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COMES CLEAN ON DISTORTION AND THE MEANING OF MUSIC
and I were looking at the photo of vintage fuzztones in the
October'92 Guitar Player when Keith sauntered into the room,
a large tumbler in hand. He peeked over our shoulders and
began the interview.
vintage fuzztones? Well, there's the first one (points to
the Colorsound). But where's that fucking "Satisfaction" one?
They bunged me. I mean, it was a miracle. Whatever it was,
it was the first one Gibson made. I was screaming for more
distortion: "This riff's really gotta hang hard and long,"
and we burnt the amps up and turned the shit up, and it still
wasrft right. And then Ian Stewart went around the corner
to Eli Wallach's Music City or something and came around with
a distortion box. "Try this." It was as off-hand as that.
It was just from nowhere. I never really got into the thing
after that, either. It had a very limited use, but it was
just the right time for that song. The riff was going to make
that song or break it on the length that you could drag that
[sings fuzz line]-unless you wanna get horns, which didn't
work. We didn't have the time, and it wouldn't sound right.
Yeah, it was one of those fortuitous things.
has become extremely popular again.
it's got something to do with the state of everybody's life.
certainly been guilty of some pretty filthy guitar tones.
man. Still lookin' for'em.
bad, huh? Yeah, I figured you might be talking about that.
Believe it or not, that's through a Palmer simulator. A little
box, no speakers. This is against all my principles, right?
I plugged that mother in, and it's also through a Twin. But
that sound basically comes out of the Palmer simulator. Waddy
and I are purists about amp sounds, but we couldn't deny that
thing. At the right setting, it was, "Whoa! Hey! We can get
this now, but it's taken a long time to find it."
Traditionally, how would you go
about getting a nice distortion?
I'd set up that Twin and maybe slave a little Champ. Put it
through the both of 'em and then mix. if I'm looking for some
kind of distortion, I usually use two amps rather than go
for it out of one thing, because I've always found that a
really good distortion needs to come from two different places.
Obviously it's not true for "Satisfaction," where it's an
obvious thing, but you want some distortion and some clarity
at the same time where you need it, so I'd rather put it through
two amps and overload one of them.
Champ or a little Silvertone, a Kay thing. I've got these
little relics lying around, all of those weirdo amps. Bump
that one up, use the other one for clear, and then you can
mix the two in where you want them. It's very rare on a track
that you want the same sort of distortion all the way through.
I like to be able to play with it, so I can bring one amp
up. Put them on separate tracks, so you can juice the distortion
where you want it. You have the opportunity to play around
with it after you've played it, because when you're playing
it, you're not going to hear exactly what's going down on
the tape. You've got the cans on.
have a Fender Twin that's serial number #AOOOO3. Is that the
third one made?
It's a bad amp, man' I wish I'd had it from day one! It takes
a while to find those.
was your passport in to those types of open tunings?
let me think. In the '60s, I knew these guys were using other
tunings. Obviously. Up until about'68, we were just on the
road so much, I had no time to experiment: "Oh, when I get
some time off, I'm gonna figure this out." Up until then,
the Stones were out like 315 nights a year. It doesn't give
you a lot of room to maneuver and check out new things. Around
1967, 1 was just starting to hang out with Taj Mahal and Gram
Parsons, who are all students too. I mean, Taj, as beautiful
as he is, is a student who basically approaches the blues
from a white man's angle. He's got it all together, and always
did have. But at the same time, he came from that angle. He's
very academic about it. He showed me a couple of things. And
then Ry Cooder popped in, who had the tunings down. He had
the open G. By then I was working on open E and open D tunings.
I was trying to figure out Fred McDowell shit, Blind Willie
McTell stuff. So in that year I started to get into that,
and the Nashville tuning the country boys use - the high stringing
- and all the other things you can do. When I was locked into
regular, I thought, "The guitar is capable of more than this
- or is it? Let's find out."
G must have struck the resonant chord within you.
man, it did. It's just that vibe. And I realized that one
of the best rhythm guitarists in the world ever is Don Everly,
who always used open tuning. Don is the killer rhythm man.
He was the one that turned me on to (windmill waves his right
hand) - all of that. It's the weirdest thing, right, because
it's country shit, basically. That was why the Everly Brothers
stuff was so hard, because it was all on acoustic. So then
I had to ask, "Can I translate this 5-string thing into electric,
or will it just rumble and not make it?" By being electrified,
you can overdo it. You've got to get a certain dryness of
tone and distortion at the same time. So it's more working
on the sound. Five strings, three notes, two fingers, and
an asshole, and you've got it! You can play the goddamned
thing. That's all it takes. What to do with it is another
yeah, I felt very comfortable with that. After playing that
concert tuning for years and years and years, it suddenly
broke open the guitar again to me. It was like a new instrument
almost, except I knew a few things so I could follow it through.
It was like a rebirth, for me, of playing. Suddenly I got
enthusiastic again, instead of thinking, "Oh, shit, I can't
think of anything." Three of the strings were still the same
(D,G,B), so you have the structure, so you say, "Well, what
can you do? How do you make a minor? How can you do this and
that? " So it was an exercise in a way, self-imposed. But
it was fun to do, so I did it. The 5-string suggests new musical
forms to you that you wouldn't do on 6-string. You'd say,
"No way." I'm still finding things on that 5-string, like
the little (pedal-steel-type) break in "Eileen" - you wouldn't
even attempt it on ...
sounds like a B-bender.
there is a Bender on there as well, but that's not the guitar
that's playing. I'm always aware of the weight I put with
my thumb on the neck. Half the time if I'm playing a Bender,
the whole thing's gone out of tune because I've put some weight
on there. So you have to learn to be pretty weightless on
that thing to make it work. "Eileen" was my first attempt
with it, but there's about eight guitars on there overall.
of decided to do that before we started. I wanted to pick
up on some of those experiments that I left off around "Street
Fighting Man" time. I went into the heavy overlaying of guitars,
all of them different open tunings, like "Jumping Jack Flash,"
"Street Fighting Man."
no lying when you're playing music.
This is why the Iron Curtain went down. It was jeans and rock
and roll that took that wall down in the long run. It wasn't
all those atomic weapons and that facing down and big bullshit.
What finally crumbled it was the fuckin' music, man. You cannot
stop it. It's the most subversive thing.
so surprised when we started getting busted. What have they
got a hard-on against a rock and roll band for? And being
perceived as some social threat to the world. Now I realize
they were a little hipper than I was - where they got unhip
was in their way of dealing with it - but they sussed it before
I did: This shit could change the balance of the world. Meantime,
I thought they were narrow-sighted. I mean, why hit on a rock
and roll band? This is the British Empire! A 5-string fucking
guitar and a couple of guys are gonna change that? And suddenly
they're leaning on me?" And when all of this shit went down
in Europe here the last few years (snaps fingers), that's
when I realized it. No wonder they were a little uptight,
because they saw more of the potential than I did at the time.
Cooder says that when you play acoustic guitar, the truth
of who you are is more evident.
because you've got nothing between you and the strings. Yeah,
he's damn right. Every guitar player should play acoustic
at home. No matter what else you do, if you don't keep up
your acoustic work, you're never going to get the full potential
out of an electric, because you lose that touch. You get sloppier.
Electricity will give you some great effects and some great
tone, but if you don't control it, it can easily take you
over the edge into some supersonic nowhereland. If you're
just on electric all the time, you don't keep the touch. I
don't play electric guitars at home. I play acoustic.
your favorite acoustic?
now I've got that new replica of the L-1, the Gibson, which
they gave to me and which I put a lot of on this record. I
overlayed some of that. They've done a lovely job on that.
It's a great-sounding guitar, and I don't like new guitars,
generally speaking. I like ten or twenty years on'em. This
L-1 is the same one Robert Johnson played. I have one that
was made in 1934, but they do wear out. There's a possibility
that in a couple of years it will sound just like the guitar
that Johnson was playing, because it's new. His guitar was
probably four or five years old when he played it. They're
not sturdily built; they won't last forever. But within four
or five years, these replicas, being as well made as they
are, might have just the right amount of ring and bite on
been described as being able to judge a room's sound just
by the snap of your fingers.
do you listen for?
return off of the surface of the room. Where it ends and where
it doesn't. It depends what shape the room is. You can't tell
just by doing that (snaps fingers), but you walk around and
say, "Well, this is where the drums should go, because we're
going to play together in here." You get a bit of information
from that, and you look at the size of it and the height.
You kind of size it up in some weird way. You get a feel.
It's almost instinctive; it's not something that you can guide
technically and say for sure that this is going to work. But
you can get a feel within five minutes of walking around a
room: Is that a big enough space? Is the ceiling high enough?
You give a couple slaps to hear where the echo returns, where
it returns from, and how quickly it returns. No room should
defeat a band. You should be able to deal with any room, but
some rooms are better than others. And it's always a fine
call. The first sessions we did for this new album, we realized
after five days we had the drums in the wrong place, and that
was the only wrong thing. Once we shifted it, suddenly it
all sounded fantastic. But we don't need to get into this
other shit about the way they make records nowadays - call
down to the typewriter: "Give me a little more bass on that."
I don't know how to record like that, and it would never interest
me to record by machinery.
your method for recording acoustic guitar changed significantly
not much. I started making records by saying, "Do I like it?
Does this turn me on?" And I refuse to be budged from that
criteria. Really. If I start to think about what do they want
to hear, then I say I'm out of here. That's not the way I've
ever done it. The only times people have liked my stuff is
when I've done it because I like it. I'll reserve that for
my criteria for anything I do. If I start trying to second-guess
people, then I may as well be Liberace or Lawrence Welk. That
means I want to be a star, instead of having to be forced
to be one.
do you always play with another guitarist?
it's more fun. No one guitar player is that interesting. Not
one - I don't care if it's Segovia, Hendrix, anybody. Robert
Johnson is the most interesting idea of a solo guitar player
to me, and as we've already said, he was looking to go for
a band. Listening to myself play is one thing, but I'm interested
in what I can do with somebody else - how we can interact
and play things back and forth and pick up a dropped beat
and fling things against the ceiling to see if they stick
- and they don't and they fall on your head and you still
pick it up. To me, that's the fun of it - playing with other
people. And at the same time, you're learning because you're
turning each other on. The solo guitar thing is a vacuum to
evident with Steve Jordan. He follows you to a T.
I'll drop a beat, bell pick it up and let it fly. We're playing
with time, on this album particularly. But this is like life,
right? What is life but playing with time? So on a musical
level, that's what I'm doing. There's structures possible
in this music, and if you just free yourself out of it and
you've got the right guys with you, you can let it flow. Like,
"Let's get a little daring here without being clever." You
want to push the edges, especially when you've got time down
with a band like this. You're almost tempted to play with
it, because strict time becomes less and less important, since
you can always find the one. That obvious structure just gets
boring, and it gets unnecessary. You say, hey, this music
can float a little more. I'm gonna use things I learned from
Doc Pomus, from Leiber-Stoller, all of that Latin stuff and
floating over the lines and leaving out lines and smacking
the chorus in your teeth and then pulling back. Just playing
with it is more fun, and that will make it sound more interesting
to other people. That's what I'm hoping to do. God knows what
I'll do when I get back with the Stones and it's strict time
lot of people claim you turn the beat around.
this is what you get from musicians. You're always in this
dangerous stall, especially when you've been in the game as
long as I have: "What are you trying to do? Turn on the other
musicians and give them a little jerk around? Ooh, that's
clever." But that's not the name of the game. it's alright
jerking around with the time, as long as it all falls in place
for Joe Blow. This might contradict what I was saying about
making records for what I like, but I'm very conscious that
a lot of musicians get in this cliquey little thing of turning
each other on, and it's all little in-jokes, because you've
got nothing better to do except get clever with each other.
And that's not the name of the game. It's almost an admission
of failure to get into that. And I'm very wary of trying to
please other musicians.
music is not about precision.
it's not. It's about chaos. I suppose it reflects my life
and probably everybody else's. Nothing hits you quite where
you expect it to. But you've got to hold it together, right?
It's very hard to explain, but I try to do the same thing
with the lyrics that I do to the music - a juxtaposition that
kind of slams you the wrong way here, and then suddenly it's
in the right place. It's just like life. Nothing happens quite
when you think it's supposed to or when you want it to, but
when it does, you've got to roll with it. And you get over
it and you learn and you get back up again and pick it up.
music is bigger than all of us. What are we? We're just players,
no matter how good. If you're a Mozart or fucking Beethoven
or Bach, all you are is just one of the best. If you're an
Irving Berlin or Gerswhin or Hoagy Carmichael - or if you're
Herbie Hancock, God forbid - everybody's got their spot in
this. I hate to see music being used as propaganda, which
increasingly more it is. But then I think back and realize
it always has been - national anthems and signaling [imitates
trumpet flourish]. Music started out as a signaling process.
When it comes down to it, music evolved out of necessity,
not out of pleasure. Somebody got lucky, whipped the other
tribe's ass, and then they could use music for fun for a little
while because there's no competition.. So you get the rockin�
down: (sings) "We won, we won." You know, so you start to
get those songs coming in, apart from just the signaling.
And after that, there's this progression. To me, music's meaning
to people is one of the great mysteries. Forget economics,
forget democracy or dictatorships or monarchies. To me, the
most fascinating relationship is between people and music
and how it can do what it does with no apparent sweat. Who
knows what it can do? It's a beautifully subversive language
because it can get through anything. I don't care if it's
porous or bomb-proof or has a Star Wars shield over it - music
will get through. That's my experience.
only got to look at the new Billboard - who's on the front?
Fuckin' Beethoven and Mozart. You can't ask for better than
that, boys. Imagine what they'd have done if they'd had a
little DAT recorder, instead of all of that imagining it:
"Well, that looks good; it might sound great." Those guys
had to carry it all up there (taps forehead).
if Mozart and Beethoven had a fucking Walkman! You know what
I mean? You wouldn't have had 26 overtures, you'd have fifty-bleeding-nine.
(Laughs.) It just helps you through the work I mean, those
guys would be green with envy, man. They would burn their
wigs. "Off with it! Burn it! Give me that tape recorder!"
(Laughs.) What they would have done! They'd have prostituted
themselves for one of those things: "No problem! Yeah, give
it to me up the ass! Just give me the tape recorder." Go to
jail for that shit. And that's where we're lucky, and we can't
you throw ideas on cassettes?
yeah. Hey, I started to blossom when cassettes got invented.
"Street Fighting Man," "Jumping Jack Flash" - I cut those
things on cassettes.
your songs typically begin when you find a riff?
First I find a riff and a chord sequence. And if that's any
good, then I start to play it with some other guys and pump
it up. If that's great, then I check the attitude and the
atmosphere of the track. What the hell is this putting out?
There's no point in writing songs on a sheet of paper, going
verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and regarding this as a song.
No, it ain't. A song is music, and I'd rather start with the
music and then get into the attitude of the track and put
something on top of it. What are you going to put on top of
it, because you could have spent months writing? I can't divorce
lyrics from the music. Songwriting is a marrying of the both.
To me, the easiest way is to get the track. I mean, the odd
brilliant and rare occasions where a song actually presents
itself to you in totality from the beginning to the end, with
the bridge and the hook, is very rare.
"Gimme Shelter" one of those?
"Satisfaction" was one of those, "Make No Mistake" was one
of those. Those three - and that's about it - actually presented
themselves in totality.
must have been a stunning experience.
but at the same time it's humbling, because you realize, "Hey,
I didn't write this. I just happened to be around when it
came by." People today run themselves into a corner thinking
they actually created these things. I'd rather look upon myself
as an antenna or some go-between. I'm just around. Songs are
running around - they're all there, ready to grab. You play
an instrument and pick it up. What I generally do is like,
"Fingers are getting a bit soft right now. I'll go through
the Buddy Holly songbook"- because I love Buddy's songs. Then
I start playing 'em for half an hour. [Sings "Maybe Baby.']
"Let's try Eddie Cochrane or the Everly Brothers or a little
Chuck." And after about an hour, I get fed up with other people's
songs, and there's something that I'm playing of theirs that
suggests something else to me, and I'll start to follow that.
It'll either end up as a song or it'll end up as a disaster,
and I'll get bored with it. It doesn't bother me. I never
sit down and say, "Time to write a song. Now I'm going to
write." To me, that would be fatal. I know other guys work
in other ways. There's no one system to this. It's what's
right for you. But me, I always like to sit down and play
the guitar a couple of hours a day, and something will come.
If something interests me, then I think, "Hey, there it is,"
and then I hang on to the end and follow the motherfucker.
To me the important thing is recognizing something when it
idea that you create it, again, is alien and can also fuck
you up, because then it's all on your back, whether you've
written something or not there. Treat it in a lighter way
and say, "This is what I do." If you can write one song, you
can write 900. They're there. Your method of going about that
- you can either try and regiment it, make it a task, or you
can make it part of your everyday life and just sit around
and play and not think about writing. Play anything you want.
only one song in the world, and Adam and Eve wrote it. And
the rest of them's variations. I'm the antenna. You just stick
your finger in the air and you grab a bit of it and you go
off. And that's the way to avoid writer's block, because that's
what happens to people that think they actually create things.
Nobody creates anything. It's there, and you just fucking
grab a hold of it.
has a talent. But how many get to find what their talent is
before they're sucked into the system? I mean, it usually
ends up as their hobby, which is probably what they're really
good at. I mean, why do people have hobbies? They're working
their guts out doing something they don't really like to do,
but they just happen to have caught a job and do it, and at
night they go home and on the weekends they have a hobby.
They are working to get those few hours to spend on their
hobby, when that's the area they should really be working
in. My one problem with people is that it's a miracle if you
get to find out what your talent is before you're sucked into
doing something you don't want to do, and that's the big fuckup.
If people were doing things they really wanted to do, they'd
do it ten times better.
you have a hobby that you could turn into a profession?
I been doing it! (Laughs.) That was a hobby. Didn't expect
it to become a living or to become a star. I mean, that's
the other thing - fame. That can screw you. People come up
and ask me about this and that, and I say, "You're talking
to a madman." I mean, my view of the world is totally distorted.
Since 18, I've had chicks throwing themselves at me, and I
turned the little teenage dream into reality like that (snaps
fingers) by a miracle, God knows how. And therefore my view
is gonna be distorted, at the very least.
the most dangerous aspect of fame?
it. Very, very dangerous. It's not very good for people around
you, and even worse for yourself. That's my experience of
it. It's one of the reasons I don't regret zooming into the
dope thing for so long. It was an experiment that went on
too long, but in a way that kept my feet on the street when
I could have just become some brat-ass, rich rock and roll
superstar bullshit, and done myself in in another way. In
a way I almost see it as I almost forced myself into that
in order to counterbalance this superstar shit that was going
on around us. I said, "No, I want to put my foot in a deep
puddle because I don't want to go up in that stratosphere
and hang out up there with the Maharishi and Mick and Paul
McCartney." It was almost a deliberate sort of attempt to
get out of it. Like letting the broken tooth hang for five
years - deliberate anti! I was doing an anti gig, but it still
stuck. In retrospect, it shouldn't have worked, but that's
what I had to do.
I look at it now, that was one of my rationalizations for
it. And the other is, hell, I was just sort of into De Quincey's
Opium Eaters a century too late. (Laughs.) I just saw myself
as a laboratory: "Well, let's see what this does."
substances worked best for producing music?
a speedball doesn't go down too bad! (Laughs uproariously.)
Those were the days. Oh, fuck. You've got the answer there.
(In a loud voice) A clear mind, a cold shower, and a ten-mile
walk after breakfast - those are the ingredients that make
good records, not dope.
been a progression in your playing...
growing up. Or trying.
stripping down to the essentials.
not only stripping down, I'm trying to find my own. Throughout
the'60s, it all happened so fast. Suddenly you've got to make
a new single every eight weeks, and each one has got to be
better than the next, and you're on the road. There wasn't
a lot of time to do much more than make the gig and come up
with a hit song every two months, which is enough of a task.
I mean, songwriting is something I got thrown into out of
necessity. It would never have occurred to me to be a songwriter.
I wanted to be a guitar player. And then suddenly you're successful
with your first record, which is cover jobs, but luckily of
great songs which nobody had ever heard or can't remember.
Or we just picked great material. That was all we did: We
covered other people's shit. There was no idea of going beyond
that, except suddenly the first album is outselling the Beatles.
And they're going, "Next!" And you're thinking, "How many
other great songs are there out there?" And Andrew Oldham,
in his beautiful, arrogant, naive way: "Well, you better start
writing your own."
your first songwriting experience.
Tears Go By," which we had a #1 hit with with Marianne Faithfull.
So suddenly, "Oh, we're songwriters," with the most totally
anti-Stones sort of song you could think of at the time, while
we're trying to make a good version of (Muddy Waters') "Still
A Fool." When you start writing, it doesn't matter where the
first one comes from. You've got to start somewhere, right?
So Andrew locked Mick and myself into a kitchen in this horrible
little apartment we had. He said, "You ain't comin' out,"
and there was no way out. We were in the kitchen with some
food and a couple of guitars, but we couldn't get to the john,
so we had to come out with a song. In his own little way,
that's where Andrew made his great contribution to the Stones.
That was such a flatulent idea, a fart of an idea, that suddenly
you're gonna lock two guys in a room, and they're going to
become songwriters. Forget about it.
picked the right two guys.
so. And that's why I take my hat off to Andrew. He had no
idea, but it was worth a try, and it worked. In that little
kitchen Mick and I got hung up about writing songs, and it
still took us another six months before we had another hit
with Gene Pitney, "That Girl Belongs To Yesterday." We were
writing these terrible pop songs that were becoming Top-10
hits. I thought, "What are we doing here playing the fucking
blues, and writing these horrible pop songs and getting very
successful?" They had nothing to do with us, except we wrote
'em. And it took us a while to come up with "The Last Time."
That was the first one we came up with where Mick and I said,
"This is one we can lay on the guys." At the time we were
already borrowing songs from the Beatles - "I Wanna Be Your
Man" - because we were really hard up for singles. So they
gave us a hand. (Sings "I wanna be your man") "Very good,
John. Very good, Paul. Like that, like that. We'll do it."
(Laughs.) In retrospect, during the '60s the Stones and the
Beatles were almost the same band, because we were the only
ones in that position. And we would dodge: "When is your record
coming out?" We would work with each other instead of against
each other, which is very interesting, because for the most
part people were either a Beatles or a Stones man, where ten
years earlier you'd have been an Elvis or a Buddy man. That
you learn to read music?
music has always intrigued me, and I once taught myself to
do it, and realized that this is no path for me to travel.
I immediately forgot it, and I deliberately - for better or
for worse - decided I ain't gonna be able to work within these
any new guitars impress you?
new Music Mans I've been using - they impress the shit out
of me. They made me a 5-string one and a 6-string bass. But
just the basic guitar itself is the most impressive guitar
since the Tele or the Strat. I really don't know what the
model is I use, but you can change that configuration of pickups
in a few minutes. I've got a couple of them set up. I mean,
I'm not one to go very much beyond the Teles. I have the odd
Guild, and Gibson and Gretsch shit that I use for extra color
here and there, semi-acoustic shit. I love guitars. But the
Music Mans impress me. As an all-around working unit, that
thing surprised the shit out of me. Sometimes in the studio,
I can make this thing sound like a Strat or a Gibson.
you like high action?
what tuning and what I'm going for. I've got no set thing
for anything. I've got three or four 5-strings there, one
with high action, one with low, and one with medium. The combination
of the guitar with the amp, to me, is more important than
which guitar I play. No one guitar is going to sound great
for everything, unless you're one of those guys that only
has one sound (laughs), and if you don't deliver that, you're
fucked. I just keep shopping around. I say, "Well, there,
he sounded good through that. Let's try him through the Bassmaster.
Or the Bandmaster." So the combination of amp and guitar is
a far more important choice than just the guitar. I mean,
you're talking electric guitar. What have you got? You got
a guitar, you've got your own asshole, and you've got an amplifier.
Somehow these three things have to come to be where you want
'em all to be at once. A Strat might sound good through that
Bandmaster, but would the Telecaster sound better through
that Champ? It depends on what sound you're going for. Basically
I'm talking recording here, because that's what I've been
into for the last year.
live work, I put the Twin up, and give me Teles and the odd
Strat here and there. It's a different criteria. But when
you're recording, you can afford to say, "Well, maybe that
Strat sounds better through that Kay than the Gibson through
the Champ." You just keep trying. You never know quite what
you're gonna get. The great thing about music is its unpredictability.
It never ceases to amaze me. I can be bored stiff "Oh, man,
I wish I had a night off" - and then a little problem like
that'll come up, and suddenly I'm in. I say, "How fascinating!
Why should that .... What's the difference between those sounds,"
and then you see faces light up in the control room. Suddenly
you find the right combination, and you're on the track. You've
got to carry everybody with you.
can't fight against the tide when you're working with bands.
There's no hiring and firing shit - I'm talking about guys
you live with and work with and that are as dedicated as you
are to this stuff. And that's hard to find. Forging a band
is another thing. Playing guitar is one thing, playing the
other guys is another. I realize that more and more as I go
ahead. Hey, I've become a psychologist over the years. I spend
more of my time explaining to Mick: "Well, what kind of mood
is he in? Who's gonna be good for this... " I do it almost
automatically. The first thing is to choose the right guys
in the first place. Then you don't have a major problem. But
the idea of making a record like, "Okay, who's the best bass
player? Okay, you're fired. Next." It's like some fucking
employment bureau. It sounds very boring to me, and I could
never start off the idea of playing with people from that
attitude, from that aspect. "Hired. You're fired. Hired. You're
fired." The idea of making a record in that way would already
put me off. I gotta know who I'm playing with before I even
consider the idea of actually doing it.
you written any songs during your solo period that you've
held back from recording because they seem better suited for
the Rolling Stones?
a good question, because this leads me to my very point with
Mick. In 1985 we started getting into solo shit, and it's
a whole new can of worms. I told him I didn't want to be put
into that position after all these years, because I knew it
would be a conflict of interests. I was very aware of that,
which is one of the reasons I fought him like a dog not to
do that. I knew then that I'm gonna write songs and I'm gonna,
"That's mine. Stones can't have that. Oh, the Stones can have
this." What do I do? Give 'em the best I got? The second best?
To put yourself in that position is what I feared. In retrospect
now, I say I was right to fear that, but at the same time,
Mick and I and the rest of the Stones had been in that pressure
cooker too long. The fight, whatever it was about, was almost
inconsequential. We'd just been in that thing too long. If
you're working with the Stones (points to a world map dotted
with dozens of locations of stones shows) - well, that's
a year. And then it stops and then you do nothing. And that's
what the Stones had to live with from the middle early'70s
until the middle'80s: Constant work for a year and a half,
and then nothing for two years.
that stopping and starting was fraying. That was the underlying
force of what all of that shit was about. It could have been
about women or solo records or quitting smoking or any other
thing, but it had to happen. The important thing to me was
will we get back together again, and the Steel Wheels
thing proved, yeah, we could make this thing work for us.
So the big battle has to be fought on that front, and probably
quite a necessary battle. It's never pleasant. It's like a
family - it's Mick and me have a row, except it's on the front
pages. It's like you have an argument with your old lady,
and the next day you read about it. And then the press are
winding you up - guys going, "Well, he said that," so you're
like conducting this fight publicly, and it should be a private
little matter. In any other circumstances it would be. It's
just a family squabble, not soap opera shit. Forget about
it. It's not really that important. It's bullshit, except
that we have to do it in the full glare of publicity, which
turns it into another thing. Because then you've got to take
your stance because they've forced you into corners.
it all came down to the point where Mick and I had to sit
together in a room and write songs for Steel Wheels, we did
it. And we made a Stones record in six months, which is pretty
much against the odds in the record business. We'd never spent
less than two-and-a-half years for the previous ten years,
but that's what can be done. I'm now firmly on my other path
as well, but I can see that it's better that I work, Mick
works, Charlie and everybody, so that when we do get together,
there's none of this taking the thing off the block and lube
jobs and endless trying to get the band back together. We'd
been too long in that vacuum, in that bubble. You can't live
in there forever.
Stones got too big, really, for what the Stones wanted to
be. I mean, what the fuck's the deal about? And what you want
to do and that you would normally do every day, suddenly you
can't do for two years. You can't just go, "Hey guys, let's
go play down at the bar," which is how the band started and
the whole idea. Suddenly you're too big to do that business
and the whole thing. It's a strange thing. I wish the Beatles
were still around in a way, because they could have kept on
doing what they always did first for us, which was open the
doors and take the brunt. (Laughs.) Playing football stadiums,
man, is not where it's at. It takes what you want to do into
another realm where you don't really want to be. But if that
amount of people want to be there, who's gonna say no? So
you're, like, stiffed. Give me a 3,000-4,000 seater any time
- with a roof on it, no wind, no rain. A good sound system
in a controlled environment. Hey, we're rock and roll. What's
it need? A basement, a garage. Start from there. But football
stadiums are a little bit way out there, but at the same time,
that's where it's at.
Wyman once claimed that the Rolling Stones are the only major
rock band where everyone follows the rhythm guitarist.
that's the best thing he's ever said about me! (Laughs.) He
never told me that. Bill, bless your heart. I just hope he's
there to follow me the next time around. Which leads us to
that question, right? Whether or not he's in the band is up
to him. As far as I'm concerned, there's no way I want to
change that lineup, unless he's absolutely adamant. I have
my spies out. I talk to his ex old ladies, who can see him.
Some people tell me he means it, and then I speak to some
of his older friends who know him better: "Yeah, he's saying
that, but I have a feeling he'll be there." So I'm getting
these two messages. And Bill is not the guy ... We don't talk
on the phone, because he's too guarded and I'm too pointed.
I have to see his eyes, in other words, to know. It was a
spin on my head when I discovered he just doesn't like flying
anymore. I realized that in the European tour he was driving
to gigs in five, six hours, where you could get on a plane
and be there in 45 minutes. I thought, "Geez, I'd never thought
of that." Hell, you can't think of everything. There's all
kinds of angles and possibilities on this thing with Bill,
but I don't want to change this lineup unless I really got
to. And he's the only one that can make me have to.
people have mimicked your image or their perception of your
musical stance. What would you have musicians learn from you?
about the clothes and the haircut and the moves, and then
concentrate on the guitar playing. First, you've got to have
that. I see a lot of guys out there - and it's like weird
for me - and they've got it all down except the playing! (laughs.)
I mean, hell, they look more like me than me! It's like fashion.
It's all got to do with video and shit. Once you start to
get the eyes involved with music, music will take the backseat,
and that's what the video thing is. Why can't video find its
own niche in life and get off music's back? This is not going
to endear me to VH-1 or MTV, but they know how I feel about
it. It's a conflict of the senses. You're gonna judge a record
by a TV screen and some images with some shitty little sound
coming out of those boxy little speakers? I mean, how many
people really have them hooked up to stereos? The way they
deliver a record is with some semi-nude chicks, which I have
no problem with, but not to sell my music. The music becomes
like elevator background music, relegated. And of course,
then you've encouraged people to become posers and not composers.
Andy Warhol's little dream's come true: Everybody's a star
for 15 minutes.
to me, is the joy, right? I love my kids most of the time,
and I love my wife most of the time. Music I love all the
time. It's the only constant thing in my life. It's the one
thing you can count on.