How Britain Got The Blues – 1961-1964
How Britain Got The Blues – 1961-1964
A little known fact about the formation of The Rolling Stones, at least one that is frequently overlooked when written about: There was a third member of Dartford’s neighborhood blues-rock combo Little Boy Blue and The Blue Boys who was recruited by Brian Jones besides Mick Jagger and Keith Richards—Dick Taylor, a school friend of Mick’s who would later go on to be lead guitarist of The Pretty Things, would become the Stones’ first bass player. The bootleg collection How Britain Got The Blues – 1961 – 1964 Early Recordings (aka Beginning of the English Blues) is one of the few available sources where one can hear the Dartford home-recorded demos of Little Boy Blue and The Blue Boys, which are significant not merely because they provide a glimpse into the level of musical development of Mick and Keith in the year before the Stones were formed, but also because they allow one to hear the individual qualities that Brian Jones first heard when forming the band.
It is known that Brian initially wanted only Mick, and not Keith, to join the band he was going to be forming with pianist Ian Stewart, but that Mick would not join unless Keith were allowed in as well (and apparently Dick Taylor). Listening to the 1961 home recordings of Mick, Keith, and Dick (along with two other school friends of Mick’s, Allen Etherington and Bob Beckwith), it’s easy to understand why Brian felt that way. The not yet 18-year-old Keith, though he is having an amiable go at recreating the Chuck Berry sound, does not yet have the chops to distinguish himself as a guitarist, and his rhythm is at this point unsteady—but then that’s understandable since the drumming on the opening track, the Chuck Berry cover Little Queenie, is as erratic as windswept drops of rain against the window pane. Mick, on the other hand, at just a few months past his eighteenth birthday, is already a fully developed talent, the bluesy vocal inflections displaying character and confidence in the material on such songs as I Ain’t Got You, which the Stones never got around to recording—all the qualities we hear in Mick’s voice in those classic tracks the Stones recorded in the mid-1960s were already there several years earlier. So, no wonder then that a keenly developed and advanced musician like Brian would, in 1962, hear in Mick Jagger as a lead singer all the talent that was needed to ensure the success of a band.
Next the listener is introduced to four early hit or miss songwriting efforts from within the band, three by Jagger/Richards and one by Bill Wyman. It has been said by Keith that though they wrote a lot of songs early on, it took a long time before they had written something that was right for the Stones. Indeed, titles like Leave Me Alone, It Should Be You, and That Girl Belongs To Yesterday say more about the light melodic pop songs of the fifties that Mick admits to having liked while growing up, with the latter sounding more like a Lennon/McCartney throwaway that would have been given instead to George Harrison to sing. Arguably the best of the lot is the Bill Wyman composition Goodbye Girl, but as with the early Jagger/Richards titles included here not particularly well suited to the Stones, as it is more the type of straight and basic rock and roll that Wyman had been playing in bands before joining the Stones. Otherwise a very catchy and memorable number. A shame it should have remained unreleased, because for any other band or performer of the time this should have been a definite top ten hit, or at the very least top twenty.
From here on, the remaining three quarters of the collection features live performances for BBC radio. Thankfully most of these included here were done for Saturday Club, with the band in a BBC studio and the sound of their performances undiluted by a hysterical live audience of screaming girls. The exceptions are the two sets done months apart in 1964 for The Joe Loss Pop Show, where we hear what typically remains of archival live performances of the band during that period—a lot of screaming over basic passable versions of songs without the benefit of the band being able to truly interact as musicians, where certain musical subtleties were lost in the process. But with the Saturday Club sets it is a different matter. The band can hear themselves play and the quality of and enthusiasm behind these performances often surpass those of their studio recorded counterparts as released on record. This is an important distinction, and is what makes this collection so essential and fun, because such BBC performances are really the closest we can get to hearing the early Stones as they would have sounded in their club days before becoming famous. In these performances we are afforded a rare glimpse into what attracted clubgoers to those early Stones gigs in droves; it is here that we realize just how Britain got the blues.
How Britain Got The Blues, in providing a mostly chronological presentation of the Stones’ ascendancy from unknowns with less than competent home recordings to disciplined recording artists to formidable performers on national radio, tells a story with an inspiring theme: that great things can come from humble, undistinguished beginnings, and, in this case, a form of music by a group who not only rocked their native England, but also the world with a sound and style that would move music fans for generations to come.