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Happy birthday, Mick Taylor!

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:



“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; Mick_Taylor2there 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 lot0108-1-980x400the 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.”

Happy Birthday, Elvis Presley!

Elvis Presley would have turned 80 today so in honor of his birthday, here are a couple of fun fact excerpts from Elvis FAQ books, Elvis Music FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King’s Recorded Works by Mike Eder and Elvis Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Hollywood by Paul Simpson.

His breakthrough hit was Heartbreak Hotel, released in 1956 – a song inspired by a newspaper article about a local suicide:

00333500“A record that altered the path of so many people and things, “Heartbreak Hotel” is the song that put Elvis on the map. It was written by Mae Boren Axton, who was inspired by a story her friend Tommy Durden told her about a John Doe who left a suicide note reading, ‘I walk a lonely street.’ Axton gave Tommy and Elvis a third of the credit and royalties on the song, the latter because Axton felt sorry for the kid from Memphis who just escaped from poverty. “Heartbreak Hotel” stands out as a composition because of Axton’s use of imagery. The hotel is at the end of ‘Lonely Street’; there’s a crying bellhop, and a desk clerk dressed in black. The music matches the glum mood of the lyric, with the piano of Shorty Long sounding, in the immortal words of author Robert Matthew-Walker, like ‘sad-rain.’ Elvis sings with distress in his voice and a newly honed sense of the dramatic. Still mysterious and alluring, “Heartbreak Hotel” is an incredibly unusual song. Teens could relate to the feeling of bottomless despair, and moreover Elvis made anguish sound cool. As “Heartbreak Hotel” slowly became a phenomenon, it gave young people something of their own to hold on to. Elvis launched the whole rock-and-roll image – he talked the talk and walked the walk. He wasn’t going into this thinking he was going to change things in society; he just wanted to be good at what he did, make enough money to give his parents the things they wanted, and, most of all, find some personal redemption. After all, how many people who are considered outcasts actually bend society to their way of thinking?” – Elvis Music FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King’s Recorded Works

In 1956, he began his film career with a western, Love Me Tender:

“…Presley made his screen debut in the B western Love Me Tender, originally titled The Reno Brothers, which 00314953had been revamped to give him a significant supporting role in which he could sing four songs. The cast and crew on his first movie weren’t sure what to make of him. His love interest Debra Paget summed up Hollywood’s preconceptions when she said later: ‘Before I met him, I figured he must be some sort of moron.’ On set, his humility, charm, and industry overcame such skepticism, but it could do nothing to shield him from the critical abuse that greeted the movie’s release on November 21, 1956. The Hollywood Reporter dismissed Presley as ‘an obscene child’ but did note that the new hero possessed ‘mannerisms by Brando out of the Actors Studio’ and concluded: ‘The new hero is an adolescent. Whether he is twenty or thirty or forty, he is fifteen and excessively sorry for himself. He is essentially a lone wolf who wants to belong.’ That last line pretty much sums up Elvis’s status in the movie industry as his film career progressed and, you could argue, the tragedy of his life and death.” – Elvis Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Hollywood



Happy Birthday, Charlie Watts!

Happy birthday, Charlie Watts! The Rolling Stones’ drummer is turning seventy-three today. Read below for a special excerpt from Rolling Stones Gear that tells the story of Charlie’s first make-shift drum set, his affinity for jazz, and his Stones debut.


A couple of days before Tony Chapman was fired, Mick, Keith, and Brian asked Charlie Watts to join the band. They had always been hesitant about asking him for economic reasons, but knew he was not playing with anyone on a permanent basis. He was sort of drifting between Blues Incorporated and Blues By Six, and the Stones figured this would be a good time to ask. Charlie remembered: “The scene was growing bigger week by week for Alexis [of Blues Incorporated]. I loved the work, but it got to be too much of a strain after a while. So, I sort of backed out and worked with one or two other groups, meeting up with Brian and Mick and Keith from time to time. So, they asked me about kicking in with them. Honestly, I thought they were mad. I mean they were working a lot of dates without getting paid or even worrying about it. And there was me, earning a pretty comfortable living, which obviously was going to nosedive if I got involved with the Stones. It made me laugh to think of them trying to get me in with them too, but I got to thinking about it. I liked their spirit, and I was getting very involved with rhythm ’n’ blues. I figured it would be a bit of an experiment for me and a bit of a challenge, too. So I said OK, yes I’d join. Lots of my friends thought I’d gone stark raving mad.” He added, “Just a few months earlier, I wouldn’t have given their offer a second thought, because I was all for modern jazz. But I suppose I had a theory that R&B was going to be a big part of the scene, and I wanted to be in on it.”

Having already played with most of the members of the Stones via Blues Incorporated gigs, even doing a version of Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around” earlier the year before with Mick, Keith, and Dick Taylor, Charlie already knew what to expect musically and officially joined the group on the evening of January 9, 1963. His first official gig with the Stones took place a few days later, at the Ealing Jazz Club on January 15, 1963. He commented on his situation at the time: “When I left Alexis, Ginger (Baker) took over, and I went around with a few different bands. I was sort of between jobs. I used to play with three bands at once. You’d play with people you knew because they knew that you knew what song they were talking about. But Keith and Mick were looking for a drummer and asked me if I’d do it. So, I said yeah. I had nothing better to do. Getting with them was just luck, really. I didn’t expect it to go on.”  Ultimately, Ian Stewart had the final word: “I knew that Charlie liked the stuff we were trying to do and was quite prepared to come in with us.”  He continued, “We said to Charlie, ‘Look, you’re in this band, that’s it, end of story,’ and Charlie said, ‘Yeah, alright then, but I don’t know what my dad’s gonna say.'”

Charles Robert Watts was born on June 2, 1941, in Neasden, London to Charles and Lillian Watts and had one sister, Linda. He attended Tylers Croft Secondary Modern and spent three years at the Harrow School of Art. An accomplished artist, Charlie wrote and illustrated a small book on the life and times of his idol, saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, titled Ode To A High Flying Bird, which was published in December 1964. He got turned on to music in his early teens, jazz in particular, but said: “I certainly can’t claim that I came from a musical family. My dad was a lorry driver for British Railways, and I reckon the only instrument any of them could play at home was a gramophone!” He first discovered jazz through his aunt and uncle’s record collection . He recalled: “When I was twelve, I remember listening to records my uncle and auntie used to buy. I especially liked Earl Bostic’s ‘Flamingo.’ It was an R&B/swing thing. I loved instrumental improvisation from that record onward.”

Charlie’s first instrument was a banjo, but his real interest was playing the drums. He explained: “Well, I had a banjo first. I tried to learn that, but I couldn’t quite get the dots on the frets right. It drove me up a wall. So, I took the thing apart. Luckily, it wasn’t a really good banjo. I made a stand for it out of wood and played on the round skin part. It was like a drum anyway. I played it with brushes.” When asked what made him take an interest in playing the drums in the first place, he explained: “Blame it on Chico Hamilton, I suppose. When I was twelve, I heard Chico Hamilton with Gerry Mulligan playing ‘Walking Shoes,’ and I played it on a skin of a banjo. I used to play brushed like Chico Hamilton. Well, not LIKE him, but that was the inspiration anyway. After that, I heard Charlie Parker and that was it. It was all over. It was the music really, that got me going, because I’m not a drummer. I’m not a drummer because I never learned to play the drums. I’m not like people I admire. They learned and I never did. I just sat and played drums like they played them.”

Charlie’s mother explained his passion for the drums: “Charlie always wanted a drum set, and he used to rap out tunes on the table with pieces of wood or a knife and fork. We bought him his first drum set for Christmas when he was fourteen. He took to it straight away, and often he used to play jazz records and join in on his drums.” Charlie remembered: “My first kit was made up of bits and pieces. Dad bought it for me, and I suppose it cost about twelve pounds. Can’t remember anything that gave me greater pleasure, and I must say that the neighbors were great about the noise I kicked up. I don’t think I ever wanted to play any other instrument instead of the drums. I marvel sometimes even now at the way guitarists can get such tricky little phrases by just quietly using their fingers, but drums are for me. Someone like Max Roach . . . well, he’s a real idol of mine. Maybe only another drummer can understand exactly what he is doing and how well he does it. But I can listen to a brilliant drummer for hours on end.” In a photo of Charlie with his then-new kit, the set can be identified as a John Grey and Sons Broadway model by the cast lugs on the snare drum and the center support single tension lugs on the bass drum. John Grey and Sons of London was a brand name that first appeared on imported banjos and drums in England in 1905; the company was run by Barnet Samuels. In 1932, Rose-Morris bought out Barnet Samuels and continued manufacturing drums under the John Grey brand name. The John Grey Broadway drums were a very popular budget-line kit available in England from the mid to late 1950s. Charlie’s white Broadway set had a 20-inch bass drum and a 14-inch snare, with both drums only having six tension lugs. The kit had a bass drum–mounted cymbal and a set of hi-hats with a stand. Charlie remembered the cymbals being Zyn or some such cheap cymbal. Many of the big band and jazz drummers that Charlie admired put their initials on their bass drumhead, so he emulated his heroes by inscribing “C R W” on the front of his. After finishing school, Charlie began working for Charles Hobson and Grey advertising and started playing his first gigs with a jazz combo called Blues By Five. While playing in an East London pub known as the Troubadour, he met Alexis Korner, who was forming Blues Incorporated and suggested that Charlie join up. Charlie had made a commitment to go to Denmark to do design work for Charles Hobson and Grey, so, although bent on joining up with Korner, he went to Denmark where he played with American saxophonist Don Byas. He later explained the situation: “A friend of mine, Andy Webb, said I should join the band [Blues Incorporated], but I had to go to Denmark to work in design, so I sort of lost touch with things. While I was away, Alexis formed his band, and I came back to England with Andy. I joined the band [in February 1962] with Cyril Davies, and Andy used to sing with us.”


Happy Birthday, Joey Ramone!

Happy birthday to punk legend, Joey Ramone! Right up until his passing in 2001, Joey continued to revel in his love of music. If You Like the Ramones author Peter Aaron saw this love first hand on a night in the late 90s when he saw Joey at his favorite hang-out spot on the Lower East Side. This excerpt from If You Like the Ramones tells the story of this profound moment:



Anyway, on one of those nights I was sitting at the bar, about two or three empty stools down from Joey. Manitoba [of the Dictators] was spinning a great compilation of British Invasion stuff, classics by the Beatles, the Zombies, the Hollies, the Yardbirds. Just one gem after another. Other than the music, not much was happening. Once in a while Manitoba or I would make some little observation about one of the tunes, but that was all. Joey was just sitting there in silence, lost in thought with his drink in front of him and that famous avalanche of black hair hiding his face. He was stock still. I wondered if he’d fallen asleep on his stool. But, then, after a few more of the nuggets on Manitoba’s tape had gone by, something wonderful happened.

The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” came on: a ringing D chord by Pete Townshend, then his voice in harmony with Roger Daltrey’s—I don’t mi-i-i-ind—before Keith Moon’s drums bring in the next lyric—Other guys dancing with my gir-r-r-l-l. After those first six seconds, the whole band comes in and the song explodes. And when it did on this particular night, Joey’s head shot up as if he’d been shaken from a daze, jolted with electricity. He looked around the near-empty room. “All riiiight …” he purred, barely audible, as his eyes met mine from across the rims of his trademark granny shades. He smiled for a second, slowly nodded. And that was all. He put his head back down and returned to nursing his booze, staying silent for the duration of the night.

It was a fleeting glimpse. But it was a perfect snapshot. It summed up what Joey and his bandmates—cofounders guitarist Johnny, bassist Dee Dee, and drummer/producer Tommy Ramone, and later drummers Marky and Richie and bassist C. J. Ramone— were all about: an undying love of and unshakable belief in rock ’n’ roll and all of its transformative promise. A love of great songs that make you feel good from the first moment you hear them and never fail to do the trick after that. I mean, how many times must Joey have heard “The Kids Are Alright”? The Who was his favorite band. He saw the group on its first U.S. tour in 1967, opening for Herman’s Hermits, a pivotal experience, he said many a time af- terward. He probably bought the single of  “The Kids Are Alright” when it came out, and wore out that and all the other tracks on the Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy anthology. I even saw him sing the song once, complete with lasso-swinging, Daltrey-esque microphone action and the Dictators backing him up, at his 1998 birthday gig at the now-gone Coney Island High on St. Mark’s Place (in an exam- ple of cosmic symmetry, Joey and Pete Townshend even have the same birthday: May 19). Yet hearing that song for the umpteenth time that night at 2A still clearly and greatly thrilled the vocalist. It got him tapping his hi-topped foot. Maybe made the back of his neck a little warm and tingly, gave him a few goose bumps here and there. It put that little grin on his face and got him to forget about whatever was bugging him for two minutes and forty-five seconds. Even made his night. I’ve treasured the moment ever since.


Happy Birthday, Pierce Brosnan!

A very Happy Birthday to one of our favorite Bonds! To celebrate, check out this excerpt from James Bond FAQ that describes how Brosnan rose to Bond-dom:


00314951Pierce Brosnan was well known as the title character of private investigator Remington Steele, from the NBC-TV show of the same name. But that notoriety nearly cost him the role of James Bond.

Pierce Brendan Brosnan was born in County Meath, Ireland, on May 16, 1953. He was an only child to mother May and dad Thomas, a carpenter who walked out on the family after only a few years. May moved to London to seek work as a nurse, leaving Pierce to move among relatives, friends, and even a Christian Brothers mission. In a 1997 interview in Cigar Aficionado magazine, Brosnan admitted, “It wasn’t all bleak . . . you learn how to create your own happiness.” When May remarried, eleven-year-old Pierce joined the couple in London. One day, stepdad William took the boy to the cinema to see a film called Goldfinger. Young Pierce was very impressed, realizing “James Bond was very cool.”

Brosnan attended school to be a commercial artist and landed an apprentice job in a small South London studio at the age of eighteen. But he had become enamored with movies and, at the urging of a coworker, joined up with a local theater workshop. Soon, they had formed the Oval House Theater Company, and Pierce quit his art job. He waited tables, cleaned houses, anything that allowed him to be free to act in the evenings. Brosnan attended drama school, acting in repertory theater and London West End productions like The Red Devil Battery Sign by Tennessee Williams. The playwright had personally selected Brosnan for the lead role.

British theater led to appearances on British TV by 1980. His wife, actress Cassandra Harris, landed a supporting role in the 1981 Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. Brosnan would amuse Harris by offering his impression of 007 when he would drive her home from the studio. (Perhaps a view of things to come for Brosnan. Tragically, Harris would succumb to ovarian cancer in 1991.) A successful 1981 ABC-TV miniseries, The Manions of America, led to Brosnan’s casting in NBC-TVs Remington Steele in 1982. The detective show ended up being in the top twenty-five TV ratings, but was canceled after four seasons as those numbers waned. Broccoli recalled Brosnan from the For Your Eyes Only days, and he tested for the role of Bond for the upcoming The Living Daylights. Pleased with the results, producers named Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond.

Apparently, NBC read the trade papers that day, and, realizing the ratings boost having the “next James Bond” would give the network, they immediately renewed Brosnan’s contract as Remington Steele—effectively blocking his chances to play Bond. Ironically, the series would only air six episodes before getting the ax once more, but the damage was done. The Living Daylights would shoot with Timothy Dalton as 007.

Brosnan was understandably upset, but continued to work on TV and in films, including hits like Lawnmower Man in 1992 and Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993. When the 007 legal snafus were cleared up in 1994, it became apparent that Pierce Brosnan would be Bond in GoldenEye (over suggestions that included Mel Gibson and Ralph Fiennes), and it wouldn’t be enough to rescue the world—this time, he was expected to rescue the character from oblivion.

So, with that small task at hand, it was Pierce Brosnan who brought Bond into the twenty-first century. It was Pierce Brosnan who had to come to terms with a new boss—still M, but this time, a female (gasp!). It was Pierce Brosnan who, with his four Bond films, brought nearly $1.5 billion to box offices worldwide. In his four turns as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan brought the suave and calm demeanor to the character that one would expect from an experienced performer. In 1995, he told Big Screen magazine, “The way I see James Bond is as a man with a passion to get the job done . . . This film is . . . not a cure for cancer, it’s supposed to be fantasy.” Film critics like Roger Ebert praised his portrayal of 007, offering that Brosnan was “somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete, than the [other] Bonds.” High praise indeed.

No matter, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to (get ready, here it comes . . .) “reboot” the role of Bond once more in 2005, just as Brosnan was in negotiations for a fifth whirl as 007. In a 2005 interview for Premiere magazine, he said, “It would have been sweet to go back for a fifth . . . It would have been wonderful to go out there for one last game and pass the baton.” Less poetically, he added, “it f . . . ing sucks.”

Indeed. But bad luck for Brosnan meant good fortune for the next actor to don the shoulder holster and cock the Walther PPK (or Walther P99, as the case may have been). Once again, Broccoli and Wilson considered hundreds of actors to play 007 (the list this time around included Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Jason Statham, Gerard Butler, Colin Firth, Colin Farrell, Clive Owen, Colin Clive . . . no, wait—he played Dr. Frankenstein years ago). After a search that took most of the remaining months in 2005, the winner was: Blond, James Blond.