Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Talk “Exhibitionism,” Chicago Blues
First it appeared in London, and then it moved to New York. But there’s something particularly special about the recent Rolling Stones’ “Exhibitionism” debut in Chicago.
From April 15 through July 30th, the ambitious exhibit will be stationed in the city that gave rise to the music that most impacted the Stone’s style, as the band came of age in the ‘60s. From Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry, from Howlin’ Wolf to Buddy Guy, the Chicago blues artists—along with the allure of Chess Studios—played key roles in the evolution of the Stones as musicians and cultural icons.
Just prior to the opening of Exhibitionism at Chicago’s Navy Pier, the Chicago Sun-Times spoke with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards about the impact that American blues music—and Chicago—had on the band in its formative days.
“I dunno, I just liked it,” said Jagger, when asked why blues music affected him so profoundly. “There’s lots of reasons why suburban kids might like this. It’s also the directness of the music, because pop music, especially in [the early ‘60s], was very saccharine. I liked pop music and I love pop music now, but in that period, it was very sort of insincere and saccharine. Blues was perhaps a more direct means of communication, and it didn’t pull as many punches. It was more grown-up. It wasn’t music for teenagers really. It was popular music … just a different genre. The rhythms were good. I always liked it since I was 12 or 13 years old.”
“It was particularly Chicago blues that impressed us,” echoed Richards. “We just wanted to know how guys got that sound.… Mick, Brian [Jones] and I went to see Muddy in 1963. He was doing one of those blues package tours in England. And that was the first time I saw him live and it was interesting because he did the first set with just an acoustic guitar. And the British blues audiences, they’re purists, and they loved that. Then he came back with an electric band and they booed him off. Which really surprised me. It was amazing. And all because he came on with electric guitars. … I met him later on in Chicago. Our connection with Chicago comes from Chicago music, especially South Side Chicago blues. … It was just the tightness, the way these guys played together.”
Jagger and Richards were also asked about the “pilgrimage” they made to Chess Studios in 1964. The Stones went on to record some of their most seminal early music at the landmark Chicago facility.
“It was where all these [blues artists] recorded this music, in this room,” said Jagger. “We were like kids. I don’t know what they thought of us because English people had never come in there and they must have thought we were a bit odd. We met some of our favorites there. We met Chuck Berry and Muddy [Waters] and many others in that studio, and recorded with some of the engineers they worked with. And we recorded some stuff in there that was quite good. It was a good room. So that for us was possibly the first place in America we ever recorded.”
“Recording was pretty simple then — four-track tape,” said Richards. “But it was the room. [Some studios] had just a magical sound about them and Chess was one of them. Another one was Muscle Shoals [in Alabama]. You can’t put your finger on it. It’s just a room that pulses with whatever’s going on. They’re few and far between. When you get ’em you love ’em.”
Inevitably, given the loss in recent weeks of such icons as Chuck Berry and Lonnie Brooks, a question was asked about whether the blues torch has been effectively passed to a new generation of artists.
“Honestly, I hope [so],” said Jagger. “I know lots of younger people who play blues…. Of course, it’s very sad that these people that we consider originators of certain styles [are dying]. But … everything [about the blues] is always evolving. Chuck Berry got all his licks and stage stuff from T-Bone Walker, and because he wasn’t the same as T-Bone he invented a different way of doing it. But everything evolves, and hopefully this music won’t die out with these peoples’ passing. Hopefully other people still will want to play this music. They won’t be playing it exactly the same, but they will be playing it in their own way.”