Posts Tagged ‘Mick Taylor’

“Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton” by John Mayall (1966)

Contrary to legend, Eric Clapton didn’t have quite a household name when he decided to leave the Yardbirds in 1965.

The band had experienced some success around the nascent London blues circuit, but the members and their management eventually learned they’d have to extend their repertoire a bit if they were looking for major success.

And so came “For Your Love,” the Yardbirds’ breakthrough hit. The primary instrument is the harpsichord, played by freelancer Brian Auger. Clapton’s guitar appears only in the bridge, and even then it’s kind of buried in the mix under Keith Relf’s multitracked vocals.

Keep in mind that “Slowhand” still was a teenager at the time, and he was none too happy about his role in the band being usurped. And so he bailed out, making his spot available for another teenage guitarist, named Jeff Beck. The rest, as they say … well, who needs to spout clichés?

The B-side of “For Your Love” was an instrumental called “Got to Hurry,” which probably contained the most accomplished lead guitar heard to date in the United Kingdom: Clapton’s fretwork screams out against a relatively routine 12-bar-blues backing, begging for discerning listeners to take notice.

One of those listeners was John Mayall, who’d been cultivating his own version of the British blues to a modicum of success. His Blues Breakers backed up John Lee Hooker on a U.K. tour, and his band’s single “Crawling Up a Hill” made a bit of noise on the charts.

Mayall snatched up Clapton for the Blues Breakers, and they promptly cut a couple of tracks for a 45. The A-side, “I’m Your Witchdoctor,” while not a hit, gave knowledgeable listeners a bigger hint about Clapton’s guitar capabilities.

Clapton and Mayall cut another single, just the two of them: “Lonely Years” backed with the Eric-penned instrumental “Bernard Jenkins,” before the guitarist decided to go hang out in Greece and play in a band called the Glands. He eventually returned to the fold after Mayall briefly brought in a replacement guitarist named Peter Green.

Mayall, Clapton, bass player John McVie – yes, where half of the name “Fleetwood Mac” came from – and drummer Hughie Flint then went about laying down tracks for the bandleader’s first studio album. Recorded in March 1966 with Clapton playing a 1960 Gibson Les Paul, “Blues Breakers” – also known as the “Beano” album, because that’s what Eric is pictured as reading in the cover – amply demonstrates the prowess he already commanded just shy of his 21st birthday.

The album opens with a cover of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love,” during which Clapton doubles on the song’s signature riff while weaving sinewy leads around the main theme. During a mid-tune rave-up, he shows why his nickname “Slowhand” is anything but derogatory.

One of Clapton’s biggest influences in his early days was Texas six-string giant – in physical stature, along with instrumental ability – Freddie King, and Slowhand rips up the classic instrumental. In doing so, he provides the first hint that British guitarists might just be able to keep the pace with their American counterparts.

The Mayall original “Little Girl” follows, and while its lyrics are a bit hackneyed, the song boasts a killer riff and more stellar Clapton fretwork. Mayall also takes credit for “Another Man,” which actually is a traditional blues and serves as a showcase for his harmonica work. (For an acoustic guitar workout, check out the version of the song on Jorma Kaukonen’s “Quah.”)

The languid blues “Double Crossing Time” features Clapton playing a lead that lays the groundwork for his work with the band he’d help form later in 1966, Cream. The first side of the LP wraps up with a spirited version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” although much of the track is taken up by a relatively pedestrian Flint drum solo.

The horn section on “Key to Love” foreshadows Mayall’s work circa 1968-early 1969, and “Parchman Farm” is a harmonica-driven take on the oft-covered Mose Allison tune. (Two years later, Blue Cheer would do a proto-metal version for “Vincebus Eruptum.”) At nearly 6 minutes, Mayall’s “Have You Heard” is the longest track on the album, and it gives Clapton plenty of opportunity to further hone his blues mastery.

The next two songs became stapes of the Clapton catalogue: “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” in which he performs his first lead vocal while bringing the legend of composer Robert Johnson to the musical masses, and James Bracken’s instrumental “Steppin’ Out,” which later stretched out to epic proportions during Cream concerts.

“Blues Breakers” wraps up with harmonica master Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right,” which ostensibly features Mayall but has Clapton underpinning the song with furious riffs throughout.

The album climbed to No. 6 on the U.K. charts while inspiring the notorious “Clapton is God” graffiti around London. By that time, he was well on his way to becoming an ex-Blues Breaker, combining forces with Jack Bruce (also a Mayall alumnus) and Ginger Baker on a project that further entrenched him as one of rock’s top few guitarists.

Mayall became renowned as a bandleader whose sidemen went on to carve their own niches in rock history: Green, McVie and Mick Fleetwood with Fleetwood Mac; Mick Taylor with the Rolling Stones; Andy Fraser with Free; Jon Hiseman, Tony Reeves and Dick Heckstall-Smith with Colosseum; Flint with McGuinness Flint; Keef Hartley with the Keef Hartley Band (which played at Woodstock); Aynsley Dunbar with the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation; and Jon Mark and Johnny Almond with Mark-Almond (not the Soft Cell guy!).

At age 79, Mayall still has a heavy touring schedule, with numbers from “Blues Breakers” included, of course.

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“Sticky Fingers” by the Rolling Stones (1971)

Part of the film “Gimme Shelter” shows the Rolling Stones stopping between shows on their 1969 U.S. tour at the famed recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala. There, they started work on some new songs, including one called “Brown Sugar.”

“Gimme Shelter,” of course, also captures the stabbing death of a fan at the Altamont Free Concert in the California desert, just a couple of days after the Muscle Shoals sessions. The fatality occurred during the Stones’ performance of “Under My Thumb,” basically in front of the stage.

The Stones weren’t sure exactly what happened until they saw the applicable footage. They did know something major went down, and they weren’t quite prepared to launch into another tune until guitarist Mick Taylor suggested one of the new songs.

And so came the public debut of “Brown Sugar,” the song that eventually opened the Stones’ first new album of the ’70s.

No one was quite sure what to expect in Altamont’s aftermath, but the band delivered its third straight essential long-player, following “Beggars Banquet” and “Let It Bleed.” Taylor’s full involvement on a Stones album for the first time serves as an added bonus for “Sticky Fingers.”

“Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” which also was recorded at Muscle Shoals, still stand as two of rock’s best-known songs. Several others have been stapes of FM radio for more than four decades: “Bitch,” “Sway,” “Dead Flowers” and the extended workout of “Can You Hear Me Knocking.”

Featuring one of Keith Richards’ most memorable licks, “Brown Sugar” reportedly was written by Mick Jagger with his then-girlfriend (and mother of his daughter Karis), Marsha Hunt, in mind. He has been kind of vague on why he sings about a “scarred old slaver” and his women, telling Rolling Stone in 1995: “God knows what I’m on about on that song. It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go … I never would write that song now.”

“Sway” is indicative of Taylor’s influence on the band, putting his guitar talents on full display, particularly during the outro. He also dominates “Can You Hear Me Knocking,” following a stellar saxophone part by Bobby Keys that got him work with the Stones for years to come.

“You Gotta Move,” a blues tune attributed to Mississippi Fred McDowell and the Rev. Gary Davis, also was recorded at Muscle Shoals. That’s appropriate, given the song’s raw, Southern-inspired arrangement.

The second side of the “Sticky Fingers” LP shows the Stones successfully tackling a number of other styles, from the R&B influence of “Bitch” and “I Got the Blues” to the country rock of “Dead Flowers.” The album closes with the ballad “Moonlight Mile,” which references “a head full of snow” and as a result is often thought to be about cocaine use.

“Sister Morphine” is one of the era’s more straightforward songs about drug abuse, with such harrowing lyrics as: “Well it just goes to show things are not what they seem/Please, Sister Morphine, turn my nightmares into dreams/Oh, can’t you see I’m fading fast/And that this shot will be my last.”

Another Jagger ex-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, won composing credits to “Sister Morphine” after taking Mick and Keith to court. Taylor also has claimed to deserve credits for other material, but so far the legal system hasn’t ruled in his favor.

“Sticky Fingers” might be best remembered among the early ’70s record-buying public for its cover, the Andy Warhol-conceived shot of a male crotch in blue jeans, complete with a workable zipper. The inner sleeve featured the first appearance of the lips-and-tongue logo that have been identified with the Stones ever since.

The album needed no such gimmicks, though. The music continues to sell itself.