Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am


London is gradually getting over Andy Murray losing again at Wimbledon, and is increasingly focused on the Olympics, but the city is still finding time to celebrate a rock'n'roll milestone: the 50th anniversary - hard though this is to believe - of the formation of The Rolling Stones.

The Stones played their first gig at the original Marquee Club in Oxford Street on July 12, 1962. As well as heavily dropped hints about gigs later this year and a 2013 tour, the anniversary is being marked by a photographic exhibition at London's Somerset House which continues until August 27, and 50, an official anniversary book published by Thames and Hudson.

The rockers have come a long way from the novice blues band they started out as, but have never really disconnected from those roots, and even today still seem to get a kick out of working with the few survivors among the American artists who originally inspired them.

Since acting as musical director for Chuck Berry's Hail! Hail! Rock'n' Roll film in 1987, Keith Richards has been a guest on albums by Johnnie Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers and Buddy Guy, among other blues artists.

Although less prolific Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood have also made guest appearances in similar contexts. The trio plus fellow member Charlie Watts (who leads his own jazz band), and former Stones bassist Bill Wyman appeared on last year's Ben Waters tribute to past Stone and blues and boogie pianist Ian Stewart, Boogie 4 Stu.

That album came out on Eagle Records, and to cash in on - sorry, coincide with - the Stones anniversary, Eagle Vision has just released Checkerboard Lounge, a DVD featuring Stewart, Wood, Richards and Jagger guesting at a Muddy Waters club gig in Chicago in 1981.

Fans of Muddy Waters, and of the bluesier side of the Rolling Stones, should enjoy this. Quite apart from the list of guest stars - as well as the Stones, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, who owned the club at the time, chip in - this is one of the last filmed performances by the great bluesman, who died a little less than 18 months later at the age of 68.

At the time of this show he probably already had the lung cancer that was to kill him, but didn't know it, and was in joyous exuberant form.

Muddy Waters looms large in the list of the Stones' formative influences. They took their name from one of his songs, and although Rollin' Stone wasn't on the set list that night, Hoochie Coochie Man, Long Distance Call, Mannish Boy, Got My Mojo Workin' and Champagne and Reefer all are.

The Stones are clearly at home with the repertoire, and Richards and Wood on guitars, plus Stewart on piano, fit in well with the Muddy Waters Blues Band.

Jagger, clearly delighted to be there, knows Muddy Waters is the star of the show and doesn't try to monopolise the microphone. He is not exactly unobtrusive, but as close to it as he is ever likely to get.

The film also includes some bonus footage from the Stones' US tour, and half a dozen tunes from Muddy and the band before the famous guests walk into the club. The DVD comes with an audio CD featuring 11 of the 17 tracks remixed by Bob Clearmountain, who also processed the sound for the film and who specialises in getting new life out of old tape.

Blues fans will want to find room for this music on their iPods.

Take Three

Three blues albums featuring guest appearances by past and present members of the Rolling Stones.

Crusade (Decca, 1967): Mick Taylor was long gone from the Stones by 1981, but the line-up in which he featured is considered by many the best of them all. He joined in 1969, replacing Brian Jones, and was recruited from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, where he replaced Peter Green. Crusade was his first album with Mayall, and features some of his best blues guitar work - notably on Driving Sideways, a Freddie King instrumental which he made his own just as Green had done as a Bluesbreaker on The Stumble, and Eric Clapton before him with Hideaway.

Mr Lucky (Silvertone, 1991): the best of the guest star-studded John Lee Hooker albums that followed on from 1989's The Healer features sometime Stones associate Ry Cooder, Van Morrison, Johnnie Johnson, Booker T. Jones, Johhny Winter, Robert Cray, Carlos Santana and many more. Keith Richards makes his presence felt on the anthemic Crawling King Snake. Hooker died in 2001, aged 83.

Blues, Blues, Blues (Warner, 1999): former Muddy Waters sideman Jimmy Rogers died in 1997, aged 73, and this album was released posthumously. It was credited to the Jimmy Rogers All Stars, and the musicians included Clapton, Taj Mahal, Stephen Stills, Jeff Healey, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant, plus Jagger and Richards. Despite the presence of the rockers, however, this is a blues set with white boys playing the music that inspired them in the first place in its purest form.