Saturday, April 20, 2013

Preston Time

The Rolling Stones supported their "Goats Head Soup" release by nearly 30 European shows (September 1 - October 19, 1973). The tour, considered by many as one of the band's best, proved to be guitarist Mick Taylor's last, but also marked the live debut for keyboard player Billy Preston. Preston, who had been around with the Stones since 1969, replaced Nicky Hopkins, member of the band's touring party since 1971.

In his biography of Nicky Hopkins, author Julian Dawson recalls the thin man's departure from the Stones' live ranks: "Nicky was suddenly no longer in the touring party and his keyboard duties were shared between Ian Stewart and opening act, Billy Preston. What was no doubt intended as a temporary absence, due to conflicts between his Stones commitments and the demands of his solo career, in fact became permanent and Billy Preston was waiting in the wings, eager to replace him".

In the meantime, Stu remained where he was: 'managing the road' for the band, and playing piano during some shows, on assorted songs, that is. 

Adapted from the following source: Julian Dawson, And On Piano....Nicky Hopkins, Backstage Press, 2011.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fact sheet: Goats Head Soup

"Goats Head Soup", the Rolling Stones' 11th studio album, was recorded in Byron Lee's Dynamic Sound Studios in Kingston, Jamaica (November-December, 1972), and got released on August 31, 1973. Critics deliberated, veering from reserved praise to weary disappointment, but in his review on Allmusic author Stephen Thomas Erlewine puts the record in some fine perspective: "Sliding out of perhaps the greatest winning streak in rock history, the Rolling Stones slipped into decadence and rock star excess with "Goats Head Soup", their sequel to "Exile On Main St.".

This is where the Stones' image began to eclipse their accomplishments, as Mick Jagger ascended to jet-setting celebrity and Keith Richards slowly sunk deeper into addiction, and it's possible hearing them moving in both directions on Goats Head Soup, at times in the same song. As Mick Jagger plays the devil (or dances with Mr. D, as he likes to say), the sex and sleaze quotient is increased, all of it underpinned by some genuinely affecting heartbreak, highlighted by 'Angie', one of three ballads on the album (the other ones being 'Coming Down Again' and 'Winter'). This may not be as downright funky, freaky, and fantastic as "Exile", yet the extra layer of gloss brings out the enunciated lyrics, added strings, wah-wah guitars, explicit sex, and violence, making it all seem trippily decadent.

If it doesn't seem like there's a surplus of classics here, all the songs work well, illustrating just how far they've traveled in their songcraft, as well as their exceptional talent as a band - they make this all sound really easy and darkly alluring, even when the sex'n'satanism seems a little silly. To top it all of, they cap off this utterly excessive album with 'Star Star', a nasty Chuck Berry rip that grooves on its own mean vulgarity - its real title is "Starfucker," if you need any clarification, and even though they got nastier (the entirety of "Undercover", for instance), they never again made something this dirty or nasty. And, it never feels more at home than it does at the end of this excessive record".

Ian Stewart played piano on two tracks, the aforementioned 'Star Star' and the blues and boogie tinged 'Silver Train', a song first worked on during "Sticky/Exile" sessions in 1970. Other members of the keyboard department on "Goats Head Soup" were familiar names: Nicky Hopkins (piano on 6 tracks) and Billy Preston (clavinet on '100 Years Ago' and 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)').

Suggested further reading:
Mark Blake, Strange Brew (album review), Mojo Special Edition, 2003.
David Cavanagh, Goats Head Soup, The Ultimate Music Guide (from the makers of Uncut)
James Hector, The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones, Omnibus Press, 1995.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Preparing For Don

On July 17, 1973, in a London studio, the Rolling Stones recorded some instrumental backing tracks to be used for the shooting of promo-films. The shootings, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, were premiered in the "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" TV show. Mick Jagger added live vocals to three songs from the upcoming studio album "Goat's Head Soup": 'Angie', 'Dancing With Mr. D.', and 'Silver Train'. Just like on the album track, Ian Stewart plays piano on 'Silver Train', but he is not seen in the video. Of course not!

Don Kirshner's Rock Concert was an American music variety show that ran during the 1970s and early 1980s, created and produced by Don Kirshner and syndicated to television stations. It premiered on September 29, 1973, with the taped performance by the Stones. It happened to be the band's first appearance on American TV in more than four years.


After his first job for the Stones, overdubbing saxophone on 'Live With Me', Bobby Keys, and horn mate Jim Price, joined the band during many tours and recording sessions until the summer of 1973. Here's how Bobby remembers Ian Stewart, or Stew, as he calls him!

Ian Stewart was our road manager, although he was also more than that. Stew was the guy who'd come back to the dressing rooms and tell us when to go onstage. No one would go toward the stage until Stew said so. All the promoters would come back there and tell us we had to go on, but Stew was the guy who brought the Stones onstage and made sure that the stage was ready. And he always had such a charming way of telling everyone it was time to go: "All right, my little lovely showers of shit, my little three-chord wonders, it's time to go!".

The funny thing is, in his boogie-woogie piano realm, boy, he was a motherfucker. He could play. He was really special. But he was always very self-effacing about his piano-playing, he never gave himself the credit. I remember at some point asking someone what Stew's deal was, which was when I found out that he was in fact the original piano player for the Stones. I had no idea because when I came on Nicky Hopkins was playing piano with 'em and I thought, well, that's Nicky, he's the best, that explains that.

It's very unusual that you find somebody who was one of the actual founding members of a band take what would seem to be a secondary seat in the organization as opposed to being onstage - I mean, he's driving the guys to the gig. He'd play on some stuff, but not a lot. Even so, I know how well loved he was by Keith and Charlie and Mick and Bill. Of all the bitching they'd do about each other, I never heard anybody bitch about Stew. Ever.

I loved him, too. The first car that I bought in England I bought from Stew. It was a Riley Elf. I hadn't even heard of a Riley before. Stew was also instrumental in getting me into the band, or bringing Jim Price and me to Mick's attention as a horn section. I'd met Mick and Keith as a saxophone player, but as a horn section it was Ian Stewart who brought us to Mick's and Keith's and Charlie's and Bill's attention because of the Delaney & Bonnie Southern gospelrock thing. He was a big fan of Leon Russel's and Dr. John's. The fact that Jim Price and I got to play with the Rolling Stones had a lot to do with Ian Stewart.

Adapted from the following source: Bobby Keys, Every Night's a Saturday Night, Counterpoint, 2012.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Let It Shine

Also in 1972-1973 Ian Stewart recorded with singer Dennis Coulson, who had just left the remains of McGuinness Flint, the once successful band around guitarist Tom McGuinness, and ex-John Mayall drummer Hughie Flint. Coulson's solo album, co-produced with Benny Gallagher, Graham Lyle, and sound engineer Keith Harwood, was recorded during 1972-73 at Stargroves, Mick Jagger's home, with the Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Unit.

Stu played piano on four tracks: SS Man, Neurosis USA, Is It Me? and Let It Shine. Other musicians on the album included Benny Gallagher (guitar, accordion, bass, electric piano, harmonium), Graham Lyle (bass, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, harmonium), Hughie Flint (drums), Bruce Rowland (drums, congas), Jim Jewell (saxophone), Paul Rutherford (trombone), Toad Thompson (guitar), and Nicky Judd (piano, organ).

Of course Stu knew most, if not all, of the musicians involved, especially Benny Gallagher, who later, together with Ronnie Lane, went on to form the band Slim Chance, and drummer Bruce Rowland, with whom he'd worked together on the soundtrack to the "Mahoney's Last Stand" movie.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Something New

July 1973 saw the release of Chris Jagger's first solo album, "You Know The Name But Not The Face". Despite the release of the album (and a second one in 1974), Chris, who studied dramatic art, remained in the shadow of his elder brother Mick, although he cemented his own place in music history with a handful of fine albums.

The debut album, produced by Chris Jagger and John Uribe (with sound engineer Glyn Johns), was recorded during 1972-73 at Stargroves, Mick's home, with the Rolling Stones Mobile Recording Unit.
Basic line-up: Chris Jagger (vocals), John Uribe (guitar, bass, percussion)/David Pierce (guitar)/Roger Earl (drums)/Bobby Keys (saxophone).

Ian Stewart contributed piano to one track, the blues rocking 'Something New'. Mick Jagger helped out on backing vocals on a couple of tracks. You can listen to snippets of all songs right here:

In a 2012 interview with on line music blog Chris told about Stu's role and position in the Stones' ranks:

“Often the musicians that are most highly regarded by their peers are not the best known names. For example, the Stones all admired Ian Stewart who was their pianist, a founder member of the band. He had links back to jazz, boogie-woogie and the old days. He taught the band so much. Even now if you mention his name the band will say, 'Ah, Stu....he would have done it like this!' And he would always be helping people out, encouraging young players who he felt had a good attitude. Attitude was very important".