Mick Taylor on the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, and Playing Guitar

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    By the time of our 1979 interview, Mick Taylor, master of slide guitar and the poignant solo, had accumulated some of the most stellar credentials imaginable. Thirteen years earlier, just after he’d turned seventeen, Mick had launched his career with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, touring the U.S. and playing brilliantly on six albums. “He had the hard job of replacing Peter Green in my band,” Mayall wrote in 1970, “and over the period of two years made the grade to where people who played the guitar used to crowd every concert or club date and stand in awe and amazement at what he played.”

    In 1969, the Rolling Stones, midway through the Let It Bleed sessions, fired Brian Jones, who perished a few weeks later. The band brought in Mick Taylor as his replacement. Keith Richards recounted in recent autobiography, Life: “No surprise to us, how good he was. He seemed to just step in naturally at the time.” Taylor’s first contributions to the Rolling Stones was overdubbing electric guitar on “Honky Tonk Women” and performing for 250,000 fans at the July 5, 1969, concert in London’s Hyde Park. In all, Mick Taylor spent six years in the Rolling Stones, touring the world and playing on the classic albums Let It Bleed, Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goat’s Head Soup, It’s Only Rock and Roll, and Metamorphosis. “We did the most brilliant stuff together, some of the most brilliant stuff the Stones ever did,” Keith wrote of Mick. “Everything was there in his playing – the melodic touch, a beautiful sustain and a way of reading a song. He had a lovely sound, some very soulful stuff. He’d get to where I was going even before I did. . . . I loved the guy, loved to work with him, but he was very shy and very distant.” Soon after 1975’s It’s Only Rock and Roll sessions, Mick quit the Stones.

    My encounter with Mick Taylor took place four years later, at another high point in his career. He’d just finished recording his debut solo, the self-titled Mick Taylor, for Columbia Records. Rather than go the route of importing famous musicians, Taylor had played most of the instruments himself. His guitar playing. I thought, was spectacular, and in person, Mick turned out to be humble and gracious. Our two-hour interview took place on June 22, 1979, while Mick was in Los Angeles. Portions of this 11,000-word conversation appeared in the February 1980 issue of Guitar Player magazine. Here, for the first time, is the complete, unedited version.

     

    In the Beginning

    If it’s alright with you, Mick, I’d like to cover your whole career.

    Okay. The ball’s in your court. You just ask the questions, and I’ll try and answer them.

    When and where were you born?

    ’48, in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

    Were others in your family into music?

    Very, very much so. They weren’t musicians. Well, my mother used to play the piano a little bit. She used to play piano in the pub. But I was always surrounded by music. And my mother had a younger brother who was very into ’50s rock and roll. And so that was really the kind of music I first heard, even before I started playing guitar.

    Would that be like Bill Haley?

    Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard.

    When did you decide that you wanted to play an instrument?

    My mother’s younger brother, he played the guitar. His name was John. He had a guitar, a big, old semi-acoustic guitar. I think it was a Hofner guitar. I used to come home from school at lunch time – I used to have lunch at my grandmother’s – and he would be out of work. This is my grandmother on my mother’s side. He would be out of work, and after I’d had my lunch and before I had to go back to school, I’d go up in his bedroom and play his guitar. And that’s kind of how it started. [Laughs.] That’s when I was about nine or ten years old.

    When did you start getting into blues?

    As my interest in the guitar developed, my interest in blues music in general developed. By the time I was 14 or 15, I was into blues and I was buying blues records – as many as I could get a hold of. They weren’t very accessible at the time. I mean, they weren’t very accessible here, either, unless you went to the right area, the right record shops. It’s strange, but in London they were even more inaccessible. But in a strange kind of way, the whole blues thing did start in London – I mean, amongst white musicians, anyway. There used to be a couple of tiny little record shops in Soho that just specialized in importing blues records from America, and they were all on tiny, little obscure labels. I used to buy Elmore James records, Sonny Boy Williamson records, B.B. King records, Freddie King, all of the really well known black blues guitarists.

    Did you start learning licks off of records?

    Yeah. I just listened to them and tried to play them.

    You’d play along?

    Yeah, I’d play along with records, yeah.

    Did anyone teach you anything in the beginning?

    My Uncle John, he taught me some chords. That’s the only thing that anybody else showed me. For the rest of it I just kind of absorbed the spirit of rhythm and blues, I suppose, over the years through listening to it all the time. And practicing, you know. I played with some friends were who also into that kind of music too. Played in various local little bands until I was about 17.

    Was one of those bands the Gods?

    Yeah. You’ve heard of them?

    Yeah.

    Yeah. Well, we never really did anything. We never made a record or anything. But it’s quite interesting in a historical sense, I suppose, because the piano player/organist that I played with at the time is the keyboard player with Uriah Heep now. His name is Ken Hensley.

    Were you playing mostly blues?

    Yeah, mostly blues, but we used to do a lot of Booker T instrumentals and a lot of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett stuff. I’ve always like that Memphis Stax R&B stuff. Yeah, it’s great, some of that stuff.

     

    The John Mayall Era

    When you were 15 you jammed with John Mayall at the Polytechnic?

    That’s right, yeah.

    How did that happen?

    Well, Eric Clapton was with him, and he didn’t show up for the gig. I was there with my friends to watch the show. We watched the first set, which was about an hour long, and Eric just wasn’t there. I’d kind of gone along to see Eric Clapton and John Mayall, you know, and Eric Clapton wasn’t there. With a lot of prompting from my friends, I got up on the stage and played the second set. I went backstage and asked John if I could play. I was very nervous! [Laughs.] I was still kind of learning how to play blues guitar then; I wasn’t really that good.

    Did Mayall have a guitar for you?

    Well, Eric’s guitar was there, but Eric wasn’t, you see. So I just played his guitar. It was a Les Paul – I think it was probably a 1958 Les Paul. He was playing it through a small Marshall combo amp. They’ve started remaking them now. They used to be about 60 watts and they had four 10-inch speakers.

    How did that show go?

    [Laughs.] It went great! For me, it was great. It was a great honor to step on the stage and play with John.

    And a year later you replaced Peter Green in John’s band.

    I replaced Peter Green, yeah, when he left. When Peter Green left, John got in touch with me somehow – I really can’t remember how.

    Was he in the U.S. at the time?

    Who, John? No, he’d never been to America then. It’s interesting, really, because John Mayall didn’t come over to America to tour until probably 1967. I joined John Mayall then, and we used to play in clubs all the time. We’d do six or seven nights a week in clubs all over England. And he had a really big following in England. I think that a couple of months later the Blues Breakers record that Eric Clapton made with John Mayall was released in America, or something like that. Anyway, that was the album that made John Mayall popular with the American audiences, but he’d never actually been there until I joined him.

    Did you drop out of school to join Mayall?

    Oh, no, no. I left school and took a couple of years not really doing anything much except for playing and I had the occasional job. But I always kind of knew that I’d end up playing with somebody and making a living out of playing music.

    I heard that you worked as an engraver for a while.

    Yeah, yeah. Which involved carving letters into rubber, which was then printed onto paper and cardboard.

    So you were about 17 when you joined Mayall.

    Yeah, I’d just turned 17.

    Was Crusade the first album you played on?

    Yeah, Crusade was the first record, and it was really amazing because it took seven hours to make that record – to make it and to mix it – which freaks people out these days. I mean, I spent a long time on my album too. It’s just incredible how things have changed over the years. I think in those days records were very secondary things, you know. If you were working and you were playing and you were on the road, that’s how you earned your living. And because of that, you’d make a record. If you had a following, people would buy it.

    How did you record that first album? Did you rehearse a lot first?

    We were just really doing stuff that we were doing onstage every night, so rehearsals weren’t necessary. I think we started about 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning, and it was all finished by about 7:00 in the evening.

    What kind of guitar did you use?

    I used a Les Paul.

    What do you remember of that guitar?

    It was made in ’60s, and it was a sunburst Les Paul. It was just a regular Les Paul.

    And then you did Bare Wires in 1968.

    Bare Wires, yeah, that was the next album. But by the time we did that album, John had changed his band completely. He had a drummer called Jon Hiseman, who was then just a jazz drummer, but since then he’s had his own group called Coliseum. John’s always been into jazz too. I’ve always liked jazz a lot. We both listened to jazz and R&B and blues. I think John kind of wanted a band that was at least capable of stretching out a bit and doing a bit of not jazz music, but jazz-flavored things.

    Is that why he had Chris Mercer and Dick Heckstall-Smith on that record?

    Yes, that’s right.

    That’s the very first blues album I ever bought.

    Really? Bare Wires? Great!

    I’ll never forget that song you did on there, “I Started Walking.”

    Oh, yeah, with the feedback.

    It sounded sort of Claptonesque.

    Yeah.

    Was that intentional, or did you have a parallel development with him?

    No, “parallel develop” is great. [Laughs.] I had a parallel development with him, yeah. I was kind of developing at the same time. He developed much quicker than me. He got into blues music earlier than I did.

    How did you get the sustain on that song?

    I just sat down in front of the speaker, and it started feeding back. I was using a Fender Bassman amp with a Fender speaker, and that was with the Les Paul.

    Do you still have that guitar?

    I don’t have the same one, no. I have two Les Pauls at the moment, but that particular one was stolen years ago.

    You wrote “No Reply” and “Hartley Quits” on that record, right?

    Yes, that’s right, yeah.

    The song “Sandy”had a very strange slide section in it.

    I think John played slide guitar on that, actually. I think the one you’re talking about doesn’t have drums on it, does it?

    No. It’s the last song.

    That’s the one. I think John did that.

    Did you play on “Killing Time”?

    Yeah, I played on that.

    On some of “Sandy” it sounds like resonator guitar.

    I’m just trying to remember what the guitar was that John used. I think it was probably going through a Leslie speaker or something. I remember the track you mean, yeah. I think the guitar he was using was just a guitar he had kind of made up himself. I’m pretty sure he used it through a Leslie speaker, and he used a slide, and that’s that strange kind of eerie sound you’re talking about.

    By that album, you already had a very good vibrato.

    Yeah.

    How did you develop that?

    Practice! I used to listen to B.B. King a lot, you know, and he has a great vibrato. I didn’t find this out until years later, but he does it in a different way. He kind of creates vibrato in almost the same way that a classical guitarist does, by kind of moving his hand rather than his finger. The guy that’s influenced me more than anybody, really, is Jimi Hendrix. I think he was great. He was tremendous. And his vibrato was fantastic.

    Was the next album Blues From Laurel Canyon?

    Well, there was one album between Bare Wires and Lauren Canyon. It was a live album, and it was a double album. What was the title? Anyway, it was recorded on a European tour.

    Was that released in the U.S.?

    It should have been. I’m trying to remember the title. You should check that out, because there definitely was a live album. Ah, yes – it was called Diary of a Band. So there was that album, and then there was Blues From Laurel Canyon.

    You had some fine playing on Blues From Laurel Canyon.

    Yeah, that was good band, actually, that band that John had then, with me and Stevie Thompson and Colin Allen. It was a nice, tight, little four-piece band. It was great. Probably the best of my most enjoyable period, for me.

    As a guitarist?

    Yeah, I think so.

    Why is that?

    Because by then we were playing in America. I was meeting more and more musicians and buying more and more blues records. You know, it was probably the most enjoyable period. I mean, that was when I was really developing as a guitarist, although in some ways there’s probably less guitar on that album.

    Did you play the solo in “Vacation”?

    Yeah.

    What did you use for that?

    A Fender Stratocaster.

    Did it have the vibrato arm on it?

    Yeah.

    What did you run it through?

    I was playing it through a Marshall amp – I think it was a 50-watt amp with a 4×12 cabinet.

    Did you use that on “Walking on Sunset” too?

    Yes. Same guitar, same amp.

    How did you get that effect in the beginning of “The Bear”? It sounds like brittle harmonics.

    Oh, it is harmonics. It’s just like a cluster of harmonics that all kind of merge into each other because the notes are played very quickly, one after another. They sustain a little bit. It’s just a chord, really, which I played the harmonics of.

    Did you run it through an effects device?

    No, no effects. Just a bit of reverb.

    With Mayall, you used a wah-wah once in a while.

    Yeah – on that track you were talking about, “No Reply.”

    That was Hendrix-like.

    Yeah. Yeah, it was. I was really into him at the time. [Laughs.] In fact, we used to play with him a lot too. I remember one gig very, very clearly. We played with Jimi Hendrix and Albert King at the old Fillmore West in San Francisco.

    Did you learn anything from watching Hendrix or talking to him?

    Well, yeah, I kind of learned things all the time. He just completely, completely blew my mind. When I saw him onstage, I just thought he was amazing, for a guitarist to have that energy in his playing, and also the control and the rhythm. You know, for most guitarists it’s incredibly difficult to play like that, or to even play anywhere near that standard in a three-piece group. I mean, Eric Clapton did it with Cream. And Hendrix was great, the way he switched from rhythm to leads. His guitar and his voice were almost like the same thing.

    Did your using Strats come from knowing him?

    No, not really. I’d always liked Fenders. The first blues guitarist that I heard play a Fender was Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, Hubert Sumlin. I heard a couple of records of Howlin’ Wolf. One was called “Goin’ Down Slow.” There were several records of Howlin Wolf’s, and then I found out who his guitarist was, and then I found out that he played a Fender Strat.

    Was this when you were with Mayall?

    Yeah.

    Were you in the U.S. when you got your Strat?

    Yeah, I was.

    I’ve heard a lot of guys say they had trouble buying Fenders in England.

    When was this? Was this pre-CBS Fender?

    Yeah, pre-CBS.

    And they weren’t as good in England?

    Mick Ralphs [from Bad Company] was just telling me that you couldn’t find them. He said he searched all over and couldn’t get one until he came to the U.S.

    You could find them. They were there. You mean a Fender Strat with a maple neck? They were difficult to find – very difficult to find, for some reason. I don’t know why.

    What was it like working with John Mayall?

    Oh, it was great. It was six, seven nights a week on the road. The nice thing about it for me was that in those days we had time to kind of get to know a place a bit better. We used to play clubs – over here in the U.S. too – and we’d do residencies. We’d do like five or six nights at the Whisky, and so you’d get to know people a bit better and you’d get to hear other musicians. You’d hang out with other musicians, and you’d be able to play. You’d be able to jam afterwards. And that was the really nice thing about it for me.

    Would John give you freedom when it came to your solos?

    Oh, yeah. Totally. Within the framework of what he was doing. You’d have complete freedom to do whatever you wanted. You could make as many mistakes as you wanted too. [Laughs.]

    Easy guy to work for.

    Yeah.

    Do you see John these days?

    I haven’t seen him for ages. I’d like to try and see him, actually.

    You got back together with John in 1970 to play on his Back to the Roots album.

    Yeah. He came over to London. It was when Harvey Mandel was playing with him. Yeah, I went down to the studio and did two tracks with him. One was called “Marriage Madness,” and the other track I can’t remember.

    You were also on “Mr. Censor Man” and “Force of Nature.”

    Yeah.

    On “Force of Nature” you were playing with Clapton and Mandel.

    I don’t think we were all there at the same time. Eric must have overdubbed his bit later, because I remember playing with Harvey Mandel. But Eric overdubbed his bit later.

    .

    The Rolling Stones Era

    Mick Taylor playing slide guitar at Winterland, 1972. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

     

    How did your first connection with the Rolling Stones come about?

    Through John Mayall. John was a really good friend of theirs – he’d known them for ages. They started off the same way he did, really. They were playing clubs in and around London, and they were playing the same kind of stuff, but a bit more R&B, a bit more rock and roll orientated. He’d known them for years, and he was down at one of their recording sessions when they were working on Let It Bleed. They told him they were looking for a guitarist, because they wanted to go on the road again – they hadn’t done much for a couple of years. And he said, “Well, you can have my guitarist, because he’s just left.” I’d already quit John before I even knew about this.

    Did you know what you were going to do?

    Well, I was going to get some kind of blues band together, or more of an R&B band, really. I really didn’t know. I had no definite ideas about what I was going to do, except that I wanted to play in a kind of harder R&B band. John had made a decision not to use a drummer for his next band, which didn’t really suit my style at all. Which is why he used an acoustic guitar and a saxophone player. So I quit. So anyway, he told them about me, and they gave me a call. I just went down and played, and it just felt right. It just felt good. They asked me to join there and then.

    In the studio?

    Yeah.

    On Let It Bleed, you played on “Country Honk” and “Live With Me,” right?

    “Country Honk,” “Live With Me,” “Honky Tonk Women” – that’s it.

    What were your feelings when they asked you to join?

    Well, it’s kind of hard to describe, really. I was very honored, very flattered, in a way. But also I really felt that it was the kind of band that suited me at the time. It sounds strange to say “the kind of band that suited me at the time,” but I mean they really were, because I didn’t want to just play 12-bar blues. So it really suited me at the time anyway, and I really felt that with them I could also add a lot to what they were doing.

    So in a way, you made a jump from being in a touring band to instant superstardom.

    Yeah, but I never felt like that, because I wasn’t responsible for them being that successful. A lot of people have asked me that question, and I did make that jump, but the thing is because they were already so successful, I didn’t relate that success to me. You know what I mean?

    Sure. After you joined, you went right out and did a huge gig.

    Yeah, Hyde Park. [Here’s a video of the band playing “Sympathy for the Devil” at the event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzAEtLPSzRg .]

    Was that a tribute for Brian Jones?

    Yeah, it became that, yeah. I think it had been arranged before that happened [Jones’ death], but that’s what it became.

    What kind of guitar were you using when you started with the Stones?

    I was using a Les Paul again, and a Fender. Onstage at that particular gig, I was using a Les Paul. I also had a Gibson SG.

    Did you use that Les Paul throughout the Stones?

    Yeah.

    What kind is it?

    It’s a 1968 sunburst Les Paul. I don’t remember the amplification – a stack of something. [Laughs.] I think it was Hi-Watt.

    Do you still own that Les Paul?

    I’ve still got that one, yeah.

    Did you have it modified at all?

    No, it’s the same. And the interesting thing about that one, that guitar, is that I bought that guitar from Keith Richards two years before. I’ve got an idea why he wanted to sell it, but I remember going down to the studio. It’s interesting, because I don’t remember actually meeting him then, but I met Ian Stewart, their roadie who also plays piano. I met him, and I told him I was looking for a Les Paul, because the other one had been stolen. And he said, “Well, we’ve got one for sale. Come down to the studio and have a look at it.” I think it was when the Stones were making Beggars Banquet. It was funny – when I met Keith a couple of years later, I turned up with the same guitar that he’d had.

    Was it a stock guitar?

    Yeah. Oh, now wait a minute. It had a Bigsby arm on it, which I took off.

    What about the pickups?

    The pickups were the humbucking pickups, and I still have the same ones.

    Who had the Gibson ES-345 around then?

    I had one – the brown one. Keith and I both had one each. I used that on Sticky Fingers, actually, quite a bit.

    You joined the Stones in June, and then in October you went to Los Angeles to start a tour.

    That’s right, yeah.

    How did that tour compare to working with John Mayall?

    Oh, it was completely different. I mean, we were still getting up onstage and doing a gig, but everything else about it was totally different. It was thousand times more people.

    How did you and Keith Richards work out your parts?

    We never really consciously worked them out. They just kind of happened. He played most of the riffs in the songs, and I played most of the solos.

    Is this the way it happened from the beginning?

    Yeah.

    For years, people have been arguing about who soloed on the Chuck Berry songs “Carol” and “Little Queenie” on Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out.

    Keith plays the solos.

    On both?

    Mmm . . . I really should be able to remember all these things. [Laughs.] I’m pretty sure he does, yeah. “Little Queenie” and “Carol”? I think on “Carol,” I played the solo.

    The “Street Fighting Man” solo [on Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out] was yours, right?

    Oh, yeah, yeah.

    Keith has said that you made the song “Honky Tonk Women” what it became.

    Well, I definitely added something to it, but it was more or less complete by the time I arrived and did my overdubs.

    Was it your idea to electrify it?

    No, they’d already laid the backing track down, but it was very rough and it wasn’t complete. I added some guitars to it. But I didn’t play the riff that starts “Honky Tonk Women” – that’s Keith playing. I played the sort of country-influenced rock licks between the verses.

    Back when it was called “Country Honk,” on Let It Bleed, did you come in and play the bottleneck part?

    Yeah. It wasn’t on a regular guitar, though. It was on a cheap little Selmer Hawaiian guitar, which I played on my lap.

    Did you use that guitar with Mayall?

    Yeah, I did, actually. I used it on a track called “2401” on Blues From Laurel Canyon. I used it on the solo for that.

    Where did you find that guitar?

    In London. It cost about twenty pounds – about $40. I wish I still had it! [Laughs.]

    Did you use it in an open tuning?

    No, I used it in a regular tuning, actually.

    On that “2401,” did you play the really heavy rhythm part?

    Yeah. And that’s on a Fender Stratocaster.

    Did you record Sticky Finger after the Stones’ U.S. tour?

    Yeah. I like that album. It’s one of my favorite Stones albums. It’s got a looseness and spontaneity about it that I like. There’s a track called “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” with a long solo – that just happened by accident. I mean, that was never planned. At the very end of the song, I just felt like carrying on, playing, and everybody was kind of putting their instruments down. But the tape was still rolling and it sounded good, so everybody quickly picked up their instruments again and carried on playing. And it’s just a one-take thing.

    Who played the rhythm parts?

    Keith and I both played rhythm parts, but I did the solo too.

    Who played the fuzzed-out part in the beginning of the song?

    That’s Keith playing that.

    I think “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is one of the best tracks on the album.

    Yeah. It’s one of my favorites too. A lot of other people seem to really like that too.

    It showed the Stones in a different light.

    Yeah. It had been a long time since they had done anything as loose as that – probably since “Going Home,” that long instrumental jam that they did on one of their albums, called Aftermath.

    What guitars did you use on Sticky Fingers?

    On Sticky Fingers I used the 345, the brown Gibson you were talking about, for the solo on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” On “Sway” I used the Les Paul.

    What about “Wild Horses”?

    On “Wild Horses” I played acoustic guitar in what they call a Nashville tuning, which is tuned in exactly the same way, but you use all 1st and 2nd strings [high E and B strings], and you tune them in octaves [i.e., you tune them up an octave]. So you’re really playing in the same tuning – it’s kind of like playing a 12-string guitar without the other six strings. That’s the best way to describe it. This was on one of Keith’s Gibson acoustic guitars.

    Who plays the electric solo?

    On “Wild Horses”? Keith.

    I assume you played the blues solo in “Sway.”

    Oh, yeah. Keith doesn’t play on that track. Mick’s playing rhythm guitar on that track.

    So you did the slide and the solo.

    Uh-huh. But it’s both the same. I mean, I had put the slide on my little finger, so that still leaves the other three fingers free to play like you would regularly, so I could switch from one to the other. And that was played in regular tuning.

    What about “You Gotta Move”?

    I used a Fender Telecaster.

    For the slide part?

    Yeah.

    Was there a National guitar in there?

    Keith’s, yeah. He used a National guitar.

    Was it steel or wooden?

    He had two of them. One of them was totally steel, and the other one was a really great, beautiful guitar that he got in Brazil. It was like a National guitar, but it was made of wood and metal. I’m not sure whether he used that one or the other one, but he did use a National guitar.

    And it sounds like someone played a 12-string.

    Yeah. I think I played that.

    Who did the leads in “Bitch”?

    I did that.

    How did Ry Cooder happen to come in on that session?

    Oh, well, he was already in London with Jack Nitzsche, who produced that film Mick was in, Performance. There’s a lot of Ry Cooder on that, so he was around at the time and he played slide guitar on “Sister Morphine,” which is killer. It’s great. I think that’s where Keith learned the guitar tunings on “Honky Tonk Women.” It’s open-G tuning. You take the top E string down to a D, and you take the A string down to a G, and you take the bottom E string down to a D.

    On “Dead Flowers” you create sort of a pedal steel effect.

    Do I? I never used . . . I did that on the same guitar that I used for “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.”

    It’s really country-sounding.

    Yeah. It’s cleaner-sounding. It’s got a more brittle sound to it.

    Mick, do you have favorite solos that you did with the Stones?

    Oh, yeah. Well, there’s the one on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” The best one – for a guitar solo, anyway – is “Time Waits for No One.”

    You ended your new album with a quote from that.

    Oh, yeah! You noticed that?

    Oh, sure. It’s such a beautiful touch.

    It comes in at the end. I was listening to it one night in the studio. I was just getting ready to mix it, and I thought, “Hmm.” Because at the very end it’s got the same chord sequence, almost. I thought, “I’ve got to play that. It’d be good to put that in there.”

    That was a climactic solo you took in “Time Waits for No One.”

    Yeah. Yeah, it really did happen. It was really different.

    How did you record your parts with the Stones?

    Most of the solos are overdubbed. They’re usually all first or second takes.

    What would they lay down first?

    It would depend on the song, of course, but we’d usually lay down as much of it live as we could. We’d just play, you know. Keith would play rhythm and I’d play the lead parts, or we’d both play rhythm. And that’s how they were done. The vocals were added later, but there would always be a rough guide vocal there.

    It seems like the Stones had a sound on record like nobody else.

    Yeah.

    How did they achieve that?

    They’d master things really, really hot. We never used to play incredibly loud in the studio. We used to use small amps. Most of the time, we used to use Fender Twin Reverbs. We never used big amps in the studio. There’s a certain kind of tape echo they used a lot when Jimmy Miller was producing records for them.

    Tape echo?

    Yeah, as opposed to plate echo. You know, it would be like a Revox echo. That’s the kind of echo that’s on the guitar intro from “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and a couple of other things. If you listen, you can hear it – it’s a very fast tape echo, a very fast delay.

    They’d put the bass and the drums more up front.

    Yeah.

    Sometimes Jagger’s vocals are almost buried.

    Yeah, right. I don’t know why. They never deliberately mixed down their vocals. I think it was because the accent was more on heavy bass drum, heavy bass, you know.

    What did you like on Exile on Main Street?

    Oh, there’s quite a lot on that album. Whooh. I like “Shine a Light.” That’s one of my favorite tracks on that album.

    Did you play bass on that?

    Yeah. I played bass. There’s quite a few things I played bass on – that’s one of them. “Torn and Frayed.”

    How did it come about that you played the bass?

    Because Bill wasn’t there – he was late. [Laughs.] And nobody could be bothered to wait. That used to happen a lot, actually. I don’t mean that Bill was late a lot, but we never always used to get there at the same time. Sometimes if we felt like playing, we would. And that’s why on that track “Sway” that you were talking about earlier on, the backing track was done with just Charlie, Mick, and me.

    Did you play slide on “Stop Breaking Down”?

    Yeah.

    And “Soul Survivor”?

    Yeah.

    Who does the sort of fuzzed solo?

    On “Soul Survivor”? Keith.

    Were you using the same guitars on Exile?

    More or less, yeah. I was also using the Gibson SG, but I can’t remember what I used it on. There’s always been three guitars, really, that I’ve used more than anything else. And that’s the Les Paul, the Strat, and for slide I use the Telecaster a lot.

    What year is the Tele?

    It was a really early one. When I was in France with the Stones, we had this big robbery, this burglary, and a load of guitars were stolen one weekend when we weren’t recording. You know what it’s like with old guitars – it’s really difficult to replace them. I have managed to find another Telecaster, which is a 1954 Telecaster, which is great. But there were a couple of other guitars there that were really nice. The Rickenbacker guitar that was black with gold pickups, a 6-string Rickenbacker, double-cutaway. I’d never, ever seen one like it before or since. If you know anybody that’s got one, I’d be interested! If you know anybody that got some early Fender Strats that are in good condition, I’d be interested too. And also a Gibson SG, because I don’t have that any more either. At the moment, I’m still using basically the same guitars, but I’ve also got a Gibson Firebird, which is really lovely.

    Is that the Firebird VII pictured on the inside liner of your album?

    Yeah, that’s the one. I use it on “Spanish,” for the first part. For the second part, that long solo, I use the Les Paul.

    Did you record “Spanish” with a lot of compression?

    On the guitar? Yeah. And also with a phaser too. It wasn’t an MXR phaser, it wasn’t a pedal – it was a sort of digital delay/harmonizer thing that I set up in the studio.

    It almost sounds like an EBow.

    Yeah.

    I’d like to finish up the stuff with the Stones.

    Right.

    What about Goat’s Head Soup?

    Goat’s Head Soup is not one of my favorite albums, but there’s a lot of interesting things on it. I think it’s a weak album – it’s a bit directionless. I think we all felt that way too.

    Did you play on “Angie”?

    Yeah, I played on “Angie.” I played the acoustic guitar.

    Was that mainly you?

    Yeah.

    Do you have parts on the album that you do like?

    Oh, yeah. I like the blues tune, “Hide Your Love.” I like – God, it’s really difficult to remember all this. What’s the track with the wah-wah guitar solo at the end? I like that track. I played quite a bit of bass on the album too. I played bass on “Dancing With Mr. D.” I played bass on “Tumbling Dice.” I played bass on that song “Coming Down Again.” I played bass on “Can You Hear the Music” too.

    Was this because Bill wasn’t in the studio?

    Yeah. He actually played synthesizer on some of the tracks.

    Your last Stones album was It’s Only Rock and Roll?

    Yeah, that was the last one.

    Did you play the watery-sounding lead on “If You Really Want to Be My Friend”?

    You mean the solo? Yeah. I don’t like it. There was just like a space there for a guitar solo, and they asked me to play a guitar solo, so I did.

    By this time you’d made up your mind to leave?

    I was getting a bit fed up.

    Why was that?

    I wanted to broaden my scope as a guitarist and do something else.

    You were getting tired of the rock?

    No, I wasn’t getting tired of rock and roll, but after five years it was becoming a bit too regimented, a bit too predictable.

    Were you more or less allocated to the position of lead guitarist?

    Yeah. Yeah. In fact, that’s all I was. I mean, I wasn’t really composing songs or writing at that time. I was just beginning to write things and that influenced my decision, obviously.

    And you couldn’t get your material on record?

    Oh, no. I hadn’t really written very much material then. But I knew that if I did write any songs, they wouldn’t be used. But I never expected them to be anyway, because Mick and Keith have always written most of the material for the Rolling Stones. I mean, they are the Rolling Stones, you know? They are the identity of the Rolling Stones, really, because of the songs they write.

    Did you feel like a full-fledge member?

    Oh, I was. Yeah, I always felt like that.

    Were they good about taking your input?

    Yeah! When it came to suggesting ideas and contributing things, it was fine. There was plenty of scope for everybody to suggest things and try things a different way. Sometimes Bill would say, “Well, let’s try it this way,” or sometimes I’d say, “Let’s try it another way.” It was very loose.

    Did the musicians hang out as friends, or was it more of a working relationship?

    It was more of a working relationship by the time I left. When we were living in England, we used to hang out as a band, more or less. But the more touring we did and the more traveling around we did, the less we saw of each other.

    On record, they’ve never seemed to recapture the magic they had when you were in the band.

    Well, yeah, maybe you’re right. It’s difficult for me to say because I was so involved in it. I like Black and Blue – I like some of that – and I think Some Girls is a good record to party to. It’s not one of my favorite Stones albums, because some of the other ones have been so much better.

    Most critics agree that their best period was from Let It Bleed until Exile.

    Yeah, I think it was a very good period too.

    There was a lot of innovation and growth in the band.

    Exactly, and a lot of energy too. And it all seemed to be going somewhere. And it was when I felt that it wasn’t going somewhere that I left it.

    What’s the hardest aspect of being in a great rock and roll band?

    The hardest thing about being with a band like that? [Long pause.] Putting up with all the crazy people that actually surround them. Because they’re great, but a lot of the other people that were hanging around weren’t so great.

    After a while did you feel that your artistic creativity . . .

    Was stifled. Yeah, I did. You have to remember that I was a bit younger than everybody else, and when I joined them, as I said earlier on, they’d been successful for a long time. There were some people that can just ride along the crest, on somebody else’s success. And there are some people that that’s not enough. It wasn’t really enough for me.

    When did you make up your mind to leave?

    After we’d made It’s Only Rock and Roll. Well, not immediately after, but it was the same year – towards the end of 1974. I was working on Ronnie Wood’s very first solo album at the time – in fact, we all were – and I think that’s how they met Ronnie, actually. I’ve known Ronnie since I was 16. We’re old friends from a long time ago, but they met Ronnie about six months before I left, I guess. At that time he was living in London, and he had a studio in the basement of his house. We’d go down there and play sometimes, and we ended up helping him out a bit on his first solo album.

    Did you like It’s Only Rock and Roll?

    Yeah, I liked some of it. I liked my guitar solo on “Time Waits for No One” [laughs]. I liked that track “It’s Only Rock and Roll” too.

    Are you playing the lead in the middle section of that song?

    No, Keith’s playing that.

    Do you play on “Short and Curlies”?

    That’s the shuffle, right?

    It starts out with a slide, almost like a Dixieland type sound.

    Yeah, I am playing on that.

    “Fingerprint File” was another good one.

    “Fingerprint File” I played bass on. That’s another track that was done with just Charlie, Mick, and myself, and Keith overdubbed later. Mick played rhythm guitar, I played bass, and Charlie was playing drums.

    In retrospect, what do you think of your decision to quit the Rolling Stones? Did it come at the right time?

    Oh, yeah! Absolutely. I’ve got no regrets at all.

    The Solo Album

    After the Stones, you went with Jack Bruce and Carla Bley for a while.

    Yeah. Right. That was really different [laughs]. I mean, totally different. I never thought it was going to be that different. I had very high hopes and expectations of me and Jack Bruce being able to do something together, but it didn’t really work out. We just got a band together very quickly and went on the road and played Jack’s songs. And it didn’t happen.

    That must have been around 1975.

    Yeah. After that, I didn’t do anything for quite a while. When I say “I didn’t do anything,” I mean I did the odd session now and again, but I didn’t really feel like joining another band or getting involved in anything big, you know. I really felt I had to find my own feet, musically, kind of figure out what I wanted to do next. So I stayed home and played the piano. And that’s really when I started to write songs – when I started to play the piano.

    Where were you living then?

    I was living in the country in Sussex.

    Is that when you started putting together some of the songs on your new solo album?

    Not really, no. But that’s when I started writing songs – mostly instrumentals.

    Had you played piano before then?

    A little bit, but not very much. I used to play piano in the studio with the Stones sometimes.

    How did your solo album come about?

    As soon as I had enough material together – or almost enough, anyway – I decided to go in and do an album. I found some of the musicians that are playing on it, contacted them through friends, and it just kind of happened that way.

    Your new album is wonderful.

    You like it?

    It’s really a nice comeback album after a long wait.

    It’s quite a low-key, low-profile affair, really. I didn’t use any superstars. I didn’t use any big names.

    This might have been to your advantage.

    Oh, I think it is, because that’s the trap that’s some people can fall into, you know. I just didn’t feel it was the right way for me to make an album, because when I started the album it was going to be an instrumental album anyway, and I just wanted to do it with musicians that were so good that I didn’t have to tell them what to play. You know what I mean?

    Yes. Didn’t you use some people who used to be in Gong?

    Only the drummer, Pierre Moerlen.

    What’s your method of composing?

    I don’t really have a method. Quite a lot of the stuff on my album was written very quickly. It just kind of came out. It surprised me. It just seemed to come out of the blue.

    Do you get the words first, or the music?

    Usually the music. Sometimes both at the same time.

    Were you playing or practicing every day?

    I used to practice the piano a lot. I mean, not serious – I never really took it seriously. I never studied it, but I think it was because I wasn’t working with other musicians. So I found it kind of good to just sit down and play the piano, because it is a nice instrument to play on your own. So is the guitar. But I find I get more satisfaction when I’m playing the guitar if I’m playing with other people.

    What guitars did you use on your solo album?

    Whoo. A hell of a lot.

    Let’s start with “Alabama.”

    Okay. “Alabama” I used a Martin acoustic – I’m trying to remember the model number – a D-25, D-35?

    D-28?

    That’s right. It was a Martin D-28, and I did that track completely live – the singing and the acoustic was live. First take. I hadn’t planned to do that song at all. In fact, it wasn’t even a song. Everybody else had gone home, except for the engineer. I was just sitting in the studio on my own, and this blues tune, this riff, came into my head. And I remembered some words that a friend of mine had written and just started to sing it. The slide guitar playing was overdubbed later, and that was done on the Telecaster.

    Do you have the action raised on the Tele for playing slide?

    Yes, I did. It’s not too high, because it was still possible to play a regular tuning. But if I’m going to use a guitar specifically for slide playing, I raise the action on it a bit, and I usually put really heavy-gauge strings on too.

    Do you put a different bridge or saddle on it?

    No. I simply raise the strings. First of all, I put the heaviest-gauge set of strings on, and then I just raise the bridge.

    Do you use a glass or metal slide?

    Metal. The best slide that I’ve got is one that Lowell George gave me. It’s part of a spanner [socket wrench]. It’s really heavy. And to use it, you have to use a guitar with heavy-gauge strings, and with the strings quite a ways off the neck, because otherwise it’s so heavy that it flattens the strings.

    How long is the slide?

    It’s about four inches long. Let’s see – I have it here. It’s three to four inches long.

    So you use a spark-plug wrench.

    That’s what it is, actually. It’s very heavy. I’ve got another one that’s the same length, and that’s metal, but that’s a bit lighter.

    Do you normally play your slide parts in open tunings?

    Well, I do on “Alabama.” I play it in an open-E tuning. You just tune the guitar so that when you play an open chord, it’s an E chord.

    Do you typically play slide standing up or while sitting down?

    Both. I find I can play easier when I’m sitting down. I have more control over it.

    Do you ever play it like a lap steel?

    No. I don’t have it in my lap. I don’t play it in my lap. I play it the way I’d play regular guitar.

    On which finger do you wear the slide?

    On my little finger.

    Always?

    Yeah.

    Do you damp with your other fingers?

    Yeah, that’s why I use the little finger, really, because I find I can control it better. I can control the vibrato and everything much better.

    How do you get such sustain out of your slide playing?

    [Long pause.] Well, a Telecaster has got a very hard, very brittle sound, but for some reason, when you use it for slide, it kind of sustains more. I think most guitars do, actually, but the Telecaster in particular. It’s not a guitar that’s really noted for its qualities of sustain, but when you use a Telecaster for slide playing, it seems to sustain more. I always sit fairly close to the amplifier, or stand fairly close to the amplifier, and that helps.

    What kind of amps do you use?

    In the studio, I used all sorts of things. I used a Roland amp. I used a Boogie amp. Most of the time I used an Ampeg VT-40, which I thought was a great little amp. I don’t think they make them anymore. Or if they do, they’re not the same, because I got some new Ampeg equipment quite a while ago, and it wasn’t as good as the old stuff.

    What kind of sound did the Ampeg give you compared to the other amps?

    It was that old valve-amp sound. You know what I mean? A very kind of rich, full sound without cranking it up all the way.

    Did you use it on “Giddy-Up”?

    Yes.

    What did you use for “Slow Blues”?

    There’s two guitars on that. For the most part, it’s Gibson Les Paul, which was actually done live with the band, but then at the very end a Fender Stratocaster comes in. About the last minute of it is a Fender Strat. And there’s one bit at the very end, just before it fades out, where there’s an amazing thing that happened by accident. This sort of feedback thing, and I use the tremolo arm. It sounds almost like a harmonica.

    What’s on “Giddy-Up”?

    The Les Paul.

    How did you get so fat of a sound? It almost sounds double but probably wasn’t.

    No, it wasn’t doubled. I didn’t use any effects pedals, either. You mean the intro or the whole thing?

    The opening.

    It’s just a very, very tight delay – echo. See, you don’t really hear it echo, but it makes the guitar pop out. It’s just a tape delay, studio. There’s no effects pedals on that. On the slow section of “Giddy-Up,” at the end, I use a Fender Stratocaster because I’m bending the notes and using the tremolo arm to bend the notes too. I’ve always liked that. I’ve always admired saxophones players. I’m very heavily influenced by saxophone players.

    Which ones?

    Eddie Harris, John Coltrane, lots of saxophone players.

    Does this go back a long ways?

    Yeah, yeah. I’d really like to play the guitar like a saxophone player plays a saxophone. To have sort of fluidity, that slow fluidity. That’s why I like using the tremolo arm a lot, because you can get that sort of effect by using the tremolo arm. The thing I’m finding is that if you’re going to use the tremolo arm a lot, you really need to have some kind of special tremolo unit built for you or made, because the guitars go out of tune so much, even a Fender.

    Do you have a special system for tremolo?

    No, I don’t. I’m looking for one.

    Do you have trouble keeping your Strats in tune?

    Oh, it’s terrible. It’s really bad. I’ve played other Fenders that haven’t been so bad, but they all seem to do it if you use the tremolo arm a lot.

    I’ve got to turn you on to something.

    You know somebody who’s built something?

    Yeah. There’s a guy going around who imitates Jimi Hendrix. His name is Randy Hansen.

    Oh, I’ve heard of him.

    He knows someone up in Seattle, Floyd Rose, who’s invented a system for a Strat that locks the strings at the bridge and the nut. Randy says that this system allows you to use the arm to take the strings up three steps, go totally limp, beat on ’em with your pick, snap it back, and it will be in tune.

    And you can still get a fast vibrato too?

    Yes. Eddie Van Halen and Roger Fischer of Heart have those Floyd Rose systems too.

    Oh, well, that’s just what I’m looking for, I think. Have you got his phone number? [I give Mick the number.] Is he into guitar mechanics and building guitars too?

    Yes.

    Great. That’s perfect. I’m going to Seattle next week. I’ll look him up, because I’ve got my Fender with me too, so he could maybe have a look at it. That’s great.

    I’ve heard that Floyd approached Fender a couple of years ago, but they weren’t interested.

    Well, they should be. The Fender Stratocaster is such a beautiful guitar to play. There’s a sort of mechanical quality about Fender that I like. It’s just a very solid little guitar, you know.

    What kinds of Stratocasters do you own?

    The sunburst one that I have is a ’58. That’s on the cover of the new album. I just bought a new Fender Stratocaster, actually. It’s a ’65. It’s a nice one. It’s baby blue. I’ve never ever seen one like it before. It’s like a very pale blue.

    Paul Rodgers has a Strat that looks like that.

    Yeah. Actually, it’s very similar to that one. I got it from a guy that lives in Los Angeles. He sort of buys and sells guitars. I believe that he’s supplied Jeff Beck with a couple of guitars – there’s a white Fender Stratocaster that Jeff Beck uses that he got from him.

    Did you have the ’58 while you were with the Stones?

    I didn’t actually have that one, no. I had another one like it, which was stolen, also a sunburst with a maple neck.

    What kind of fingerboards do you like on them?

    The one I have has a maple neck. But I really don’t mind what kind. I like fairly wide necks. I’m thinking of having some guitars made that have wider necks for more space between each string.

    How do you set the action on your Stratocaster?

    Fairly high. I never use strings that are too light, either, because you just don’t get as much power with light-gauge strings. You really don’t.

    What gauge do you go for?

    I usually start off with a .010 or an .011 on the [high] E string, and then kind of work up from there.

    To about a .046?

    Yeah.

    Do you have any particular brands?

    I use the Gibson strings, and Fender.

    Do you do modifications to your guitars?

    So far, I haven’t had any done. I’d like to. There’s a few things I would like to do, but they’re just really simple mechanics. I’d like to have a power booster built into the guitar. I’m gonna check out a few different kinds of pickups too. But what I am really looking for is some new guitars – not new “new” guitars, but new old guitars.

    Do you prefer old to new instruments?

    I don’t really know. It’s kind of difficult to make comparisons because obviously certain old guitars had something really special about them. Quite honestly, I haven’t really tried out very many new guitars, because I’m satisfied with the ones I have. But as I said before, I did have this robbery and lost quite a few guitars which I haven’t really been able to replace.

    What do you look for in a guitar?

    It’s a certain kind of feel about it. I can tell if I’m going to like an electric guitar even before it’s plugged in. As far as the feel of it goes, I can tell.

    Is it the weight of it, the distribution, the action . . .

    Yeah, it’s a combination of all those things. It’s really the way the neck feels.

    So you can tell right away if you’ll get along with the guitar.

    Yeah. I can now. I can tell.

    How many guitars do you own?

    I have about ten.

    Any acoustics besides the Martin?

    Yeah, I have an Ovation, and also a Guild guitar, which is lovely. It’s a very small-bodied Guild acoustic guitar. It was given to me years ago.

    What about electrics?

    Electric guitars, I’ve got the Telecasters, the Fender Stratocasters, the two Gibson Les Pauls, the Gibson Firebird.

    Do you have any special-made instruments?

    No. There’s a guitar maker in Austin, Texas, called Ted Newman, who’s gonna make me some.

    What kind of picks do you use?

    Very heavy Fender picks.

    What part of the pick do you attack the strings with?

    With the tip.

    How do you hold it?

    Thumb, forefinger. And sometimes I just play with my thumb.

    Do you anchor any part of your picking hand on the face of the guitar?

    Yeah, I just kind of let it fall across the strings.

    So your hand’s loose.

    It’s very loose.

    And when you’re playing slide do you do the same?

    No. I anchor my hand much more, because I need more control.

    How do you see your playing as evolving?

    Um, how do you see it? [Laughs.]

    “Giddy-Up,” “Spanish,” and “A Minor” are beyond anything I’ve heard you play before.

    Yeah, it is beyond anything I’ve ever played before. It’s kind of jazz flavored and jazz orientated without actually being jazz. I couldn’t change my style into the style of a jazz guitarist because it requires a different technique and a different knowledge. So what I’m trying to, I think, is play the style that I’ve always played in, but kind of expand musically and harmonically. But without changing my basic style, which is blues orientated.

    That comes through on the new album. It has such a mixture on it.

    Yeah, I know. Yeah, it did [laughs].

    That’s one of its strongest points.

    Yeah?

    It’s a tour-de-force.

    Yeah, it’s different. It’s not a hard rock and roll album, but it’s different.

    It runs the gamut from “Leather Jacket” to “A Minor.”

    Yeah, I know! When you think about it that way, it is quite a tour-de-force. From “Leather Jacket” to “A Minor” is like – I don’t know.

    When your record came into the Guitar Player office, everyone stopped to listen to it.

    Was the record okay? Is the record fairly good quality?

    Yeah.

    Good. I’m just checking. I like to check because these days you get some records in shops, and they’re just terrible.

    The press them so quickly.

    It’s not just that. The plastic they use is recycled plastic. You must have noticed over the years how the records have gotten thinner, and it’s really bad.

    I wonder if they wear out more quickly.

    Oh, they do. They do. I mean, I’ve got my old records, and they really feel solid. They feel as if they’re going to last for a long time, and that you’re going to be able to have them in your collection for the rest of your life. But these new ones, the best thing to do is to make a cassette copy immediately.

    Like we used to do with bootlegs.

    Right.

    What do you plan to be doing now?

    Well, I’m gonna do a tour in September with basically the same musicians that play on the album. As far as the stage thing goes, I want to concentrate on the guitar playing on instrumentally orientated stuff. And I’ll do some songs too. But I really want to take things like “Spanish” and “Giddy-Up” a step further onstage. I think they just naturally will be.

    Is this the first record you’ve sung on?

    Not the first record I’ve sung on, but the first record I’ve sung lead vocals on, yeah.

    “Leather Jacket” should get airplay.

    I think that might be a single. But on the other hand, people really have to treat it as an album, because it’s an album of music. “Leather Jacket” is not representational in itself of that entire album. I don’t really think with one track that you could say, “This has the essential qualities of the rest of it.”

    Was the album long in the making?

    It did take nearly 18 months, but I wasn’t working continuously. The thing that took a long time was producing it and writing it and recording it, all at the same time. So I tended to do one track at a time. The very, very first track that I recorded was “A Minor,” but it wasn’t even intended. At that time, I just happened to have some studio time at a friend’s studio, and I did that track. But that was even before I’d decided to do a solo album.

    You’re credited with playing a lot of instruments on the album.

    Yeah, I play a string machine on “Spanish” and “A Minor.” I play the electric piano on “A Minor.” There are a few tracks where I play nearly everything except for the drums.

    Do you have enough songs for another album?

    I do have enough material, but not enough material that I really like.

    That’s an advantage to being your own producer – you have the control.

    Yeah. I think that’s very important, especially with an album where you’re trying to express all the different things you can do and your influences. I think it’s important to have that kind of control.

    Looking forward to going back on the road?

    I am, actually. Making this album, for me, has been a way of finding out what I can do in order to go on the road with the right band. Because so many people get a band together to go on the road, and then they find out that it’s not the right combination, you know? So they break up. A lot of hard work and a lot of effort has gone into this.

    But it seems like a labor of love.

    Well, it’s just something I had to do. I really had to do this, you know. I had to.

    What are some of the albums you’ve contributed to as a studio guitarist?

    There’s two Gong albums. I played on the first track of side one of Expresso II, “Heavy Tune.” There’s also another Gong album that was the album after that – I can’t remember what the title was [Downwind], but anyway I’m playing on a couple of tracks on that. There’s the Herbie Mann London Underground, but also when I was doing those sessions for Herbie Mann, we ended up doing a couple of very rough jams on some Jamaican kind of reggae things, and much to my surprise, a couple of years later I remember seeing this album by Herbie Mann on Atlantic – I think it was kind of a jazz-based reggae album. I can’t remember the title of it [Reggae], so I would be playing on a couple of tracks on that one too. There’s Ron Wood’s first solo album [I’ve Got My Own Album to Do] – I played a lot on that.

    What else? Oh, yes. The soundtrack for the David Bowie movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth – I did some of the music for that. A long, long time ago when I was with John Mayall, I did some sessions with an old blues piano player called Sunnyland Slim. I did a session with him in Los Angeles. I can’t remember the title of the album – if you wanted to find out, John Mayall would know about it because I did it with him. [These October 1968 tracks were issued on the World Pacific release Slim’s Got His Thing Goin’ On.] I also did some session work for a guy called Champion Jack Dupree, and that ended up on an album [Dupree’s Scooby Dooby Doo, recorded in London in February 1969 and released by Blue Horizon].

    There’s a few other things too. I’m trying to remember them. I did some sessions once with Harry Nilsson, but whether that was ever used on an album, I’m not sure. I played on the live version of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” [The Orchestral Tubular Bell album]. I don’t know whether it was released over here, but it was released as an album in England. It was a recording of the first live performance of “Tubular Bells,” at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. I played some of the guitar parts, and Steve Hillage played some of the others. That’s about all I can remember right now.

    Do you have any advice for young players?

    Yeah. I’d just tell them to forget all about making it overnight and being successful, and just really get into music so it makes them develop. If they’ve got time to develop, and if they’re really successful, that’s great. But it’s important to have the time to develop and the time to listen to other people and listen to music is most important when you’re young and just starting out.

    Is it important to learn to read music?

    Well, I think it’s great if you can combine the both. If you can combine both things, it’s ideal, if you can actually learn to read music as you’re learning to play. I don’t read music. Because I’ve been playing all these years, it’s much more difficult for to sit down and learn to read music than it is for somebody who’d only just beginning on the guitar. You know what I mean? Ideally I think it’s great if you can combine both. But really, it all comes down to your own imagination and what you’re able to do and what you’re able to express. And more than that, it’s how deeply you’ve absorbed various kinds of things, other kinds of music.

    Any tips for playing slide?

    Yeah. Listen to Elmore James! And Lowell George, because Lowell George is a great slide player. And also it’s good to forget about the regular bottleneck tunings sometimes and just put on a slide and see what you can do with a slide in regular tuning, and switch from one to the other. Because as soon as you put the guitar in an open tuning, you’re limiting yourself. But if you can just leave the guitar as it is, in regular tuning, and put on a slide, you can discover all sorts of things and get away from the regular kind of bottleneck clichés.

    One last question, Mick. What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?

    I play tennis. But it’s been so long. There’s not much else I do, actually. Soccer, I play – if I can find another 21 people to play it with!

    Thanks a million for the interview.

    Thanks to you too. I’ve enjoyed talking to you.

    ###

    For more on the Rolling Stones

    Keith Richards on Creativity, Songwriting, and the Rolling Stones

    Charlie Watts: The Complete 1994 Interview

    Ronnie Wood: Slide Guitar with the Rolling Stones and Faces

    Transatlantic Blues: How Britain’s Blues Boom Saved American Rock and Roll

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    © 2011 Jas Obrecht. All rights reserved. This interview may not be reposted or reprinted without the author’s permission.

     

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      7 comments on “Mick Taylor on the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, and Playing Guitar

      1. bluesjunior over at www.thegearpage.net posted this link to the complete Mick Taylor concert at the Rockpalast in March 2009: http://www.wdr.de/tv/rockpalast/extra/videos/2009/0328/mick_taylor.jsp
        Great footage! Mick’s still soulful, articulate, and ferociously good.

      2. Todd Colegrove on said:

        I love Mick Taylor, his era of the Stones is so incredible….Get yer Ya Ya’s, Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers…that trio of records is as good as it gets.

        It’s too bad that after the Stones it just didn’t really happen for him, such a gifted player.

      3. Marcel on said:

        Great read, the remarks on playing slide in particular.

        Marcel.

      4. Stratoblogster on said:

        Great interview! Thanks as always for sharing your archive with everyone!

      5. Mick Taylor blows my mind! He is the best musician the Rolling stones ever had. After the Stones, he should have got a band with proper dynamics- you know, the sort that would be a big commercial success. Nevertheless, he still is a Big name! And,no less a guitar player!

      6. Pingback: vahnseifer.com

      7. Chaliq on said:

        Never knew he liked Fenders so much

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