The Stones introduce new band member Mick Taylor at press conference, Hyde Park, London, June 13 1969
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Mick Taylor, the man who actually did play on Exile, has always remained an elusive figure: The Man Who Dared Leave The Rolling Stones, an effrontery which prompted Keith Richards, similarly appalled by Bill Wyman’s departure years later, to state that “no one should leave this band except in a pine box”.
Quite why he left in December 1974 has also been subject to conjecture. Taylor has calibrated his answers in subtly different ways down the years. There were rumours of fights, arguments over alleged songwriting credits, marriage problems, road-weariness, drugs (chiefly a burgeoning heroin addiction) and even plain old boredom. Perhaps it was all down to simple chemistry. As proficient a guitarist as Taylor was, he was never an out-and-out rock’n’roller, much less a showman.
Ronnie Wood, who replaced him in March 1975 (though it wouldn’t be made official until the following year), suited the Stones’ lad-jack image much better. But few would contend Wood was in the same league as a guitarist. Drummer Charlie Watts had admitted that “the Mick Taylor period was a creative peak for us. A tremendous jump in musical credibility.”
Mick Jagger stopped just short of an enormous self-made hole when telling Rolling Stone about Taylor in 1995: “He was a very fluent, melodic player, which we never had, and we don’t have now… Some people think that’s the best version of the band that existed.” Asked if he agree with those people, Jagger replied: “I obviously can’t say if I think Mick Taylor was the best, because it sort of trashes the period the band is in now.”
(Ref. hyde park)
It’s in Life, Keith’s recent autobiography, where the double strands of the Taylor effect are most tellingly articulated, if a little sourly. Richards admits he was sometimes in awe of Taylor’s playing – “the melodic touch, a beautiful sustain and a way of reading a song” – but also calls him shy to the point of being “very distant”.
There’s a distinct tang of bitterness when Richards claims his departure “left us in the lurch”, more so when he delights that, post-Stones, Taylor “didn’t do anything”. Which just isn’t true
What does he recall of those heady days in the South of France in 1971, recording Exile On Main St at Nellcôte, Keith’s waterfront pile? It may have been all coke, cognac and Cote d’Azur upstairs, but what about down in the basement, where all the work was done?
“It was a dingy little basement, quite damp,” says Taylor. “It wasn’t a proper recording studio at all. We ran all these cables down into the basement, which was divided up into small rooms. And there was only one room which we could all fit into and where we could play together. There was a place where Charlie played the drums, but it was in a separate section of the room. For vocal overdubs, Mick had to do them in a tiny room along the corridor. It was like a labyrinth, really.”
Did the atmosphere in the basement seep into the sound itself – songs like Shine A Light, Rip This Joint, Rocks Off and Taylor’s only official Stones co-write, Ventilator Blues?
“I think it did. It was a bit rough ’n’ ready. There were none of the refinements of Basing Street or Olympic Studios, but there was a sort of intimacy and closeness about playing together then, even though sometimes it used to drive us insane.
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