Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Live At The El Mocambo’ – The Legendary Concert Finally Released

image

I wish I could tell you how happy all of us down here at B&V are that the Stones have finally released an official version of the entire legendary 1977 show from Toronto’s El Mocambo Club (March 5, 1977). The album, creatively titled, Live At El Mocambo dropped a few Fridays ago – 45 years after the actual shows. In the interest of full disclosure I purchased this one on CD. The $149 price tag on the vinyl was too rich even for this avid, obsessed Stones’ fan. Hearing this live album I have to say, it ranks up there with Get Yer Ya-Yas Out as one of the Stones’ finest live LPs. The Stones have been around so long, different live albums tend to capture/conjure different eras in the band’s storied history. Ya-Yas captured them at their career peak with Mick Taylor still on lead guitar. I’ve always been fond of Live At the BBC: On Air  released only a few years ago, but that one really captures the early-Stones, Brian Jones era. Now we have Live At the El Mocambo to give us a taste of the mid-70s, Ronnie Wood-just-joined-the-band era. Of course this early Ronnie Wood era had already been documented on the Stones’ 1977 Love You Live, another Stones live album I love… maybe I just truly love Live Albums.

The Stones were at a cross roads in the mid-70s. After the tour for 1974’s It’s Only Rock n Roll Mick Taylor, lead guitarist extraordinaire, quit the band. Taylor played on what many consider to be the peak of the Stones’ career on albums that include Exile On Mainstreet and Sticky Fingers. When Taylor was in the band there seemed to be a strict division of guitar labor, Taylor played the solo’s and Keith was allowed to become the “Riffmeister,” strictly rhythm. By the time Taylor left the Stones it was largely believed that their classic period had ended and the Stones had become more decadent and less focused on the music. Critics lamented they were a spent creative force. It didn’t help that disco and punk were nipping at their heels. Supposedly, Jagger was fascinated with being a star and Keith was fascinated by, well, heroin. If you ask me Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock n Roll are still pretty “classic” Stones albums but I’m a pretty big fan. But for the Stones there was never any serious consideration given to quitting when Taylor split. Nothing can stop the Stones, man.

They were ready to record a post-Taylor album so they used those sessions to audition a new lead guitarist. They were probably thinking, “Hey, we need to jam with some new guys, let’s record it and try and get an album out of it. ” Many guitarists auditioned including Jeff Beck and Peter Frampton to name drop a few. Others included Steve Marriott, Rory Gallagher, Wayne Perkins and Harvey Mandel. Finally they decided on Ronnie Wood, who in retrospect was the perfect choice. Wood and Richards’ guitars meld together so well. There would be no more guitar division of labor, these two would practice what Keef calls “the ancient art of weaving,” where their guitars snake in and out of each other’s. Plus Ronnie was a good drinking buddy for Keith. The ensuing LP, recorded as a guitar audition, was Black And Blue. The critical reception was mixed but the album spent a whole month at number one in 1976. I love the record but when a college buddy asked me about it I just said, “It’s more for fans.” Over the years I’ve regretted that as I love the songs on that record. It’s long on grooves and jams but… what’s wrong with that? It also has two of their greatest ballads, “Fool To Cry,” and my favorite “Memory Motel.” The album includes contributions from Mandel, Perkins and Ronnie… but alas no Jeff Beck who left his audition and said, “We jammed for 2 hours and I only played three notes.” Jeff Beck, sigh.

Despite the success of Black And Blue, and the ensuing tour in support of it, critics couldn’t help but continue to decry that things “were over” for the Stones. They were still considered a spent creative force. To make matters worse Keith and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg kept getting busted for coke and heroin possession. And of course, Keith traveled with such a large quantity of drugs – for his and Anita’s use – that he was charged with trafficking. He could have ended up doing real time. He eventually received a suspended sentence… but they were so nervous Keith and Mick took the band into a studio in Paris at the end of 1977 and recorded enough music to fill Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. The Stones apparently – when you back them up against the wall – DELIVER. But, I’m losing the thread here…

The Stones made a great choice in Ronnie Wood. The guy’s enthusiasm for rocking out, evinced by his time in the Faces, is contagious. He brought a sense of fun and excitement back to the Stones who were suffering from a bad case of ennui. They were going to follow Black And Blue up with a live album and while they had stuff recorded from both the ’75 and ’76 tours, it was decided they needed to go to Toronto to record a show in a small club, the El Mocambo. Toronto has become the Stones’ home away from home over the years. The Stones now do little club shows at the beginning of almost every tour but in 1977 they hadn’t played a small club since their days the Marquee Club in Richmond 15 years prior. They’d been filling stadiums for almost a decade. It was Wood who lobbied for a club show. It was also Ronnie’s idea that the Stones go back and mix up the set list, playing old blues numbers and some of their shorter classic tracks. I still wonder how they talked Mick into this. It was just the band (Mick/Keith/Ronnie with Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums) with Billy Preston and Ian Stewart on keyboards and Ollie Brown on percussion. There was no horn section or back up singers (save for Keith and Ronnie). This is as straightforward as you’re going to get from the Stones at this point in their career.

Oddly, they used some of the El Mocambo stuff on the ensuing live album, Love You Live, but only 4 tracks. It was, for you vinyl cats out there, side 3 aka “The El Mocambo” side. I can’t help but think it might have been better to just release the entire El Mocambo show back then? I will admit Love You Live has a lot of great moments. They played the entire album on the Houston rock radio station the night after I saw the Stones for the first time with my buddy Brewster, who was apparently upset with the Stones’ set list that night. He said, “What album is this?” I didn’t know at the time. And he said, “At least they’re playing everything I wished they’d played tonight.” Drinking warm beer in the Astrodome parking lot in 1980 I will say, Brewster could always be incisive.

I have to say, first and foremost, Live At The El Mocambo sounds fantastic. I don’t know if its the intimate setting – it only sat 300 people but it feels like you’re there. The Stones had kept the gigs a secret. They faked a radio contest – what would you do to see the Stones? – and the winners would see April Wine live. The opening act was the Cockroaches… aka the Stones. People showed up and were surprised, the Stones were the actual headliners. Mick Jagger sounds like he’s having an absolute blast during this show. At one point he tells the small crowd that Ronnie Wood is inviting them back to his hotel room after the show… but they have to bring their own beer. The band is really tight on these performances – as if this was an escape from all the turmoil off the stage – and the tighter they play the more relaxed and fun Jagger becomes. Or maybe they’re just responding to playing in a tiny club. Keith has always said Mick could rule a stage from a stadium to a phone booth. Ronnie Wood’s lead guitar is also searing on this album. I couldn’t turn it up loud enough.

The Stones start off with a bit of a lumbering version of “Honky Tonk Woman.” It’s like they’re getting their bearings. Then they take off with “All Down The Line” one of my favorites from Exile On Mainstreet. Everything seemed to come together from there. What’s so great about this album is they not only took Ronnie’s suggestion to play older tracks and blues tunes but they play almost the entire Black And Blue album, something that you’re never gonna hear again. They played one of their earliest “Route 66” and its great but around that they play three tracks from Black And Blue. “Hand Of Fate” is a forgotten rock masterpiece as is “Crazy Mama,” but Jagger sounds IN TO IT. I love the ballad “Fool To Cry” (although I’m broken-hearted they didn’t do “Memory Motel”) but I’ve always been a sucker for ballads and sad songs… ask anybody whose dated me. I used to sing the lyric from “Fool To Cry” to this girl I used to date who lived downtown behind the old blood bank on Armour, “I gotta woman, she live in the poor part of town, I go and see her sometime, we make love so fine…” She’d always say the same thing, “This isn’t the poor part of town.”

“Mannish Boy,” and “Crackin’ Up” are two old blues covers that actually ended up on Love You Live but while I enjoyed the El Mocambo side, the songs just seem more in context here. “Dance Little Sister” and “Tumblin’ Dice” just snarl here. “Hot Stuff” from Black And Blue leads off the second disc. “Star Star” is still the most vulgar Chuck Berry-type track ever. They do a couple of blues tracks and it felt like I was back in Richmond (although I’ve never been to Richmond). “Worried Life Blues” is a track I’ve never heard the Stones do and I loved it. They did “Little Red Rooster” which also amazing… I think they took that to number 1 in England. I mean, you just don’t hear these songs at a Stones show. “It’s Only Rock N Roll” and “Rip This Joint” rock with such a ferocity you think things are going to slip the rails.

After they return to more predictable fair to end the March 5th, 1977 set with “Brown Sugar” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” they’ve tacked on three songs from the March 4th show. It may seem weird but it almost feels like an encore. If the encore was obscure songs that I would be allowed to pick. “Melody,” another great Black And Blue track and gives Billy Preston a chance to share lead with Mick. Then they play “Luxury” a reggae thing from It’s Only Rock n Roll. The final track is a very early version of “Worried About You” a song that didn’t see the light of day until Tattoo You, side 2 (and yes, I know there are Tattoo You, side 2 freaks out there…I’m one of you).

This is the sound of the Greatest Rock N Roll Band in the World discovering the joy in playing a concert again. You can hear the joy they find in the music. I do think a lot of that comes from Ronnie Wood’s almost childlike, joyful attitude. This is a treat for big Stones fans and more casual fans alike. It would be another year before the Stones emerged, defiant and triumphant with Some Girls, an album that silenced the “they’re done” talk. That album also happened to awake a rock n roll obsession in a young man living in the Kansas City suburbs…but that’s another post.

I can already tell this album is going to get a lot of airplay here at B&V this summer… Cheers!

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

Rolling-Stones-Tattoo-You-Album-Cover-web-optimised-820

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.