I wrote “Gimme Shelter” on a stormy day, sitting in Robert Fraser’s apartment in Mount Street.
… I stayed there with Strawberry Bob and Mohammed, who were probably the first people I played it to. “War, children, it’s just a shot away…” It was just a terrible fucking day and it was storming out there. I was sitting there in Mount Street and there was this incredible storm over London, so I got into that mode, just looking out of Robert’s window and looking at all these people with their umbrellas being blown out of their grasp and running like hell. And the idea came to me. You get lucky sometimes. It was a shitty day. I had nothing better to do. Of course, it becomes much more metaphorical with all the other contexts and everything, but at the time I wasn’t thinking about, oh my God, there’s my old lady shooting a movie in a bath with Mick Jagger. My thought was storms on other people’s minds, not mine. It just happened to hit the moment. Only later did I realize, this will have more meaning than I thought at the time. “Threatening my very life today.” It’s got menace, all right. It’s scary stuff. And those chords are Jimmy Reed inspired—the same haunting trick, sliding up the fret board against the drone of the E note. I’m just working my way up A major, B major, and I go, hello, where are we ending up? C-sharp minor, OK. It’s a very unlikely guitar key. But you’ve just got to recognize the setups when you hear them. A lot of them, like this one, are accidents.
Atlantic City wasn’t where you’d expect to find the Rolling Stones in 1989. It was, for the most part, a mecca for East Coast pensioners who couldn’t endure the trip to Vegas. Church groups would show up by the busload, throw nickels in the slots, feast on a free buffet, and reboard the bus before nightfall. Frankie Valli was as rock ‘n’ roll as it got. Donald Trump lured the Stones to this den of decadence with a huge offer. It called for three concerts, December 17, 19, and 20, at the Atlantic City Convention Center, next to Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. It’d be the Stones’ last stop of the tour.
…Trump bought these shows outright for $6 million – a ton of money back then – so he was the boss. He, not the Stones, determined the ticket prices. He also got to sell/distribute the tickets however he wanted. For the December 17 show, he comped the best seats to his high rollers. Blue-haired old ladies and guys who reeked of Vitalis. They couldn’t name a single Stones song, but when they saw the value of their tickets – $500 a pair – they couldn’t resist the perk. The Stones weren’t happy, but it was their own fault for making Trump their boss for the week. At a preconcert press conference, they avoided all photo ops with him and threatened to leave if he came near them.
1. “I Got to Go” Little Walter, 1955
It’s a fast, weird tempo – a train rhythm, because it’s an on-the-move song. Little Walter was a big influence – the Charlie parker of harmonica.
2. “First Time I Met the Blues” Buddy Guy, 1960
He was a virtuoso. B.B. King and Otis Rush were influential on a lot of British guitar players, but Buddy had more virtuosity and different licks to nick. He had a vocal style that was harsher than everyone else.
3. “40 Days and 40 Nights” Muddy Waters, 1956
It’s got these religious overtones that give it a poignancy. You could have picked so many tracks by him, but this one gives you a shiver when you put it on.
4. “Stones in My Passway” Robert Johnson, 1937
One of the essences of Robert Johnson is the eeriness, and this one illustrates that – the lyrics, the way he delivers it. The thing about blues lyrics is you never know who wrote them. They’re a patchwork of composition people take a line, embellish it with their own verses. But I never heard anything like this. This seems quite original.
5. “Lonely Avenue” Ray Charles, 1956
It’s a great tempo, a lovely shuffle. I’ve sung this with the Stones, with other people. Doc Pomus was a good writer, very underrated, although I always rated him highly.
6. “Cold Shot” Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1984
He’s a player who absorbed all of these influences – country, Hendrix licks, but urban too. He has these lazy tempos, like this one. He sits back in the track, in that groove.
7. “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” Z.Z. Hill, 1982
I never saw him live, but I love this song. There’s a whole genre of blues songs the jealousy thing, not letting anyone in your house. But in this song, everyone is let in. The wife lets everyone in the house.
8. “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” Blind willie Johnson, 1927
He was an itinerant church singer, only did religious themes. He’s got some odd voices. He’s got this growly gospel voice, then this almost effeminate sound, like a woman’s voice. He switches from one to the other. It’s very haunted.
9. “Forty Four” Howlin’ Wolf, 1954
This is a piano blues with a funny time signature. It’s very powerful. It was almost impossible for anyone else to do that voice. He was so far off on some other plane. He had this strange voice — strange everything.
10. “Going Down” Freddie King, 1971
He came to play shows in England a lot, and I used to see him in Los Angeles all the time. This song is great, and different. It’s not just a 12-bar blues – somebody thought about how it’s going to work, with that bass line, It ups the ante from the usual.
“I tried to cover different styles and eras, although it is weighted toward the Fifties. Pop music in Britain used to be filtered through a big machine. With these records, you got the feeling it was coming to you directly, with an earthiness that spoke of another existence. John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy – they were also on television. It was considered folk art in Britain. It was slightly patronizing, but the essence of it was out there.”
The Playlist Issue
Rolling Stone, December 9, 2010
Do you think music has an ethical component?
I can hear music that elevates me, but on the other hand there’s martial music that’s made to make people go to war. So music is neutral. It has nothing to do with ethics. Music is not on the same level as trying to understand life. We’re here for 80-something years. One lifetime is not enough to get it right. I’ll be back in another body. I’m not interested in trying to get that technical about that because I don’t need to know. What I need to know is that being a person who understands that giving is better than getting is the proper way to live. Live your life now in a positive way. Help people if you can. Don’t hurt people. That works perfectly for me, man.
The jazz icon Sonny Rollins knows life is a solo trip. By David Marchese. Feb. 21, 2020, NYTIMES
Taking “Street Fighting Man” to the extremes, or “Gimme Shelter.” But without a doubt it was a strange generation. The weird thing is that I grew up with it, but suddenly I’m an observer instead of a participant. I watched all these guys grow up; I watched a lot of them die. When I first got to the States, I met a lot of great guys, young guys, and I had their phone numbers, and then when I got back two or three years later, I’d call them up, and he’s in a body bag from Nam. A whole lot of them got feathered out, we all know. That’s when that shit hit home with me. Hey, that great little blondie, great guitar player, real fun, we had a real good time, and the next time, gone.
Sunset Strip in the ’60s, ’64, ’65—there was no traffic allowed through it. The whole strip was filled with people, and nobody’s going to move for a car. It was almost off-limits. You hung out in the street, you just joined the mob. I remember once Tommy James, from the Shondells—six gold records and blew it all. I was trying to get up to the Whisky a Go Go in a car, and Tommy James came by. “Hey, man.” “And who are you?” “Tommy James, man.” “Crimson and Clover” still hits me. He was trying to hand out things about the draft that day. Because obviously he thought he was about to be fucking drafted. This was Vietnam War time. A lot of the kids that came to see us the first time never got back. Still, they heard the Stones up the Mekong Delta.
Richards, Keith. Life (p. 238). Little, Brown and Company.
Here’s how Scott Rosenberg of the San Francisco Examiner described his attempt to watch Mick Jagger’s appearance.
“I Can’t Get No Interaction”
You couldn’t see the thick lips, and you couldn’t hear the thick British drawl. But Monday night on America Online, you could watch Mick Jagger type.
The online celebrity forum is an increasingly common marketing tool that puts a famous name behind a keyboard to take questions from a crowd of cyber-onlookers…It’s a pretty inefficient way to find out stuff about the rich and famous–though it does provide the best insight yet available into their typing skills. Like many others, I spent the hour from 6 to 7 p.m. vainly clicking on the AOL “Coliseum” icon, pounding on the door to the room where Jagger was answering questions.
I wound up with a bunch of other Jagger turnaways in another AOL forum, the Odeon, where Oingo Boingo bandleader and movie-soundtrack composer Danny Elfman was also holding an online chat.
Question: Loved “wierd science” & “dead man’s party”. How about a new Oingo album?
Elfman 1: Are you trying to piss me off or what? I just came out with a new Boingo album. Why the f*** do you think I’m here right now?
… “He’s vit me!” And it worked. Before I knew it, I was onstage with the Rolling Stones.
Freddy led me to a cubbyhole, right next to the backup singers. It held a dozen or so people and was sort of like a baseball dugout. Jerry Hall was in there, and so was Keith’s dad. We were getting a slightly skewed view
For better or worse, I was seeing what the Stones see. And it helped me understand why rock stars get fucked up. Being in front of 60,000 screaming fans for two hours can be an overwhelming experience. There is no way to healthily match that intensity when the tour is over and you’re home in your slippers eating corn flakes.” Under Their Thumb, Bill German