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Rolling Stones songs: Now I’ve Got a Witness (Like Uncle Phil and Uncle Gene)
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Written by: Nanker Phelge
Recorded: Regent Sounds and IBC Studios, London, England, Feb. 4 1964
Guest musicians: Gene Pitney (piano)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
Uncle Phil is Phil Spector, a legendary producer who was friends with The Stones. Uncle Gene is Gene Pitney, a singer who wrote the Stones’ “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday.” They were frequent visitors at The Stones’ recording sessions.
This is an instrumental The Stones recorded at the same session where they covered “Can I Get A Witness.” Some of the keyboards were taken from that song.
This was credited to Nanker Phelge, a goofy name for a Jagger/Richards composition. “Nanker” was a wacky face they would make to amuse each other, “Phelge” was a roommate of Keith Richards whom he considered “The most disgusting person ever.”
Ian Stewart played organ on this. Sometimes considered “The Sixth Stone,” he also played on sessions for Led Zeppelin and formed his own outfit with Charlie Watts, Alexis Korner and Jack Bruce in the late ’70s and early ’80s called Rocket 88. After his death in 1985, The Stones played their only concert in a 7-year period at a London club in February 1986 as a tribute to Stewart.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs, The Story Behind Every Track book:
“Now I’ve Got a Witness” is a number conceived by the whole group, hence the Nanker Phelge credit. The Rolling Stones also had the support of various handpicked guests, however, hence the subtitle “Like Uncle Phil and Uncle Gene”—more specifically, “Uncle” Phil Spector and “Uncle” Gene Pitney, who attended some of the recording sessions for this debut album. Ian Stewart also plays for the first time on the record. Credited on the sleeve with guest status in exactly the same way as Spector and Pitney, Stewart was nevertheless a full-fledged member of the Rolling Stones.
“We used to put out instrumentals from the very first album—‘Now I’ve Got a Witness’—just let a band have a blow once in a while,” reveals Keith Richards. This instrumental was recorded on February 4, following “Can I Get a Witness.” This explains a number of things, not least the shared tempo and keyboard part—this time played not by Gene Pitney on the piano but by Ian Stewart on the organ. Brian Jones again plays a wonderful harmonica, as if straight out of Chess Studios. It is just a shame that it has been mixed down.
Keith Richards, for his part, slots a pleasant but not exactly unforgettable solo on his Harmony Meteor H70 into this classic blues framework. Mick Jagger abandons his role as singer for once, modestly picking up a tambourine instead. However, it is the rhythm section that really shines, with Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman complementing each other to great effect, the latter choosing to support the drums on the upper reaches of his fingerboard. “Now I’ve Got a Witness” is the first original, group-credited number on the album and benefits from good production. A fact perhaps not unconnected with Phil Spector’s presence at the session…
Categories: Can You Hear the Music?