Tomorrow is Mick Taylor’s 66th birthday! Mick Taylor played guitar with the Rolling Stones from 1969-1974. In honor of his birthday, here is an excerpt from Rolling Stones Gear: All the Stones’ Instruments from Stage to Studio by Andy Babiuk and Greg Prevost:
THE EVOLUTION OF HONKY TONK WOMEN
ENTER MICK TAYLOR
“Honky Tonk Women,” “Country Honk,” and “Live With Me” were recorded between May 12 and June 12, with the emphasis put on the completion of “Honky Tonk Women” as an immediate single release. During the May 31 session, both “Honky Tonk Women” and “Live With Me” were being worked on when ex-John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers’ guitarist Mick Taylor was brought in for a dry run on Mick Jagger’s invitation. By the end of the session, it had been decided that Taylor would be Brian’s [Jones] replacement. Asked why he was chosen, Taylor recalled: “I think probably because John Mayall recommended me. They’d known John Mayall since the early days, and they were both blues bands when they started out. But Ian Stewart recommended me as well, and that’s how it came about. It came about very quickly. I’d been in LA with John Mayall, and towards the end of the tour, he announced he was going to change his band and use a different lineup without a drummer. He was going to have an acoustic guitar player, a saxophone player, and it was all going to be a little bit experimental, so that particular band split up, and I got back to London, and, after a couple of days, I was thinking about forming my own band, but I got this phone call, from John Mayall actually at first, saying he thought the Stones were interested [in] me possibly doing some session work. So, I went down to Olympic Studios, played with them one night, and we hit it off almost instantly, and they asked me to join. And that was it.”
Michael Kevin Taylor, born on January 17, 1949 was a fourteen-year-old schoolboy in Hatfield, twenty miles north of London, when the Stones’ first single, “Come On,” was released in 1963. Taylor started listening to records and playing guitar steadily at an early age, and, with the exception of a few chords his uncle showed him, was self-taught. “I was about ten years old [when I started],” he recalled. “My uncle was in the army, stationed in Germany. There were lots of American bases there; there still are. I think he got his interest in music from listening to American music there, R&B and blues, things like that. He brought back a guitar with him. That was where my interest in the guitar started.” He continued, “As my interest in the guitar developed, my interest in blues music in general developed. By the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I was into the blues, and I was buying blues records, as many as I could get ahold of.” In 1964, Taylor joined his first band the Juniors, who ultimately evolved into the Gods and included Greg Lake (later of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) and Ken Hensley (later of Uriah Heep). The Gods’ potential went unrealized, however, as Taylor explained: “Nothing happened. We didn’t make any records, didn’t have any management, and didn’t do any gigs.” When he was sixteen, Taylor happened to jam with John Mayall at a Bluesbreakers’ gig, sitting in for Eric Clapton, and, a little more than a year later, Mayall asked him to join his band, replacing Peter Green (Clapton’s replacement), who’d left with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie to form his own band, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Taylor commented, “One minute I was playing with local musicians in Hatfield, and the next minute touring America with Mayall” During his two years with the Bluesbreakers, Taylor appeared on Crusade, Bare Wires, Blues From Laurel Canyon, and both Diary of a Band albums.
After the Let It Bleed album was released, Keith explained the evolution of “Honky Tonk Women” this way: “Last Christmas, Mick and I flew out to Brazil and stayed on a ranch. It was just like Arizona, and, somehow, we got into cowboy songs. I wrote ‘Honky Tonk Women’ then, and it was a sort of Hank Williams tune. Back in London, we worked on it – trying to make it sound funkier with my guitar – and eventually we got the sound that was the single. It just knocked us out . . . we thought, ‘Wow, that has to be a single.’ But I never thought it would work the way it did. It was a bit like ‘Satisfaction’ in that it transcended all tastes. Some of our records are more for America, some are more suited for England, but ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was for everyone. Actually, you can hear the complete, Hank Williams-like version of the song [‘Country Honk’] on the Let It Bleed album.” He elaborated: “That was how it was originally written. All I had was a little guitar I bought off some guy in Rio. A beautiful little Dobro thing. And we were on the veranda and there were gauchos. We were in deep country. And that was the way it was written. The next day we polished it up.”
Taylor picked up the story: “Well, I definitely added something to ‘Honky Tonk Women,’ but it was more or less complete by the time I arrived and did my overdubs. They had already laid down the backing track, but it was very rough and incomplete. I added some guitars to it. But I didn’t play the riffs that start ‘Honky Tonk Women'; that’s Keith playing. I played the country kind of influence and the rock licks between the verses. My part on ‘Country Honk’ wasn’t on a regular guitar; it was one of those cheap little Selmer Hawaiian guitars, which I played on my lap.” Taylor owned and used the Selmer lap-steel during his stay with John Mayall, explaining, “I found that guitar in London for about $40. I wish I still had it; I used that guitar in regular tuning.”