allure.
"19th Nervous Breakdown" Words and Music by MICK JAGGER and KEITH RICHARDS © (Renewed) ABKCO MUSIC, INC., 85 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003 All Rights Reserved
"Paint It Black" Words and Music by MICK JAGGER and KEITH RICHARDS © (Renewed) ABKCO MUSIC, INC., 85 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003 All Rights Reserved
"Bitch" Words and Music by MICK JAGGER and KEITH RICHARDS © 1971 (Renewed) ABKCO MUSIC, INC., 85 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003 Used by Permission of ALFRED MUSIC PUBLISHING CO., INC. All Rights Reserved
"Brown Sugar" Words and Music by MICK JAGGER and KEITH RICHARDS © (Renewed) ABKCO MUSIC, INC., 85 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003 All Rights Reserved
Angie Words and Music by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (c) 1973 (Renewed 2001) EMI MUSIC PUBLISHING LTD. All Rights for the U.S. and Canada Controlled and Administered by COLGEMS-EMI MUSIC INC. All Rights Reserved International Copyright Secured Used by Permission. Reprinted with Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation
The Wisdom of Bill Wyman
interview in the
issue of GP.
“I started playing guitar. I wasn’t interested in the bass until it became necessary for the band. I think a lot of bass players have started that way.”
“There’s no rehearsal as far as recording is concerned. Basically, Mick will come in with a cassette of a completed song—usually the slower, more ballad-y things—and you have to work out the middle eight bars and the tempo, intro, and ending. The words, melody, and basic chord sequence are there and just need tightening up. Keith, however, just comes in with something like a basic riff, and we all start working off that. Charlie will lay something down and Keith says, ‘No, play the bass drum different,’ or, ‘Bill, change that note.’ We’ll just work things out amongst ourselves while putting it all down on tape. It’s done very casually, and it’s really jamming. Actually, it’s quite easy that way, but it can also be very boring. If you’ve got your bit together, but the whole thing isn’t coming together, you can play it for eight hours. And by the time you go to bed that night, all you can hear going through your head is that riff. It drives you mad.”
“Every rock and roll band follows the drummer, right? That’s just the way it works—except for our band. Our band does not follow the drummer. Our drummer follows the rhythm guitarist, who is Keith Richard. You have no way of not following him, so you’ve immediately got something like a tenth of a second delay between the guitar and Charlie’s lovely drumming. And that’s what creates that loose, but tight pulse. I think it’s the reason for our sound.”
“Keith is a very confident and stubborn player. He’ll sometimes turn the time around and assume someone else has made a mistake. Suddenly, Charlie is playing on the beat, instead of on the backbeat, and Keith will not change back. He will doggedly continue until the band changes to adapt to him. It doesn’t piss us off in any way, because we all expect it to happen. He knows that we’re following him, so he doesn’t care if he changes the beat around. He’s quite amusing like that.”
“I thought I improved very quickly in the first two to three years, as the whole band did. We were all trying new things, and experimenting on other instruments. Brian [Jones] was the best at that. Even when he wasn’t playing any better on his guitar, he was picking up all sorts of instruments in the studio and playing them well. He’d try just about anything—dulcimer, sitar, flute, full-size harp. We used to experiment quite a bit, but then it kind of leveled out. The scope for experimenting with the band just seemed to close up. Mick and Keith are always looking for something different, but the songs and the chord structures don’t give you much of a chance of doing anything different. Perhaps on the slower ones—‘Loving Cup,’ for instance—you can turn some runs around or do some little slide things. But if you’re into ‘Brown Sugar,’ ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll,’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ there’s really not a whole lot you can do. The Rolling Stones have gotten so big that it’s just not practical for us to mess about and experiment with new instruments.”
“I might work on a song on and off with the band for five days—just trying to get it together from a basic riff. Then, maybe on the sixth day, my kid gets sick, and I call in to say I can’t make it to the session. And they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s okay. We might mess about, but we probably won’t do anything.’ Then, I come back the day after, and find the track is done. Keith played bass on it because it suddenly came together. It’s no fault of anybody’s—things just happen. But it gets terribly frustrating when you finish an album you’ve been working on for six months—the same as everybody else—but you’re only playing on seven of the ten tracks.”
The Wisdom of Bill Wyman
“I remember going to see a band that was playing at a dance for maybe 800 people in an old cinema. I walked through the door, and was floored—just rooted to the spot—by this amazing sound. It took me a moment to realize it was the sound of the electric bass. I was just thunderstruck by it. I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to get a bass, because this is where it’s at.’”
“Our band has always seemed to function very well against the rules. None of us are superb musicians in a technical or performing sense. It’s just that we have that mixture within the band, and Ron Wood has really dropped into that. Mick Taylor didn’t, really. He’s very technical, and a very clever musician— much more clever musically than the rest of us—but that’s probably why he didn’t jell with us as well as Woody does. Woody is a very good musician, of course, but much more ‘Stones-y.’”
Rolling Stones on Vinyl
Recently released by Eagle Rock Entertainment are two superb vinyl LP sets from the Rolling Stones—Some Girls, Live in Texas ’78 and The Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters, Checkerboard Lounge Live, Chicago 1981. Both albums in each set are made with 180 to 200 grams of premium grade, high-definition vinyl, and presented in distinctive colors: translucent red and orange for the Some Girls set and solid black and white for Checkerboard Lounge. Both packages also contain a full-length DVD of the performances, along with bonus features: Some Girls includes a Mick Jagger interview from 2011 and the band’s Saturday Night Live appearance from 1978, while Checkerboard Lounge offers a couple of bonus tracks and selectable Dolby Digital Stereo, Digital 5.1, and DTS Surround Sound.
But it’s the vinyl experience here that really matters, and listening to these performances on a home system comprising a Thorens TD-145 platter, a Mesa/Boogie Tigress tube hi-fi amp, and a pair of Focal 807V speakers re-hipped me to the sonic richness, depth, and prismatic detail of the stereo presentation that vinyl offers compared to the more “pixilated” CD sound.
On the Some Girls set, the Stones are at their rockin’ best, playing tunes from that album along with classics such as “All Down the Line,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” to a wildly enthusiastic crowd at Houston’s Will Rogers Auditorium. Conversely, the much more intimate show presented on Checkerboard Lounge spotlights Muddy Waters and his great band, and the guest appearances from Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Lefty Dizz. All beautifully recorded, as you’d expect. Admittedly, however, it’s also kind of neat to take it in on 5.1, where it feels like you’re sitting in the audience at this funky little Chicago club listening to the chatter and tinkling of bourbon-filled glasses around you as Mick, Keith, and Ronnie groove respectfully with this cast of hardcore blues celebs. An interesting collision of cultures to say the least!
Destined to be collectors’ items, these two sets bring together two archival Rolling Stones performances in a format that will satisfy hard-core hi-fi nuts as well as those who’ve never experienced the magic of pure analog sound. — ART THOMPSON
Five by Five
The First Rolling Stones LPs Viewed From the Other Side of the Pond
BY BARRY CLEVELAND
WHEN DISCUSSING THE FIRST FIVE ROLLING Stones albums, one immediately encounters a problem: There are actually 12 of them. That’s because prior to 1967, British albums were commonly reconfigured for the American market. Unlike in the U.S., singles and LPs were considered entirely separate entities in the U.K., and combining them was frowned upon. Brits were also accustomed to buying EPs, whereas Yanks were not. As a result, the Rolling Stones’ first five British LPs (released on Decca Records) were stretched to seven American LPs (released on Decca’s U.S. subsidiary, London Records) by adding singles, songs from EPs, and other material. Adding to the confusion, some LPs shared the same title—with varying degrees of difference in terms of song selection and sequencing—while others were exclusive to one side of the pond or the other. There are even different versions of the same songs. Here, we’ll briefly consider the band’s first five U.K. releases to get a sense of how the saga of “England’s Newest Hit Makers” played out in England itself—at least from a guitar perspective.
In addition to being the only early Stones albums that were reconfigured for marketing purposes, the first five LPs bear the production stamp of the band’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who secured a deal with Decca in which the band received triple royalties, exercised full artistic control, retained the rights to their masters, and got to choose the studios they recorded in. For their earliest sessions the Stones chose Regent Sound Studios in London, at that time still a mono facility.
The Stones recorded a lot of material at Regent, including what became the band’s first three singles, and the 12 tunes included on their debut LP, The Rolling Stones, released on April 16,1964. The album is replete with spirited rock ’n’ roll, blues, and R&B covers, an original instrumental, and “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back),” the first song penned by the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards songwriting team. The latter features Richards on 12-string acoustic and Brian Jones playing an almost surf-like solo, as well as getting some nasty distorted sounds on the fade-out riff. Other guitar highlights include Jones’ buzzing beelike tremolo picking and slide licks on “I’m a King Bee,” Richards’ gnarly solo on “Now I’ve Got a Witness,” and the dual-guitar interplay on “Carol.” Overall, the guitar work is strong, despite the obvious influences, though the recorded tones tend to be sharp and tinny.
The 12 tracks on The Rolling Stones No. 2 were recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago (where the Stones were visited by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and other of their heroes) and RCA Studios in Hollywood, in addition to Regent Sound. Released on January 15, 1965, it picked up where the debut left off, with mostly R&B covers. The guitars sound considerably fuller than on the first LP. Rich ards’ playing on “Time Is On My Side” (a different version than appeared on U.S. releases) is some of his best from this era, and Jones’ oddly vibratoed slide solo on “What a Shame” stands out—but the real gem is Jones’ killer slide playing on Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (which wasn’t released Stateside until 1973).
Unlike the previously issued U.S. album of the same name, the U.K. version of Out of Our Heads, recorded in the same studios as the preceding album and released on September 24, 1965, didn’t showcase “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It did, however, include “Heart of Stone,” which features beautifully orchestrated guitars. In fact, the juxtaposition of textures such as low twang and high shimmer, enhanced with tremolo, reverb, and echo chamber, contribute more guitar glory to most of the songs than any particular riffs or solos.
Recorded entirely at RCA studios in true stereo, Aftermath, released on April 15, 1966, was both the first album on which Jagger and Richards wrote all the songs, and on which Jones branched out to sitar, marimba, Appalachian dulcimer, mando-guitar, tambura, harpsichord, and koto, in addition to his blazing slide playing on “Doncha Bother Me” and other guitar goodness. Richards’ playing and tones, too, are more sophisticated and imaginative than ever—and dig the fuzz bass! Three of the 14 tracks don’t appear on the U.S. version.
Between the Buttons was recorded on 4-track at RCA and Olympic studios, and released on January 20, 1967. The 12 tunes veer self-consciously toward psychedelia (with the obligatory distortion, atmospherics, and quirky arrangements) and although some cool guitar moments are scattered throughout, Jones focused largely on his myriad other instruments, now including brass and Theremin. Richards’ massive tone and singular rhythm playing on tunes like “Miss Amanda Jones,” however, foreshadowed many great things to come.
For better or worse, the Rolling Stones would go completely bonkers on their next album, Their Satanic Majesties Request—but they would do so without Loog Oldham in the production chair, and, taking yet another cue from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, only one version of the album would be released worldwide.
The Darryl Jones Groove
“The Rolling Stones is a rhythm and blues pocket, but it’s a little looser. That’s not to say it’s less in the pocket, but the pocket is wider, and not as tight as it might be for some other kinds of music. That took a little getting used to for me. I remember in the beginning, sometimes when Charlie Watts would go from section A to section B of a tune, it would feel like the pocket was starting to stretch during some of his fills, and I would make an adjustment. But I noticed that when I made that adjustment, I would end up in a place where I didn’t want to end up, because the pocket hadn’t moved as much as I thought it had. Now, I solidify it, but I don’t lock it up so tight that it can’t breathe.”
“The first thing that happens when the Stones write songs is that Mick and Keith get together and throw around different riffs and ideas. Keith once told me that sometimes he’ll play an old tune on piano—like something by Hoagy Carmichael or a blues tune— and as his hands fall to different places, things will occur to him, and that’s how he’ll come up with a song. Then, Charlie comes in and they start doing a little recording, and they start adding people. Recently, I’ve discussed bass lines with Mick more than I ever have, because he’s evolving, and he has a better idea of what he’s looking for in a bass line. Then, we’ll try a bunch of different stuff—straight eights, partial straight eights, a full-blown line, doubling the guitar—until we come up with something he’s satisfied with. Keith is much more hands off. He just puts the idea out there and lets you develop it in a way that’s more organic to you. The interesting thing about Keith’s writing now is that I can recognize a certain thread that goes through it, and I know a bit about the way he plays bass, so now I have a repertoire of things Keith will do to make the bass line his—to give it those “Keith” characteristics. Like, instead of playing the root note, he’ll play a third lower. I try to add those things to their writing to try and make it a little more Stones-ish.”