On the eve of the launch of the Rolling Stones latest tour, I find myself once again listening to their recorded catalog and flipping through my ever-growing collection of Rolling Stones coffee table books and just generally thinking about the band, something I don’t do as often as I used to. The thing that I always come back to is my amazement at the sheer diversity of the stuff they have released and the influence they have had on rock and roll and me personally. I have long given up trying to defend the band to my indie friends and they always seem amazed that I still profess a love for the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest rock and roll band” but hell, the Rolling Stones were essentially responsible for me falling in love with rock and roll and for that I will forever be in their debt.
Upon the release of “Forty Licks” I listened with dismay to “Don’t Stop” and the other 3 new songs and pretty much concluded that that was it for me, they have finally hit the wall with four straight mediocre songs but listening to “A Bigger Bang” has reignited my interest in the band. Both “Rough Justice” and “Back of My Hand” are vintage Stones and a welcome relief from a band that seemed on the verge of being overshadowed by their backing musicians (much like Pink Floyd has been on their last 2 tours in my opinion). Mick and Keef have seemed to have rekindled their writing partnership in the wake of Charlie Watt’s cancer scare and perhaps this was the kick in the arse that they needed. Either way it’s nice to be excited about a Stones album again regardless of what that does do my “indie cred.”
But that is not really what prompted me to break out of my summer hibernation (I should be back up to speed by September) and write this screed. The thing that got me going was picking up another “Bargain Bin Book Classic” in “According to The Rolling Stones” ($14.99 CDN at Chapters here in Montreal). Nice book, cool pictures but what stood out for me was the “Who’s Who” at the end of the book. Specifically the entries for people like Don Covay, Alexis Korner, Gram Parsons, Jimmy Reed, Hubert Sumlin, Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Under each one of these names is not only a capsule summary of who they were and how they influenced the Stones but each contained a “recommended CD” so that you could go out and listen to the source for yourself. This has been the greatest influence that the Rolling Stones have had on me. While I learned about rock and roll by just listening to the amazing bands that they have toured with throughout the years (the list is massive and grows with each tour), it has always been the musicians that they have waxed poetic about that have caught my ear and introduced me to some amazing music I might otherwise have never discovered: Peter Tosh, the aforementioned Gram Parsons, Chuck Berry, the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Stevie Wonder, the Meters, Dr. John, Clifton Chenier, Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, Ike and Tina Turner, Ahmet Ertegun and his Atlantic record label or Leonard and Phil Chess and their Chess record label, the list can go on. Perhaps I would have discovered these musicians on my on but as an impressionable teenager reading about Keith Richards’ love of Robert Johnson or even Charlie Watts enthusing about some obscure jazz giant, I just had to find out for myself what it was that held these Rock Gods in such awe. Some stuff I passed on (still working on the jazz stuff) but most of these musicians have been added to my music collection and remain an important part of my musical upbringing. Sure the band is in their sixties (except for Woody but he just looks like he is sixty!) but man what an education these guys have given me. It is for this reason that I will always be a fan of the band and continue to look forward to their latest album and over-priced rock and roll extravaganza that they insist on putting together every couple of years. They have earned their stripes and they have certainly done their part to spread The Word. Even if they never release another new song (something I am sure many would hope!) I will continue to listen (to both old and new) and read and study them because they are wise in the ways of rock and roll. I can think of no better teachers to have than Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Bill Wyman, Brian Jones and Mick Taylor. They are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll university around. And I still have not graduated! Enjoy ‘em while they are still around.