Listening to the blues with Mick Taylor - Long Beach,
Photo: Yachiyo Mattox
of a Rock and Roller:
By T.E. Mattox
t's not everyday you run into a man who was both a Bluesbreaker with
John Mayall and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist with the Rolling
Stones. But I did just that, turning around to face Mick Taylor a few
years ago, backstage at the Long Beach Blues Festival. When I was finally
able to wipe the idiotic 'big-fan' grin off my face, our conversation
started with the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson...
"I never knew him," Mick admitted,
"But I did see him play in England once
at a Folk Blues
Noting that influential players seem to have no borders
or limitations, I was curious if he felt that his playing may have influenced
"Me, personally? I hope, well maybe. I think
perhaps a few guitar players, yea. I've certainly been influenced by
a lot of guitar players."
Who were you listening to when you were growing up?
"Anything and everything I could possibly buy.
I mean I used to listen to jazz guitar players, Wes Montgomery. I used
to listen to Charlie Christian, but mostly blues guitar players. B.B.King
especially. Freddie King, Albert King. But I would say that my favorite
guitar player was Jimi Hendrix."
Hendrix, as most know, moved to the United Kingdom in
the mid-60's and found instant recognition from a much more progressive
European audience. Not only were they more receptive to his music and
flamboyant style of play but readily accepted him as the imaginative
guitar virtuoso he was becoming.
"Yea, he had to go to London," Mick agreed.
"He was too freaky for American audiences."
Did you ever have the opportunity to play with Jimi?
"I did. I played with him quite a few times.
In fact John Mayall, who I played with at the time, used to have a tape
of me and him playing together, but it got lost."
I read John's house burned years ago.
"That's how it was lost, yea."
Has it always been blues for` you?
"I used to like all kinds of music. In
fact, I started playing guitar when I was about ten years old. I would
say, for at least three years I just more or less learned to play songs
and learned to play chords. It wasn't until I heard Chuck Berry and
rhythm and blues, American rhythm and blues that I got interested in
playing lead guitar. And I guess the best exponent of that in England
at the time, when I was about 14, was Eric Clapton. He was the only
one that could sound like that, so he was a big influence."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"I'd like to write a book
.what it was
like to grow up in England in the '60's
.and be a professional
musician from the age of 17."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Tell us about your first band?
"The first real band was, I guess, John
Mayall's Bluesbreakers. (Mick replaced Peter Green in the Bluesbreakers,
when Green left to form Fleetwood Mac) John Mayall, myself, a drummer
called Keef Hartley, John McVie and we had a horn section too
trumpet and tenor sax. The first record I did with John was 'Crusade.'
And I was with him about four years."
It was after leaving the Bluesbreakers following an
American Tour, that Mick Taylor's life would change
"I went straight back to England and about two
weeks later, I joined the Rolling Stones."
Mick Taylor had stepped out of one legendary band right
into another, replacing Stones co-founder Brian Jones. How long did
you play with the Stones?
"Too long!" (laughing) "No,
not really. About five maybe six years, actually. I joined them in May
of 1969. The first record I did with them was 'Let It Bleed.'"
So the question has to be
Can you give us a few
special memories or a favorite moment from those days?
"Well, I remember the sex, I think. (laughing)
No listen, we had good times. The good thing about those days was
that being from England and admiring American music so much
all say that we influenced you (British Invasion) but in actual fact
we couldn't wait to get to America and hear people like B.B. King. It
was great to go to places like Chicago and go to clubs on the Southside
and sit in and play with those people."
Did you have many of those opportunities?
"Tours weren't like they are today. We used
to stay in New York for maybe two weeks and play in the same club for
a week or ten days. Then we'd go to Chicago and then we'd go somewhere
else. Then probably end up in Los Angeles for three weeks, then San
Francisco. We used to play at the Whiskey (A-Go-Go on Sunset in
L.A.) and the Ash Grove (also in L.A.) on Melrose. I saw Taj
Mahal there once."
After you left the Stones what was your follow up project?
"I formed a band with Jack Bruce. (Bluesbreakers,
Manfred Mann, Cream) It was just a band and we played very well together,
but it never really jelled in a kind of permanent thing."
Do ever see him or any of your band mates from those
"Well Jack Bruce, I actually did a show with
him in Italy about a month ago. San Remo."
Have you ever felt there was a cultural difference between
American and International audiences or fans?
"Well if you're doing a blues festival, they're
pretty much the same everywhere. It's a pretty international thing these
days. It seems to have a universal appeal. I think European audiences
are a bit more civilized."
By civilized, you mean they show more appreciation for
the genre? More recognition and respect for the musicians?
"They do actually, I'm not just being facetious,
they do, yea."
After your work with Jack Bruce, what were you doing?
"Nothing!" (laughing) "I did
quite a bit of session work, all kinds of different stuff. I did a sort
of, jazz fusion group called, 'Gong.' I did stuff mostly with friends;
I didn't really do a lot for about two or three years. I did work with
Bob Dylan for a couple of years, from 1983 until 1984."
You worked on an album with the late Gerry Groom called,
'Once In a Blue Moon.'
"I play on it, yea. I met Gerry Groom about
ten years ago in New York. He passed away unfortunately, about a year
ago in a scuba diving accident in Florida. But he's a great blues singer
and he plays
he's special, he was playing dobro. So I basically
just play an electric guitar on the album."
Album cover of "Once In A Blue Moon"
Do you listen to a lot of music? Radio?
"I don't listen to the radio, except for when
I'm in the car. I used to listen to the radio; I used to listen to all
kinds of music. A lot more than I do now. I used to be a record collector.
I think the more you get into playing music and the older you get, it's
not that you become less interested, it's just that you've heard so
much. You get more self- absorbed, is what I'm saying."
What do you think about some of the contemporary or
popular bands playing today? (Remember this was 1993) Just as an example,
a band like, 'Crowded House.'
"I'm glad you picked that
I like some of
the stuff they've done, they're good, yea. They're melodic, aren't they?
But I like all kinds of music"
Are you a classical music fan?
"I never used to like classical music, but I
do now. But it depends on what kind of mood you're in, you know? I mean,
I went to a Guns N' Roses concert last year and really enjoyed it. But
I wouldn't sit at home and listen to it. It was great, because I was
part of the event and the atmosphere was great and they played great.
In fact, they actually played better than you would think, from just
listening to their records. I mean, the two guitar players did some
great, great stuff together. Instrumental solos and they did an instrumental
version of 'Wild Horses' and 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.' It was
just a great show."
Do you feel you've done your best work or is it still
"Probably my most well-known work might be behind
me because I'm most well-known for my period with the Rolling Stones
and probably always will be, but on a musical level, no. I've done better
well; I'm talking as a musician, not as a listener, I think
even people interested in guitar. I've done stuff since I left the Rolling
Stones that hasn't been released yet, that I'm very proud of that I'd
like to release. I've got an album that's three-quarters finished and
I've got a song of Bob Dylan's on it that hasn't been released yet.
A song that I co-wrote with Keith Richards and the rest is just original
Do you ever run into John Mayall?
"I did when I lived in Los Angeles, but I moved
to Miami about a year ago."
The road you've travelled, the body of work to date,
and the life you've led, seems incredible.
"It has been interesting. I'd like to write
a book about it. I'm going to do it, but it's not just going to be about
the Rolling Stones. It's going to be about; I don't know
of a Rock and Roller, just an autobiography about what it was like to
grow up in England in the 60's. During that whole scene and be involved
and be a professional musician from the age of 17."
Speaking of England back in the early 60's
long ago I spoke with John Mayall about his musical influences (Josh
White, Django Rheinhardt) and the fact skiffle music was the prevalent
music in Britain at the time
"Yea, skiffle. There are always people who
are always exceptions, you know? People sometimes say, what is it, 'people
are ahead of their time.' I don't think so; most people are just behind
theirs, that's all."
At the time of this conversation, Mayall had just released
a new record with Buddy Guy.
"I played on that record too. On a track called,
'Wake Up Call.' It's a good record, very good. I think it's actually
one of the best records he's made in a long time."
Let's go back a little, there must be something you
CAN talk about concerning those earlier 'crazy' days
"They were never as crazy as
still ARE." (laughing)
Okay then, tell me some things you did with your clothes
"Oh well, NOW you're talking! I don't know,
I guess one of the musical highlights of my career up-to-date, was working
with Bob Dylan for a couple of years. I was involved in making the 'Infidels'
album with him. And then we sort of put a band together and toured Europe
for about eight weeks in '84. They put out another album which was made
up of outtakes from the 'Infidels' sessions. I really enjoyed playing
with him because he's been an idol of mine since I was 14 or 15. I think
his songs are brilliant, you know? He's written so many great songs."
Dylan's poetry and music definitely electrified the
folk era of the 1960's.
"Well, I think he started off in the folk genre,
as you put it. But I think he's created his own genre."
Are you still up for touring, you still like the road?
"I do. I do, but I don't want to play in bars
for the rest of my life. That sounds
let me put it another way.
I want to play in places where people come to hear music, not where
they just come to drink and have a good time. I mean there's a place
for that, too. It's all down to me sort of making a record, because
I haven't done that for a long time, so we'll see what happens."
If you can, tell us a little about your latest project,
the Mick Taylor Band. Who's playing with you?
"I have another guitar player who plays with
Bruce Springsteen. His name is Shane Fontayne (formerly with Lone
Justice). A bass player called Wilbur Bascomb, from New York who's
played with B.B. King. And a drummer called Bernard Purdie who used
to play with King Curtis and Aretha Franklin. And a keyboard player
from England who's name is Max Middleton. Very good musicians."
During our conversation, John Hammond Jr. was onstage
performing and I was curious if Mick had ever met him?
"Yea, I've met him before; I met his father
once too. His father was the one who actually discovered Robert Johnson."
(John Hammond, Sr. is also credited with discovering Benny Goodman,
Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger,
and of course, Bob Dylan).
"In fact, that's where I met his father, backstage
at a Dylan concert. And John's (John Jr.) great, actually. When
you think about it, it's interesting really. Because blues music is
more and more popular than it's ever been
There are blues festivals all over the world and yet the classic blues
artist, like from Chicago, people like Muddy Waters, Albert King are
all dying off. But I think there's a whole new generation of people
growing up, taking their place. I don't think you can really say it's
an exclusively American black music anymore, you know what I mean, though?
I mean, Christ, Eric Clapton is great blues player. There are festivals
all over the world and there's more every year."
The fact that Mick Taylor is still touring today gives
blues and rock and roll fans an opportunity like none other. You should
never pass up the chance to catch him live. The guy loves what he does
and you get the feeling it wouldn't make any difference if he was booked
into a festival or playing on a street corner. And he gladly admits,
"I enjoy playing in big places and small places
As we shook hands and I told him how much I appreciated
his taking the time, it dawned on me that for Mick Taylor, it wasn't
about the fame, the money, the women or the bands; it was simply about
Okay, I'm not even buying that
.It was the MUSIC
and SOME of the women.
How about....the MUSIC, some of the women and a modest
pile of money