When I was a teenager, I came awfully damned close to becoming an idolater, a worshiper of Mick Jagger, whom I considered the coolest cat in non-Christendom. He provided non-athletes like I-and-I a deviant path to popularity. Rather than snagging winning touchdown passes on the gridiron, we could pump and grind on the dance floor, slouch down the halls instead of swagger, ditch rah! rah! rah! for so what.
Plus Jagger somehow transcended his ugliness. Livered-lipped and as muscular as a spear of asparagus, his charisma, aided and abetted by that 200-watt grin of his, dazzled away those physical shortcomings. He made us ugly boy children with pepperoni complexions feel as if we had a shot.
Actually, as far as music went, I preferred the mid-60s Animals to the mid-‘60s Stones, but when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women” hit the airwaves, I became a true Stones believer. In fact, even now when I hear Charlie Watts hit the cowbell that initiates “Honky Tonk Women,” I let loose a beatific smile.
A string of Stones’ albums of the Late ‘60s and Early ‘70s are arguably the greatest rock-n-roll records in the history of the genre – Beggers’ Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street – a series of masterpieces. In both sound and sense, they expressed my anger, my disdain for society. I can remember fantasizing in high school about taking over the main building and blasting “Midnight Rambler” over the intercom system as a clarion call for destruction.
However, as the hormones settled down, my fascination with Jagger and Company waned. Truth be told, I haven’t bought a new Stones album since Tattoo You. Let’s face it: in the realm of rock, it’s hard for performers to maintain their creativity past middle age.
On the other hand, in the realm of the blues, it is not only possible but not all that unusual for a bluesman or woman to continue to improve –like Yeats, to continue to create masterworks right up to the end. Sure, Etta James lost some of her range over the years, but it didn’t diminish her artistry. She had so much more heartache to tap into. As they say, you got to suffer if you want to sing the blues, and I’m here to tell you getting old is all about suffering – looks fade, loved ones die, minds go bad, civilization declines.
As Willie B himself put it:
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.
Old age is all about tatters, and so is the blues.
So when I heard the Stones were going to come out with an album dedicated solely to the blues, I looked forward to it. Jagger actually plays a pretty mean harp. Charlie Watts is a great drummer. Keith and Ronnie can hold their own. However, after one, albeit cursory, listen of Blue and Lonesome, I have to express some mild disappointment.
The tracks sound to me – how should I put this – like approximations – maybe mannered? – though I wouldn’t go far enough to say inauthentic. My favorite cut on the record, “I Hate to See You Go,” is a fine rendition, but then again, as Mick himself once said in an interview way back when, “Why listen to us do ‘King Bee’ when you can listen to Slim Harpo do ‘King Bee?’” – or in this case, why listen to Mick do “I Hate to See You Go” when you can listen to Little Walter do it?
You can check out the Stones’ version here.
Maybe the problem lies in that the Stones tried to make these tunes sound too authentic instead of making them sound fresh. Certainly, their cover of “I Should Have Quit You, Baby” pales, not only to Little Milton’s version, but also Led Zeppelin’s.
That said, I’ll probably end up buying Blue and Lonesome anyway. Maybe it will grow on me. I wouldn’t be surprised. When it comes to records, sometimes not being wowed at first is good for longevity’s sake.