Zipping through the days at lightning speed
Keith Richards & Andrew Oldham: Recording the first album
Bill: On the first album, we cut everything in mono. The band had to record more or less live in the studio so what was on our record was more or less our act, what we played on the ballroom and club circuits. It was really just the show you did onstage recorded in one take - as it SHOULD be.
Keith: Many of the English punk records sound like our early records and that is very hard to achieve nowadays with sophisticated technology, 24-track studios. We did our early records on a 2-track Revox in a room insulated with egg cartons at Regent Sound. It was like a little demo in Tin Pan Alley, as it used to be called. Denmark Street in Soho. It was all done on a 2-track Revox that he had on the wall. We used to think, Oh, this is a recording studio, huh? This is what they're like? A tiny little backroom. Under those primitive conditions it was easy to make the kind of sound we got on our first album and the early singles, but hard to make a much better one.
Oldham: Although Not Fade Away was a Buddy Holly song, I considered it to be like the first song Mick and Keith wrote, in that they picked the concept of applying that Bo Diddley thing to it. The way they arranged it was the beginning of the shaping of them as songwriters. From then on they wrote... What basically made the record was that whole Bo Diddley acoustic guitar thrust. You heard the whole record in one room.
Oldham & Bill Wyman: The first album
Oldham: We did the first album in about 10 days. We'd decide to do a tune, but Mick wouldn't know the words, so Mick would run around to Denmark Street to Carlin Music to pick up the words to something like Can I Get a Witness? He'd come back 25 minutes later and we'd start.
Bill: Andrew was always pushing us to get us to do Motown things like Can I Get a Witness? And he was right as well; he was more right than we were. And, of course, when Mick and Keith got into writing, the songs came out more like he was looking for. Keith was always more into soul music than me or Charlie, and Mick loved soul performers like Wilson Pickett and James Brown.
(February-March 1964): Touring
I hate it. I don't like touring at the best of times, but as tours go this one has been quite good. The audiences are good... I'll be glad when it's all over, this tour. I don't like the provinces. You can't eat and you can't get clean shirts.
(On Tell Me) Keith was playing 12-string and singing harmonies into the same microphone as the 12-string. We recorded it in this tiny studio in the West End of London called Regent Sound, which was a demo studio. I think the whole of that album was recorded in there. But it's very different from doing those R&B covers or Marvin Gaye covers and all that. There's a definite feel about it. It's a very POP song, as opposed to all the blues covers and the Motown covers, which everyone did at the time.
(A) beam of light... flashed across his face when he wrote something he liked. (Writing for Brian) was like talking to somebody. He was always writing poems and words for songs on little pieces of paper. Obviously, I loved them. They were romantic, sort of spiritual, like Donovan's... about his feelings. I would encourage him to do his own things but he would say, They're not finished. That was his excuse all the time.
I was the lead guitarist - I had that title. That was the time when people thought there were special guitars for rhythm and lead.
(May 1964): Making it
Now we're going to America next month and I think I've finally proved to those people who said I was always doing the wrong thing that I've been right all along. I've got somewhere by doing things my own way. It's been fun and we've had some laughs.
America and soul music
Nobody realises how America blew our minds and the Beatles' too. Can't even describe what America meant to us. We first started to listen to Otis Redding when we got to the States, and picked up our first Stax singles. And Wilson Pickett.
Meeting the Stones
The first time I met (the Stones) was when they walked into RCA Studios, and the session just stopped because no one had ever seen anyone who looked like that...
The first American gig
Actually (our first ever American) gig was in San Bernardino. It was a straight gas, man. They all knew the songs and they were all bopping. It was like being back home. Ah, love these Americans and Route 66 mentioned San Bernardino, so everybody was into it...
(1971): San Antonio
(T)he reason I remember San Antone so much is waking up and this is, I mean, a young English cat never been face to face with the realities of American life... I put on the TV the first morning: 15 killed last night in a brawl down on the river Brazos or whatever it is. I thought, God, they're riotin' down here, what's going on? Is it a race riot, old chap? Did you hear that?... Turn on the TV next morning, 18 people killed last night and it slowly began to sink in, right, every night around 15 or 20 people get it done to them in San Antone, either Mexicans or spades or kids that go out... I mean, that's amazing. Why doesn't someone do something about that? That's what I used to think then. You know, that doesn't happen in my home town. It happens, one could find it, you could find it in any town, you could find it in my town, sure. But it wasn't that 18 PEOPLE were dead the next morning, you know, and one could certainly get one's self chipped about quite easily.
Bill Wyman & Mick Jagger: Chess Studios
Keith: Before we went to America it was very difficult to record in England. Nobody could record or had recorded the sound we were trying to get. People weren't used to that kind of roughness. Everyone in England at the time was incapable: engineers, equipment, producers and, to a certain extent, musicians. No one could get a really good funky American sound which is what WE were after. The best move we could possibly do was get to America as quickly as possible and record there.
Bill: The methods of recording in England and America were completely different. The only people you could use over here were Bill Fowley at Regent Sound and Glyn Johns, if you could get hold of him. The big trouble with recording in England was that for a rock group the studio acoustics were so bad because you couldn't play loud. When we recorded at the Chess Studios in Chicago, we had Ron (Malo), the guy who engineered all the Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf records. He knew exactly what we wanted and he got it almost instantly.
Mick: Murray the K gave us It's All Over Now, which was great because we used to think he was a cunt but he turned us on to something good. It was a great record by the Valentinos but it wasn't a hit.
Bill: (At Chess Studios in Chicago), Willie Dixon walked in to see us and talked about the scene. So did Buddy Guy. We felt were were like taking part in a little bit of history - after all, those studios were used by Muddy Waters as well as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. We knew pretty well what numbers we wanted to get in the can... like It's All Over Now... and the atmosphere was so marvelous that we got through them in double quick time. Then, on the next day, both Chuck and Muddy came in to see us. Fantastic.
Keith: I have several memories of Muddy Waters. The weirdest one is when we first went into Chess Studios in '64, the first time we came here... There's Phil Chess and there's Ron Malo, the engineer, and this guy in white overalls painting the ceiling. As we walked by into the studio, somebody said, Oh, by the way, this is Muddy Waters, and he's painting the ceiling. He wasn't selling records at the time, and this is the way he got treated... I'm dying, right? I get to meet The Man - he's my fucking god, right - and he's painting the ceiling! And I'm gonna work in his studios. Ouch! Oh, this is the record business, right?... And bless him.
We have changed a bit since we got famous. I mean, how would you like to sing the same seven numbers every night? I may not be much of a singer but there is no artistry in that. Still, we do have fun as well.
Omaha and Carnegie Hall
We really felt like a sore pimple in Omaha. On top of that, the first time we arrived there, the only people to meet us off the plane were 12 motorcycle cops who insisted on doing this motorcade thing right through town. And nobody in Omaha had ever heard of us. We thought, Wow, we've made it. We must be heavy. And we get to the auditorium and there's 600 people there in a 15 000-seat hall. But we had a good time. That's what stopped us from turning into popstars then... Then we really had to work America and it really got the band together... Some towns you went into on that first tour they'd look at you with a look that could kill. You could just tell they wanted to beat the shit out of you.
(Carnegie Hall) was just screaming with kids. We'd almost forgotten what it was like, 'cause we were used to that every night, every time we played (in England), and suddenly (on our first American tour) we were brought down, bang, everybody saying, What a fuckup, we've blown it. America was still very much into Frankie Avalon. There wasn't any thought of long-haired kids, we were just entertainment-business freaks, with long hair, just like a circus show. And we get to New York and suddenly we realize that maybe we... that it's just starting.
We'd walk into some of those places (we were playing) and it was like they had the Battle of Crimea going on, people gasping, tits hanging out, chicks choking, nurses running round with ambulances. I know it was the same for the Beatles. One had been reading about that: Beatlemania... You know that weird sound that thousands of chicks make when they're really letting it go. They couldn't hear the music. We couldn't hear ourselves for years... There was one ballroom number in Blackpool during Scots week when all the Scots came down and get really drunk and let it rip, a whole gang of em came to this ballroom and they didn't like us and they punched their way to the front, right though the whole 7000 people, straight to the stage and started spitting at us. In those days, I had a temper, and You spit on me? And I kicked his face in.
The Kurhaus riot
The same thing (that happened in Blackpool) happened in this beautiful old opera house in the Hague. They just ripped the place to pieces. We were on stage for 7 minutes. One number at full volume, and two with no electricity. All the power got switched off by the cops. We tried to carry on with maracas and tambourines but we just had to give up. The police made us leave and then the audience destroyed the place, pulled the tapestries off the walls, ripped the fitted chairs out and threw them into the chandeliers. It was really awful.
Buying soul singles in America
Back in the [old] days, when we were recording in Chicago and Los Angeles, we used to go down to the local record stores, buy up a whole bunch of soul singles, sit down by the record player and learn 'em. Things like Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin') and Otis Redding stuff and then we'd do 'em as quickly as possible.
Working with the Stones
There was no guidance at all on those early records. And very little need for it. What the fuck, this was the first time a band got together and just played. They changed my whole idea of recording. Before I'd just been doing sessions, 3 hours to get the tunes down. Working with the Stones made sense right away. Booked studio time for 24 hours a day for two weeks and if you didn't get it, fuck it. The great new thing about them was they'd record a song the way they had written it. And if it didn't work nobody thought twice about making it a tango. They tried every way possible.
The beginning of the end for Brian Jones
He was certainly ill all right, but he didn't do anything to help himself, he aggravated it by taking too much of something, and generally behaved very stupidly. I tell you what, he nearly got hoofed out there and then. He hadn't really contributed anything on those record dates. He was either stoned or pissed or just sick, and they got fed up with him.
Ballads in America
In America we were basically known for heavy, slowish kind of ballads. Time Is On My Side, Tell Me, Heart of Stone, that was what we were known for. Strangely enough that was our thing. Every single was a slow song. Who would believe it? You'd think they'd be clamoring for out-and-out rock and roll, but no, it was the fuckin' soul ballads that happened for us in America.
December 21, 1964: Charlie Watts' children book based on Charlie Parker,
to a High Flying Bird, is published.
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