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“The Rolling Stones, 1969-1974: The Mick Taylor Years”: This 2010 UK music doc recalls the band at their peak
Guitarist Mick Taylor made his live debut with the Rolling Stones at a free Hyde Park show on July 5, 1969, and remained with the band through the recording of Let It Bleed, and Exile on Main St., when they were at their peak, before leaving on December 12, 1974, just before the Stones were set to start recording their Black and Blue album. This much-loved period in the band’s career is covered in considerable depth in this 2010 British documentary, The Rolling Stones, 1969-1974: The Mick Taylor Years, now streaming on Night Flight Plus.
This dynamic, well-researched UK documentary — directed by Alex Westbrook and narrated by Thomas Arnold — features interviews with: Mick Jagger; John Mayall; John Perry (guitarist the Only Ones and Pink Fairies); author, journalist and friend of the band Robert Greenfield; music journalists and authors Robert Christgau, Nigel Williamson, Barney Hoskyns, and Alan Clayson; Stones session musicians Al Perkins (pedal steel) and Bill Plummer (bass), and several others who espouse on the Stones recordings from this golden period (singles and albums both), and discuss in opinionated detail the importance that Mick Taylor had on the Stones’ overall sound.
Of course, there’s also lots of vintage clips of the Stones — including promotional videos and clips from Gimme Shelter by the Maysles brothers, Albert and David — and tons of great photos, including many by Dominique Tarle.
Stones on the Exile Tour, 1972. From left, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts.
At the suggestion of blues musician John Mayall, Taylor joined the Stones in the summer of 1969, but the documentary picks up the story a few years earlier, discussing their last two albums with founding member and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request and 1968’s Beggars Banquet, and the filming of their video for “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
Taylor had previously been playing guitar in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, a blues rock ensemble he’d first seen when he was just sixteen years old, in 1965, at “The Hop,” a community center in Welwyn Garden City, a town in a town in Hertfordshire, England (Mayall had been raised in Hatfield, also located in Hertfordshire).
Mayall later asked Taylor to join, to replace Peter Green, who left the following year. Taylor’s particular style — which merged together blues guitar with both Latin and jazz influences — can be heard on four of the Bluesbreakers albums.
After Jones was fired from the band, during the recording of their Let It Bleed album being produced by Jimmy Miller at Olympic Studios, Taylor came aboard for what he essentially believed was just recording sessions. Jones had only played a minor role in the recording of the album, which would be released in December of that year.
However, after Jones’s “death by misadventure” on July 3, 1969, in the swimming pool at his country retreat Cotchford Park — the house where AA Milne had written Winnie The Pooh — coming less than a month after he’d been dismissed from the band, Taylor was asked if he’d like to make the guitar gig a more permanent arrangement.
At that time, the Stones hadn’t played a live show since April 17, 1967, at Panathinaikos Stadium in Athens, Greece, and so the Hyde Park show on July 5th, just two days after Jones died, was more than just a concert that would pay tribute to the recently-departed Jones and an introduction of their new guitarist, it was also a free show that would mark the band’s return to the stage after a relatively long period, and a pivotal moment in their career.
A crowd somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 (the exact number isn’t known) came out for the event, which opened with Jagger — wearing a ruffled white shirt-dress with billowy bishop’s sleeves, designed by London shirtmaker Michael Fish — taking to the stage to read two stanzas from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonaïs, after which 2500 white butterflies were released, but since this was a very hot day in July, most of the butterflies had already suffocated in their boxes stashed on the side of the stage.
Taylor — just twenty years old at the time — looked like a good fit for the band, and by the time they debuted “Midnight Rambler,” a song from their forthcoming album, it was clear to nearly everyone in the audience that day that the Stones were going to survive the loss of Jones.
In 1995, Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone that Taylor’s guitar prowess made a “big contribution” to the band.
“I think he had a big contribution. He made it very musical. He was a very fluent, melodic player, which we never had, and we don’t have now. Neither Keith nor [Ronnie Wood] plays that kind of style. It was very good for me working with him. Charlie and I were talking about this the other day, because we could sit down – I could sit down – with Mick Taylor, and he would play very fluid lines against my vocals. He was exciting, and he was very pretty, and it gave me something to follow, to bang off. Some people think that’s the best version of the band that existed.”
Photo by Peter Webb, 1971
Despite playing on some of their best albums, Taylor was apparently never very happy with his arrangement, financial and otherwise, and being a bit younger than both Jagger and Richards (by six years) he felt, at times, like he was being treated like a younger brother to the Glimmer Twins. He would also express his unhappiness about not being credited as a songwriter on a couple of their songs, too.
Jagger also told Rolling Stones that there seemed to be friction between Richards and Taylor during the latter guitarist’s tenure with the band.
It all came to a head on December 12, 1974, at a party in London, when Taylor told the rest of the band he was leaving the Rolling Stones and then walked out.
The documentary also delves into Gram Parsons‘ involvement with the band too, particularly when it comes to the authorship of “Wild Horses.”