Archive for Nicky Hopkins

With The Live Material From 1971 Included, The “Sticky Fingers” Re-release Gets Us Closer To The Promised Land

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 9, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Bardists, as they like to be called, dream of finding an unpublished Shakespeare play.  Our needs are simple: we’ve only been waiting for 40+ years for a decent live album from the greatest tour of all time — the Rolling Stones’ 1972 foray across the U.S. — to emerge from the gauze of bootlegs and into the bright shimmering light of an official release.  As of today, we’re very, very close.

For those who signed up for the Extra Super Duper release of Sticky Fingers, or whatever it’s called, last night came a happy email: all 33 tracks had, like the Midnight Rambler himself, vaulted our hedge and hidden away deep in our iTunes collection.  Yeah, yeah, an acoustic version of “Wild Horses,” and all that.  As far as we’re concerned the release of the Eric Clapton version of “Brown Sugar” simply drives down the value of our red vinyl pressing we’ve carried us with everywhere since 10th grade. The good stuff is the 18-songs worth of live material, recorded on the Stones’ 1971″Farewell Tour” of England, prior to loudly going off as exiles on the main street near St. Tropez.

It’s not the ’72 tour, but it’s the same band with the essential sidemen: Mick Taylor on guitar, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Jim Price and Bobby Keys on horns.  We call Taylor a sideman, and that’s not really fair, but let us just posit that these four, added to Jagger, Richards, Watts, and Wyman completed what is unquestionably the greatest rock’n’roll live band of all time — a band that could swing, and turn on a dime, and kick at the stall all night.

Some weeks ago, a friend sent us someone’s long rave about how the version of “Midnight Rambler” on the officially released “Brussels Affair” is, I don’t know, the Stones’ most transcendent moment.  Yeah, but that had Billy Preston on it, playing organ! These tracks have Nicky Hopkins.  On piano.  Game over.

It’s weird that we have a partial album recorded at the end of the tour at the Roundhouse in London — “Live With Me,” “Stray Cat Blues,” “Love in Vain,” “Midnight Rambler,” and then “Honky Tonk Women.”  Where’s the rest of me?   Then there is what we assume was the entire set of a concert at Leeds University — “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Live With Me,” “Dead Flowers,” “Stray Cat Blues,” “Love In Vain,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Bitch,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Little Queenie,” “Brown Sugar,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Let It Rock.”  (An aside: whomever was student music coordinator at Leeds U in the ’70/’71 school year deserves to be knighted, for he/she booked, in the same year, the Stones and The Who, out of which came Live At Leeds, and now this. But we digress.)

We’ve heard much of the Leeds set on the bootleg Get Your Leeds Lungs Out, but the sound here is just: So. Much. Better.  We always knew what that show musta sounded like, because the version of “Let It Rock” has been around forever: it was what they had to press onto the Spanish release of Sticky Fingers after the Franco government banned “Sister Morphine.” Here everything is to that level, though perhaps not at a Get Yer Ya-Yas Out level of fidelity.

On both collections, the Stones have some ragged moments, as of course they did: Keith singing off key, Mick Taylor missing his entrance.  But all in, these are fantastic performances by a band approaching its peak.  A song like “Stray Cat Blues” isn’t improved over what came out of the ’69 live recording — you don’t need piano and horns on this relic.  And of course on the ’72 tour, and subsequently over the years, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” came near the end of the set, and Taylor had developed an entire vocabulary of tricks to work into his leads as the show climaxed.  But what’s apparent here is how quickly the Stones incorporated horns and piano into what would become the ephemeral, yet greatest sound of their career, rambling on, as it has done, for 50 years and counting.

We can see why they included the Roundhouse set — it’s better, the band a little crisper, the sound a little warmer.  And after listening to, oh, two dozen boots of different shows from the ’72 tour — such that we can tell you, definitively, the version of “All Down the Line” recorded in New York on July 24th was better than the version they’d played in Ft. Worth — we really don’t mind having versions of “Live With Me” to choose between.  If you are downloading songs one by one, start with the Roundhouse versions.

Last year, when Reprise, or whomever controls the Captain Beefheart estate, released the full Lick My Decals Off, Baby, we checked off one of the key missing pieces of our musical collection.  I guess we can say we are still living for the digital release of Henry Badowski’s 1981 masterpiece, Life Is A Grand.  But honestly, now that we have heard Nicky Hopkins tickle the ivory while the greatest Southern horn duo ever backs up the Stones on a non-bootleg version of “Bitch,” we are just that much closer to the Promised Land.

“Exile” Reissue On Day Two: Listening To The Stones Peak

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on May 20, 2010 by johnbuckley100

Some thoughts, after having lived with the deluxe set (including the DVD and the booklet):

  1. Anthony DeCurtis has put together an elliptical, very well crafted set of notes on the creation of Exile On Main Street.  One point Jagger makes, and which Anthony wisely develops, is that by having Nicky Hopkins, Bobby Keys, and Jim Price on premises, rather than calling in a piano player or charting horns as needed, their very proximity insured their organic use.  With all the mythology around Nellcote, with Keith talking about “living above the factory,” perhaps the biggest impact on the music from that working arrangement is that the Stones’ optimized sound, which sprang to life in that basement, came from something so simple as the availability not just of heroin and hangers on, but killer instrumentalists who could add such a great dimension to the sound.
  2. Now that the Stones have released excerpts from Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones” — on the DVD, we have “Happy” and “All Down The Line” — what, exactly, is the reason this movie can’t now find its way into an HD DVD release?
  3. The credits, both on the original and on the deluxe re-release, don’t seem to tell the whole story.  David Gates’ Rolling Stone piece states that Jimmy Miller needed to play drums on a key passage of “Tumbling Dice” — no credit here.  Aren’t those steel drums at the end of the original “Loving Cup”?  No credit, if that’s the case… There are more mysteries.
  4. The narrative about Exile has pretty much centered around Keith.  It was his house, the riffs the songs are wrapped around have his DNA, and his is the larger-than-life eminence over all.  And yet it must be said, Jagger never sang better than on this album.  If you look at the credits, the photos, Jagger is everywhere.  Sure, maybe he was tending to the pregnant Bianca in Paris some of the time, and yes, while Keith nodded out, the Stones could not really come out to play.  But Jagger’s impact on this record is extraordinary and every bit the counterpart to his Glimmer Twin.  Never really thought about that til now, but listening to the gloriously remastered CD several times in succession, the standout presence is Mick.
  5. Has there ever been an album where the drums sounded better?  Think of Charlie’s entrance on just these songs: “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” and “Loving Cup.”  Kickin’ the stall all night.  In the booklet, he says that the basement created a great sound for the drums.
  6. The combination of Nicky Hopkins and Mick Taylor — both incredibly lyrical musicians, virtuosi, clearly gentler souls than some of the rougher blokes around, but musically no pushovers — are the ingredients that make the confection work.  There have been thousands of words written about the Stones’ Golden Age centering on portentous world events, the death of the ’60s, revolution in the air, etc.  Methinks it can be traced to two elements. Nicky and Mick.
  7. Although live, the Stones still had the three great tours ahead of them (’72 America, ’73 Hawaii, Australia, Nicaraguan Earthquake benefit, ’73 Europe tour with Billy Preston, not Nicky), there is a late August feel to Exile. The leaves are just about to turn, but damn, the sunsets are beautiful, the light clear, the days crisp and clear. By the time Andy Johns mixed the tapes in Sunset Studio, the Stones had nowhere to go but down.  There were some good moments — a song or three on Goats Head Soup, a brief rebirth with Some Girls and Emotional Rescue. But the saddest thing about listening to Exile On Main Street is the knowledge that when the Stones came up out of the Nellcote basement, The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World had peaked.
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