rolling stones exile sessions 1972Trivia


Exile On Main St. sessions

Dec. 4-19, 1971: The Stones (all minus Charlie Watts) hold overdubs and mixes for the Exile On Main Street album at Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles, also recording new tracks for the album.


From the LA Weekly:
Wearing mirrored shades, red shirt and leather jacket while puffing a joint and standing inside a Bel-Air Spanish revival home, Keith Richards put his hands together to form a folded shape. “We can make some postcards,” he said. Then he fell to the floor, zonked.

Richards, Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones Records head Marshall Chess, packaging designer John Van Hamersveld and photographer Norman Seeff had been trying to figure out what to do with images Seeff had shot of Rolling Stones singer Jagger and guitarists Richards and Mick Taylor gussied up in fedoras and jackets, on a confetti-doused set with a ship in the background. Postcards, using Seeff’s photos as Richards suggested, became an integral part of the Rolling Stones’ double-LP 1972 masterwork, Exile on Main St.

The making of Exile on Main St. is one of rock’s most infamous storylines: the Stones, tax-dodging expats in the South of France, recording in Keith Richards’ rented mansion’s basement, surrounded by girlfriends, groupies, drug dealers, glamorous friends and dangerous hangers-on as the band recorded what many consider to be the best rock & roll album ever created.

All of which definitely happened. But Los Angeles also played a major part in Exile’s creation, on multiple levels. Musically, the Stones and producer Jimmy Miller finished up the album at Hollywood’s Sunset Sound, doing vocals, overdubs and mixing. Exile’s iconic and often-imitated collage-style packaging was designed by Van Hamersveld inside the white walls of his second-floor space at Chapman Park Studio in Koreatown, on Sixth Street and Alexandria Avenue. And while the album’s front cover featured the infamous “freak show” images Robert Frank had shot for his late-’50s photography book The Americans, the back-cover photos of the Stones were taken by Frank on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles.

In fact, Van Hamersveld says now, before those back-cover photos, “The album was just Exile.” After the photos, and Los Angeles, the album became Exile on Main St.

Venetta Fields got the phone call to come do Exile backing vocal sessions at Sunset Sound around midnight one evening in November 1971. She got the call after another singer had passed on the session because it was starting so late.

Fields had recently seen a suede patchwork coat she fancied in a local shop. “The coat kept being on sale, and I was going to Vegas to work with Nancy Sinatra, so that’s why I wanted the coat,” Fields says, via phone from her home in Bendigo, Australia, about 150 miles northwest of Melbourne. “The Stones were a cash gig. So I had the cash to go get the coat.” Looking back now, she thinks she was paid around $500 for her three hours or so of Exile studio work.

Along with Clydie King and Sherlie Matthews, Fields contributed sanctified backing vocals on four tracks, she says: “Shine a Light,” “I Just Want to See His Face,” “Let It Loose” and the hit “Tumbling Dice,” which became a signature Stones tune. “It was just another session, another day at the office,” Fields says. “I didn’t really care for the Stones musically, that wasn’t my type of music.” Born in Buffalo and later an L.A. resident for almost 20 years, Fields’ singing influences include Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand.

Fields drove from her Malibu condo to the Stones session in her green Corvette. When she arrived, Jagger was the only Stone who stayed following their own overdubs. “I knew who Mick Jagger was but it didn’t faze me,” says Fields, who was in her early 30s when she worked on Exile, and had already worked with stars like Ray Charles, Streisand and Ike and Tina Turner.

Inside Sunset Sound’s Studio 1, the farthest studio from the facility’s Sunset Boulevard frontage, King, Matthews and Fields grouped around a microphone in their normal formation, with Fields in the middle. “I always sang the high parts, Clyde sang the middle parts and Sherlie sang the bottom parts. Mick told us what he wanted but basically he let us do what we did.” Was that adding an authentic gospel vibe to the tracks? “It was more than that,” she says. “It was black soul. We wondered about the English, why they wanted us, but they wanted blackness on the vocals.”

There in Studio 1, a narrow, 800-square-foot space, Fields, King and Matthews delivered and then some. Forty-five years after Exile’s May 12, 1972, release, their gospel-infused backing vocals are among the album’s most endearing sonic qualities.

Fields took her Stones cash and bought that patchwork coat — and went on to a career so storied, including touring and studio work with Pink Floyd, Steely Dan and Leonard Cohen, that at one point she literally forgot all about her Stones connection. “When I was with Humble Pie, Steve [Marriott, the group’s frontman] and I had an argument,” Fields says. “He told me that I sang on Exile on Main St. and I told him that I didn’t. Because I didn’t regard it then. It was just another session that turned out to be historical. I had no idea. But I’m very proud to be a part of Exile on Main St.”

Al Perkins recorded his lovely, lyrical pedal-steel parts for countryfied Exile track “Torn and Frayed” at Sunset Sound, too. Then a member of The Flying Burrito Brothers, Perkins had recently acquired a used ZB Custom double-neck from Tom Brumley, Ricky Nelson’s steel player, before his December 1971 Exile session. Perkins had been woodshedding on his new instrument at his Aqua Vista Street apartment in Studio City, preparing to tour with Manassas, Stephen Stills’ new band.

Called to the nighttime Exile session, Perkins parked his Pontiac LeMans in the parking lot behind Sunset Sound and took his steel out of the trunk. Inside Studio 1’s control room, he set up at the right end of the facility’s custom Bob Bushnell–built console. Perkins didn’t use an amp on the session, instead going through a tube limiter, then directly into the console — which is surprising, as his “Torn and Frayed” tone is so rich and warm.

“They wanted me to feel as if I was playing live with them,” Perkins says by phone from the Nashville area, where he now resides. “When they started running it down, I asked for a vocal and they said, ‘Well, we don’t have a vocal right now, so Mick’s going to sing a vocal.’ They gave Mick a hand mic and he literally sang the song each time I did a pass. We didn’t do that many, I think maybe about three passes, and he would do all his stage routine right there in the studio. And here I was trying to concentrate on a brand-new guitar. [To] have him dancing around was a little unusual, to say the least.”

Since he’d only had the ZB Custom steel for about three weeks, Perkins was “fighting it a little” and “kind of playing it safe.” He laughs as he remembers, “They said, ‘You can play anything you want, you can stretch out.’ And I was thinking to myself, ‘I am stretching out’ — trying to learn all the parts of that new steel guitar.”

Producer Miller and recording engineer Andy Johns were at the other end of the console, as were Richards and his girlfriend, model-actress Anita Pallenberg. “It seemed to me like Keith and Anita had just come from a costume party of some kind,” Perkins says. “Keith was dressed in that swashbuckler, pirate kind of look and Anita was dressed in stretchy material for exercising, with yellow and black stripes around her body, and it was accentuated because she was expecting.”

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1 reply »

  1. A number of those photos are the late Jim Marshall’s. I have several of his original photos from that session in my collection, notably that large solo shot of Mick.

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