The Rolling Stones are having fun again. Eleven years after they last released a new studio album, the Stones have a new one out called Blue and Lonesome and it’s not what anyone expected. Even them.
Ronnie Wood, who has been with the band nearly long enough to seem as if he had been there from the very beginning, says it took them just three days to record it. Wood says he didn’t even have time to change guitars between takes. They just kept on rolling tape because they were in a groove.
Although they say they have been working on new material, they tell us it was getting back to the music that originally inspired them over 50 years ago that led them to change course. They cover the great bluesmen that that made the hard-to-find records that only British collectors and a handful of American folkies seemed to care about. Groups like The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and young white blues enthusiasts like Eric Clapton made American music fans pay attention to music they could love instead of the Fabians Bobby Vintons and Pat Boones who gave them watered-down pop versions of the rock and roll that at its best owed a huge debt to the blues.
The new album looks back to the music of blues giants like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter and others who were segregated into the musical ghetto of “race music” until groups like the Stones knocked down the cultural walls that surrounded them around the same time the Civil Rights Movement was changing the country.
One of the most important things that musicians both in England and here at home made us realize was that one of the most important truths about 60s music was that it made it obvious what Muddy Waters was talking about when he said, ““The blues had a baby and its name was rock and roll.”
This embrace of the blues put money in the pockets of some of our best blues artists while they were still young enough to tour. As Muddy knew, musically at least the blues had changed the world. They also earned some much-needed money they were paid a lot more to play in Europe and finally began to collect royalties they deserved when the Brit blues “exploiters” sold millions of copies of cover versions of their songs. As Muddy put it, “They stole my music but they gave me my name.” Before the Stones hit the charts, Muddy was still making pocket money by painting houses and the Chess Records recording studios.
In the beginning, the Stones were a blues band. They played most blues covers with a little R&B (another offspring of the Chicago blues) thrown into the mix. Those of us old enough to remember can’t even think of “Little Red Rooster” without recalling the Rolling Stones cover and the Howlin’ Wolf version the Stones based it on.
Let’s look at the track listing of Blue and Lonesome. The Stones are at it again. These are great songs played with more feeling than we’ve heard from the Stones in years:
1. "Just Your Fool" Buddy Johnson
2. "Commit a Crime" Howlin' Wolf
3. "Blue and Lonesome" Memphis Slim
4. "All of Your Love" Magic Sam
5. "I Gotta Go" Little Walter
6. "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" Miles Grayson and Lermon Horton
7. "Ride 'Em On Down" Eddie Taylor
8. "Hate to See You Go" Little Walter
9. "Hoo Doo Blues" Otis Hicks and Jerry West
10. "Little Rain" Ewart G. Abner Jr. and Jimmy Reed
11. "Just Like I Treat You" Willie Dixon
12. "I Can't Quit You Baby" Willie Dixon
The Stones are said to be planning a world tour for 2017. Let’s hope some of the songs from Blue and Lonesome make the set list. They also have released a new video featuring Kristen Stewart driving through a Los Angeles scene that reminds me of the post-apocalyptic streets of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. You can see the video here on our home page.
The Stones new album puts me in mind of the lines from “Stage Fright,” a song written Robbie Robertson in the 70s for The Band, another band that cut its teeth on the blues and R&B:
But when we get to the end
[We want] to start all over again
[The last two lines should be italicized and I can't do it in plain text.]
Rock and roll will never die. And neither will the blues.