Mick Taylor: Rolling Alone (Relix Revisited)
On the 50th anniversary of the first performance by the Rolling Stones, we present this Mick Taylor piece feature, which ran in the February 1980 issue of Relix.
“It’s hard to understand or explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it. No matter how successful you are, if you aren’t satisfied then it’s time to be moving on.”
Mick Taylor wrestles with the question he has been asked ever since he retired as the Rolling Stones’ lead guitarist five years ago. In a voice as soft and reserved as his features and dress, Taylor adds, “When I got out of the Stones, I didn’t know what I was going to do. And when I started this record (his solo album), I didn’t know what I was going to be playing. And by now, I’m no longer sure why I left the stones, except that I needed to.”
Taylor is one of the most respected and admired rock guitarists, among fellow musicians at least. But the general public apparently didn’t follow his every move the way they did Jagger’s Richards’. When Mick Taylor came out earlier this year, it went almost unnoticed. Like Peter Green’s End Of The Game, Taylor’s first solo album ignores commerciality in favor of making good music. Perhaps if it had sounded as much like the Stones as Ron Wood’s atrocious Gimme Some Neck, word would have gotten out.
Meandering bluesy guitar work in a low-key jazz setting mixes with some acoustic blues, a couple of rock vocals and “A Minor,” the quiet closing instrumental which, upon close listening, reveals Taylor’s guitar in the background, repeating the final notes he played with the Stones, the riff from “Time Waits For No One.”
“I was just listening to playbacks of the tune when we were putting the record together,” Taylor says over dinner at a San Francisco restaurant, “and thought that lick would fit, so I overdubbed it.”
That’s not the only reference to his Stones days. The opening song “Leather Jacket,” keeps returning to the lines: “All your leather jackets and faded jeans/All you have left of your rock n’ roll dreams/Put your leather jacket on/It’s time to be moving on.” Was this Taylor’s comment on the Rolling Stones? On rock industry’s fashion and trend consciousness? Or is it autobiographical?
“All of those things,” Taylor admits. Most of all, the song is a declaration of Taylor’s need to follow his Muse, breaking from the successful mold. He had been frustrated in his efforts to get Jagger and Richards to record some of his songs. His forte was playing lead guitar, something there was little room for in the rhythm-oriented Rolling Stones. Even “Time Waits For No One,” with its soaring Santana-esque guitar solo, was released with Jagger and Richards composing credits. A not too happy conclusion to Taylor’s association with the band.
“They’re a great rock ‘n’ roll band,” Taylor says with some distance, “but I wanted to play more guitar than I could there. When I’d joined in ’69, they had already been successful for six or seven years, and I always felt their stature wasn’t attributable to me, that I needed to get out and make my own statement.”
“At the end, it just wasn’t fun anymore. I got off on their music and still do, but I didn’t enjoy doing it anymore. I loved the fringe benefits,” he says with a grin, “but money and luxury don’t make up for job dissatisfaction.”
Born 31 years ago just north of London, Taylor picked up the guitar in his youth, and by his 18th birthday was playing in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, filling the prestigious guitarist’s chair just vacated by Peter Green (who went off to form Fleetwood Mac), and Eric Clapton before him. From Crusade through Bare Wires and Blues from Laurel Canyon, Taylor developed a strong identity and an authoritative approach to the blues. When Brian Jones left the Stones in June, 1969, the 21-year-old Bluesbreakers’ guitarist was hired to fill his spot. Jones died two days later before Taylor’s stage debut with the Stones.
Suddenly the Stones had something they haven’t had before or since: a guitarist who could play improvised melodies, and develop the instrumental portion of the music as strongly as the vocals.
Taylor’s work on Let it Bleed was minimal, but on the live ’69 tour album, Get Yer Ya Ya Ya’s Out, his guitar is all over the place. The music jelled quickly. Where Jones had added baroque ornamentation, and later Ron Wood would duplicate Richards’ style, Taylor took the music somewhere every time he picked up his guitar. The seven-minute “Can’t You Hear me Knockin’” on Sticky Fingers was Taylor’s tour-de-force.
Rather than dominating, Taylor managed to keep a low profile, riding along and aiding the other band members when he wasn’t in the spotlight.
Then, at the end of 1974, Taylor quit just as the Stones were preparing to record their next album. The band must have felt a bit bruised, because they named the next album Black and Blue.
And it gave Taylor his slightly morbid calling card as “the only person to leave the Rolling Stones and live.”
“Every now and then I feel a deep need to do something really challenging. And to get out and play, because music is still what I enjoy doing most,” he explains.
He soon signed on with the short-lived Jack Bruce and Carla Blay band, which gave him a better chance to work out his jazz and rock interests. “But it wasn’t a real group or band, just a vehicle for Jack to promote his solo album. I did learn a lot from him, and would like to have spent more time writing with him.”
He played on friends’ albums and in bands for awhile, before recording his own album. From its inception, Mick Taylor took a year and a half to complete. When it came out, the biography that Columbia Records sent to the media was rife with errors. Understandable, since in the volumes of print that have been cranked out about the Stones, Taylor must occupy a total of just a few pages. Every book and magazine piece focused on Jagger and Richards, the stars of the shows and parties. Even in photographs, Taylor was usually in the background.
In Tony Sanchez’s lurid account of sex and drugs and rock and roll, Up and Down With The Rolling Stones, Taylor only gets a mention for replacing Jones.
“No,” Taylor says, “there’s not much written about me. The Stones never talked, and Mick rarely gave interviews, didn’t need to. Everyone wrote mostly about Mick, anyway.”
Officially a resident of England, Taylor has spent most of his time in New York City. In leisure moments, he says, “I listen to mostly to jazz, R&B, blues. I’d always buy Elvis Costello records, and I like Weather Report, and Keith Jarrett. He creates a whole world of music that’s totally personal.”
Regardless of the album’s sales, Taylor is happy that he did it his way. “It was made without commercial considerations. A self-indulgent venture. But I do hope people will buy it. You can’t really make a record to try to please everyone, because it doesn’t happen. That’s not a way to make a living at music. And that’s what I see myself as doing; making a living at music.”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
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Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
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The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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