Review: Keith Richards’ Second Album, ‘Main Offender – 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition’

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I’ve always loved Keith Richards. Oh sure, when I was a young teenager just getting into rock n roll and I bought my first LP, the Stones’ Some Girls, I wanted to be Mick Jagger. As a kid you always wanted to be the lead singer, they get the “chicks.” As I got older and saw more vintage footage of the Stones – and actually saw them live at Kemper Arena on the Tattoo You tour – my attention started to shift to Keef. Before I met the Rock Chick I had a great old pic of Keith that I tore out of a magazine and haphazardly taped to my bathroom mirror… I think there was drink involved with hanging that thing. Keith’s role in the band was so integral – he was out front leading the band with Mick but he mostly played rhythm guitar which tied him to Charlie Watts (RIP) in the back. His riffage was what propelled the band. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to diminish Jagger’s contribution to the band. They’re always stronger together.

Speaking of “stronger together,” and sitting here thinking about the Mick vs Keith feud of the late 80s really takes me back. It looked like we were going to be living in a world without the Stones and what a grim world that would have been! Keith never really wanted a solo career, he was content in the Stones and occasionally sitting in with friends like Tom Waits. When Jagger refused to tour for Dirty Work (a wrongly maligned album) and went to record his second solo LP, Primitive Cool, I think Keith was backed into a corner regarding a solo career. He was downright pissed. He knew he likely couldn’t replace Watts but he knew he needed a strong “engine” to fuel whatever solo music he was going to come up with. He got Steve Jordan to play drums and co write with (who is now replacing Charlie on drums for the Stones as they embark on their 60th anniversary tour) and Charlie Drayton who played bass. That was a damn strong rhythm section. Keith knew he wanted a band and he knew to build it from the bottom up. He then pulled in Ivan Neville to play keyboards and in a real coup he pulled in Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, the Every Brothers) to play lead guitar. He added Sarah Dash for harmony and backing vocals and the X-Pensive Winos were complete.

Keith’s first solo LP, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap is nothing short of a masterpiece. Fueled by his anger with Mick and excited by the power of the band he’d discovered in the X-Pensive Winos he let loose. Shortly after that he reunited with Mick – who’s Primitive Cool had been a commercial and critical flop, especially when compared to Talk Is Cheap – and they recorded the amazing Steel Wheels which I consider a late-period Stones masterpiece. It also happens to be the Rock Chick’s favorite Stones’ album. She’s into the Ronnie Wood period and has impeccable taste but I digress. After being comforted that the Stones could still function together and seemingly O.K. with the concept of he and Mick doing solo stuff and then returning to the band, Keith decided to do a second album with the X-Pensive Winos.

The second album Main Offender came out in 1992. Like I said, a lot had happened in between it and Talk Is Cheap. The Stones had reunited, recorded an album and toured – very successfully I might add. Keith was no longer supremely pissed at Mick. While I really dug Main Offender it did lose some of the intensity without Keith’s anger that made Talk Is Cheap crackle. Main Offender is more of a groove album in my mind, a little like the Stones’ Black And Blue where the band just finds a riff and rides it out. That method can yield some great results – the opening track “999” is one of my all time favorite Keith songs. There’s a moment in the song where he sings, “Don’t panic…” In the early 90s I was going up to Chicago to see my friends a lot and my buddy who I’ll call R.K. used to randomly tilt his head back while sitting at the bar and yell, “Don’t panic…” in much the same way as Keith. Ah, the good ol’ days. But there are degrees to how far the groove approach can take you. Songs like “Yap Yap” and “Body Talks” are merely riffs that they ride for almost too long.

There is some wonderful reggae on Main Offender. “Wicked As It Seems” is a great, muscular reggae song. So is “Words of Wonder” which is all groovy reggae. “Eileen” was a great single and great song. It verges on pop rock. The album’s last track is one of the prettiest ballads Keith has ever written, “Demon.” That one was my theme song for quite a while… “Demon in me… I can’t live without it.” Yeah, those were some dark times. “Hate It When You Leave” is a great song that verges on soul. There is a lot to love on this album and if you’ve never heard it or owned it, this new 30th-Anniversary version is a must have.

For those of us who already own Main Offender, the question is as it always seems to be, is the bonus material worth it? Much like the Talk Is Cheap – Deluxe Edition, this deluxe set includes a concert from London in 1992. The X-Pensive Winos are such a great band. The first sound you hear on the show’s opener, “Take It So Hard” is Keith’s rhythm guitar which reached out and grabbed me. They do tracks from both of Keith’s solo records and dip ever so slightly into the Stones’ catalog with a gloriously sloppy “Gimme Shelter,” “Happy,” and “Before They Make Me Run” from the beloved Some Girls album. For me, I think any opportunity to hear the X-Pensive Winos play is worth the price of admission. I will admit though, this live stuff is likely for true Keef/Stones fans only. It’s a great concert document with great, crunching guitars and wonderful drums, but I don’t know how often I’ll return to it… well, who am I kidding, I’ll return to it, it’s live Keith, but normal people might not return to it that often.

If you’ve never experienced Main Offender or you’re a huge live Keith fan, this Deluxe set is for you. I heard Keith got the Winos together for a @LoveRocksNYC charity concert. Well he had Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Jordan all there… I think Will Lee from Letterman’s old band played bass. It’s always great to see those cats back together and jamming. I highly urge everyone to give this Main Offender 30th Annviersary a spin at maximum volume. Just hearing this live stuff makes me want to tie a head scarf on and unbutton my shirt a few buttons… maybe put on some dark eye make up…

Cheers!

Review: The Rolling Stones ‘Tattoo You – Super Deluxe’ – Revisiting The Landmark Album

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Oh how I love it when we get into the good stuff!

For those of us who were too young and missed the Stones’ late 60s heyday the album Tattoo You in 1981 is about as iconic a Stones disc as you can find. Hell, I was young enough I even missed the Stones in their druggy, decadent 70s and believe me, I’d have settled for that. As I have often confessed, the Rolling Stones aka “The Worlds Greatest Rock N Roll Band” are my alpha and omega when it comes to rock music. It’s where it all starts and ends for me. Actually in my case, they actually are where it started for me. They were the band that caused my entire rock n roll obsession. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was relegated to the back seat of my mother’s Oldsmobile 88…plush velvet seats in the Olds… Ever the “even-Steven” of parents, my sainted mother made my brother and I, ever the quarreling siblings, take turns sitting in the front seat. My brother was upfront, “riding shotgun” as the saying goes, and as was his habit he immediately turned on the radio and flipped to the local rock n roll station, KY102. At this stage in the game, I was not into music whatsoever. The only thing I’d ever turned on the radio for was to listen to a Royals game. Oddly these days I don’t even follow baseball… I was the only person in Kansas City who didn’t watch the Royals win the World Series a few years back, but I’m getting off topic here.

My brother flips on KY/102 and I hear this funky music come blaring out of the speakers. The guy is singing something about “we’re gonna to come around twelve, with some Puerto Rican Girls who are just dyin’ to meet you, we’re gonna bring a case of wine… lets go mess around like we used too.” Well that sounds like fun! I don’t know any Puerto Rican girls… a whole case of wine? I thought this was all fascinating and hysterical at the same time. But it was the music that hit me in the solar plexus and then moved it’s way into my groin. I was new to being a teenager, but as I recall most things that hit me had a way of moving down to my groin… I remember leaning forward into the front seat and asking my brother, “What is THIS?” He replied in his laconic way, “It’s the Stones… I think it’s called “Miss You”” I begged my parents for a stereo for Christmas. My brother had one… it was time to up the rock n roll arms race in our adjoining rooms. Admittedly however, looking back, I realize “Miss You” was pretty much a disco tune. Strangely I seem to remember kind of enjoying Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” his disco “sell out” single… Gads, am I secretly a disco fan?

Later I heard “Beast of Burden” and that was it… I knew I had to buy my first album. I trudged down to the record store and with my Christmas money I bought 1978’s Some Girls, which at the time was the Stones’ latest album. I also picked up Steve Martin’s comedy LP, A Wild And Crazy Guy launching my second obsession, comedians. I wore Some Girls out. I eventually took a blank cassette into what I considered the real inner sanctum of rock n roll in our house, my brother’s room, and taped his copy of Hot Rocks. Those two albums got me through junior high school. I’d play one or the other every morning before going to catch the death wagon er I mean the bus to school. I hated school and the Stones always… I don’t know… cheered me up. I eventually started buying other LPs, Van Halen’s debut, and ZZ Top’s Deguello but I always came back to the Stones…

I was visiting my grandparents one summer a few years later. I hounded her to let me take her transistor radio that she and grandpa used to listen to, well, the Royals games on, to bed with me. The night time DJ, when the clock hit midnight announced he was playing the new Stones album Emotional Rescue in its entirety. The Stones? Have a new album? It hadn’t dawned on me bands could keep putting out new music, I was still trying to catch up on all their old music. On Emotional Rescue I didn’t really have the experience of hearing a first single, I heard it all at once. As soon as I got home and had enough money from mowing lawns I raced to the mall in my dad’s AMC Hornet (no power steering, 3-on the tree gear shift) and picked it up. To this day I’m not sure what the first single was… for me Emotional Rescue was an immersive LP experience.

It was the summer, August I think, before my senior year in high school a few years later when the KY102 DJ announced he was going to play “the new Stones’ song.” Once again I was taken by surprise… I didn’t know the Stones had recorded a new album. I was so unaware as a teenager. Anyway, they played “Start Me Up.” I have to admit, all these 40 years later, it kind of left me cold when I first heard it. For the first time I didn’t rush down and buy a Stones’ LP upon its release. True, my musical tastes had spread out – I was into Zeppelin and Sabbath but also the Who and was dabbling in the Beatles and Springsteen. I’m not sure why I felt that way, I love the song now, despite the Rock Chick insisting it’s overplayed. It wasn’t until I heard “Hang Fire” that I thought, well, I need to buy this thing. And I think “Hang Fire” was the third single… I really took my time on this one. I’d also heard everybody in my class raving about “this new Stones album” and couldn’t help but think, “Hey, I’m the Stones guy…I have been for years… I’ll be the judge of this.” 

Well, I loved the album. It didn’t have any country stuff like “Far Away Eyes” or reggae like “Send Her To Me” on the previous two albums, it was pretty much straight-up rock n roll. What we didn’t know back then was that the Stones, specifically Mick Jagger, had cobbled this thing together from “leftovers” from sessions dating back as far as 1973’s Goats Head Soup. There were a couple of tracks co-written by Mick Taylor their erstwhile lead guitarist… he had to sue for royalties. The Stones had planned to tour in 1981-82 and they wanted to do so behind a new album. Keith had kicked heroin and was starting to reassert himself in the Stones. Mick was used to sitting in the driver’s seat, he’d been driving the thing for almost a decade and resented the affront to his authority. Since they weren’t getting along, they couldn’t pull together a new album. It’s a shame my sainted mother wasn’t on the payroll to make sure things were kept even-Steven between the Glimmer Twins. Mick went back into the studio and worked with producer Chris Kimsey to overdub new vocals on old demos and outtakes. “Tops” and “Waiting On A Friend” dated from the aforementioned Goats Head Soup sessions. “Slave” and “Worried About You” dated from the Black And Blue sessions. “Black Limousine,” “Hang Fire” and “Start Me Up” were from Some Girls. “Start Me Up” actually started as a reggae track entitled “Never Stop” that’s been widely bootlegged and that I’ve never heard. All of the rest of the tracks were from the Emotional Rescue sessions.

For me, and for everyone really, “Start Me Up” is one of the Stones’ most iconic songs. But there were so many other great tracks on this album – cobbled together or not. They divided the album between a fast side (side 1) and a slow side (side 2). While critics weren’t crazy about most of the ballads on side 2, believe it or not, there are a cult of people who love Tattoo You Side 2. From the fast side, I love “Black Limousines” a bluesy rocker that ranks among the Stones best deep tracks. I love “Hang Fire” and “Slave.” “Neighbours” was a great rock song. Keith’s vocal outing, “Little T&A” is a wonderfully vulgar rocker. On the slow side, the standout track is obviously “Waiting On A Friend,” with its iconic video. The original version has a Mick Taylor guitar solo in place of the Sonny Rollins sax solo. I remember critics hailing it as a return to “classic” Stones form… of course it was, it was recorded during their classic period. “Worried About You” is another great song and I loved seeing it played live a few years back.

The Stones have revisited Tattoo You on this, it’s 40th anniversary. Let me just say, wow, it’s been 40 years? Time is a jet plane. True to the “leftovers” theme of the original LP, Mick and Ronnie Wood went into Wood’s home studio and overdubbed some new vocals and guitar on some leftovers from the leftovers? They’re from all the same sessions where the original tracks came from and I’ll denote those in parentheses after the titles. Sadly, there’s no full on reggae “Never Stop” or the original guitar driven “Waiting On A Friend” on the new Deluxe version of the LP. Supposedly there’s a 10-minute version of “Slave” out there and it’s not here either. “Living In The Heart Of Love” (It’s Only Rock N Roll) is a spirited, classic Stones rocker. “Fiji Jim” (Some Girls) is another rocker with kind of a rockabilly vibe to me. I was surprised there are three covers here. “Troubles A’ Comin'” (Emotional Rescue) was made famous by the Chi-Lites. It’s actually one of my favorite songs here. I love the guitar on that one. Their take on blues legend Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” (Some Girls) is superb. The Stones and the blues just go together. I love Mick’s harmonica on that one… I wonder if that’s newly overdubbed or on the original… either way Mick is one of the greatest blues harmonica players to ever walk the earth.

The most iconic track here – and the only one I’d ever heard on a bootleg – is the Stones covering a song written by Mentor Williams and made famous by Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” (It’s Only Rock N Roll). I love the Stones version of this song… I can’t fathom why it’s just now being released. I know Rod released a version around the same time, maybe they didn’t want to compete. There is myth around the Stones’ version of “Drift Away.” Supposedly, Keith used to like to shoot up and “drift away” while listening to this song. Or I’ve also heard that the Stones would play this song while he was doing so. Either way, it’s a great song.

“It’s A Lie” is from the Some Girls sessions and this rocker would have fit nicely on that album. It really sounds like it comes from that era of the Stones. “Come To The Ball” (Goats Head Soup) is a manic rocker. “Fast Talking Slow Walking” (Goats Head Soup) is the lone ballad here and its a classic. There is an early “reggae-ish” version of “Start Me Up” and I like it. I’ve always wanted to hear the reggae version of that song and this version gives me a taste of that. I really dig all of these “Lost & Found” tracks. Anything we can get from the Stones’ vault I tend to be thankful for. I know there is a ton of material they could have also included, much like the recent Beatles release Let It Be Super Deluxe. I can’t quibble about what’s not included, I just enjoy what is. I would have liked a Keith song here but again, its a small complaint. I’d advise everybody to get the Deluxe version of Tattoo You especially if you don’t own the original LP, which is something everyone should.

Now, if you’re a super fan, the Super Deluxe set has a previously unreleased concert from Wembley (London) in 1982. The Stones on that tour played virtually the same set every night. So if you own, say, the show from the Hampton Colesium, like I do, it’s basically the same show. The Wembley show is far superior to the weak live album they released after the tour, Still Life. Critics of that tour will tell you it wasn’t the Stones at their “best,” whatever that means. For those of us of a certain age who saw the Stones for the first time on that tour, it’s iconic. Personally I saw them three times on the tour, twice in Houston and one of the KC dates where they had Mick Taylor join them as a guest guitarist. I get chills when I hear Keith’s wobbling guitar intro to “Under My Thumb.” That giant, brightly colored stage, Mick running around in a football uniform sans shoulder pads with only Keith and Ronnie singing back up, that stuff is iconic. I love that setlist as they played a ton off of their three previous LPs – Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and the then current Tattoo You. The Stones would never play that much contemporary stuff again.

My recommendation for this one is certainly buy the Deluxe package… and if you’re of a certain age and don’t have a decent live version of the 81-82 tour, splurge for the Super Deluxe. As for me, I’ll still just be out here on the front stoop, cuz, “I’m not waiting on lady, I’m just waiting on a friend…” Maybe Mick will come along and we’ll head to bar…

Cheers to all of you waiting on friends out there! Be safe.