We’ve been posting our favorite Rolling Stones songs for years, but not so often than other group from across the ocean, whose claptrap caterwauling isn’t for us (to borrow a phrase from industrialist C. Montgomery Burns). As much as we love their albums (even Steel Wheels) we’re not planning to see them perform at the baseball park tomorrow night. Sixty-five dollars for nosebleed seats is just out of our zip code.
Lately, we have been reading Keith Richards’ 2010 autobiography, Life, which was loaned to us by Wynona blues guitarist Mike Munson. just before we realized “hey, there’s brand new copies on the shelf here in the record shop!” Its a pretty entertaining read, if you’re a fan.
Early on, Richards provides a description of the record-collecting culture which revolved around American blues records, and which undeniably shaped the Rolling Stones. It reminds us a little of the way the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music inspired the folk revival of the 50s and 60s, and how a predominantly urban culture embraced the rural music of the so-called “old weird America.” The way Richards writes with reverence about American records (not just blues music but early rock and roll too, like Buddy Holly or Little Richard) suggests maybe we don’t always choose the music we love. Maybe its something already there inside us, waiting to be discovered.
Mick and I must have spent a year, while the Stones were coming together and before, record hunting. There were others like us, trawling far and wide, and meeting one another in record shops. If you didn’t have money you would just hang and talk. But Mick had these blues contacts. There were a few record collectors that somehow had a channel through to America before anybody else. There was Dave Golding up in Bexleyheath, who had an in with Sue Records, and so we heard artists like Charlie and Inez Foxx, solid-duty soul, who had a big hit with “Mockingbird” a little after this. Golding had a reputation for having the biggest soul and blues collection in southeast London or even beyond, so Mick got to know him and so he would go round. He wouldn’t nick records or steal them, there was no cassettes or taping, but sometimes there would be little deals where somebody would do a Grundig reel-to-reel copy for you of this and that. And such a strange bunch of people. Blues aficionados in the 60s were a sight to behold. They met in little gatherings like early Christians, but in the front rooms in southeast London. They was nothing else necessarily in common amongst them at all; they were all different ages and occupations. It was funny to walk into a room where nothing else mattered except he’s playing the new Slim Harpo record and that was enough to bond you all together.
We know Jagger and Richards were fans of Slim Harpo, because they covered his “Hip Shake Thing” on Exile on Main Street, even giving him a shout-out. Harpo borrowed the beat and melody for his tune from Bo Diddley. These are all favorites of ours. We posted about the three versions here.
There would be these muttered conversations about whether you had the bit of shellac that was from the original pressing from the original company. Later on, everybody would argue about it. Mick and I were smirking at each other across the room, because we were only there to find out a bit more about this new collection of records that had just arrived that we’d heard about. The real magnet was ‘Hell, I’d love to be able to play like that.’ But the people you have to meet to get the latest Little Milton record! The real blues purists were very stuffy and conservative, full of disapproval, nerds with glasses deciding what’s really blues and what ain’t. I mean, these cats know? They’re sitting in the middle of Bexleyheath in London on a cold and rainy day, “Diggin’ My Potatoes”… Half of the songs they’re listening to, they have not idea what they’re about, and if they did they’d shit themselves. They have their idea of what the blues are, and that they can only be played by agricultural blacks. For better or worse it was their passion.
And it certainly was mine, too, but I wasn’t prepared to discuss it.