Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the gang prove that they are forever relevant with a new release of classics, The Rolling Stones in Mono; two unforgettable shows at Desert Trip in Coachella; and a brand new album due in December, The Rolling Stones Blue and Lonesome
By Harvey Kubernik
The last quarter of 2016 is now underway and the Rolling Stones once proved again that they still offer an exciting live show. There’s a just released retrospective multi-disc Stones’ product and a new album out from them in December.
The band delivered strong performances at their Coachella Desert Trip bookings this past October 7 and 14. Before the conclusion of “Satisfaction,” the throng was treated to some surprising additions, including renditions of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” Eddie Taylor’s “Ride ‘Em On Down,” from the upcoming Blues and Lonesome album, along with “Out of Control,” and a riveting “Midnight Rambler, all showcasing Mick Jagger’s seductive and torrid harmonica playing. Keith Richard’s spotlight numbers, “Slipping Away” and “Little T&A” were well received.
Backing vocalist Sasha Allen’s raspy screams were particularly effective on “Gimme Shelter,” and a vocal choir from Southern California’s USC’s Thornton School of Music augmented a delightful “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
For the first time ever, all mono studio recordings released by the Rolling Stones in the 1960s are now available in one unique historic collection.
On September 30 ABKCO Records made available worldwide the vinyl and CD box sets of The Rolling Stones in Mono as well as Standard Digital, Mastered for iTunes and True HD (96k/24 bit, 192k/24 bit and DSD).
The Rolling Stones in Mono was mastered by acclaimed award winning engineer Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering. For the project he utilized Direct Stream Digital (DSD) transfers from the original master recordings, with a sampling rate of 2,822,400. Lacquer cutting for vinyl was performed at Abbey Road Studios by Alex Wharton and Sean Magee. All vinyl box sets will be numbered and pressed on 180-gram vinyl.
The Rolling Stones in Mono project was overseen by Teri Landi, ABKCO’s chief audio engineer.
“Sourcing the first generation masters of the Rolling Stones ‘60s recordings is akin to an archeological dig,” suggests Landi. “Sometimes the first generation masters are not where you think they are having been pulled for use to another tape reel and replaced with a tape copy. You have to use your eyes and ears to really find what you are looking for.
“Also, since the Rolling Stones used various recording facilities (e.g. Regent Sound, Olympic Sound, Chess, RCA, Decca) there are tapes of various stocks and alignments to deal with, sometimes all on one reel.
“All of the original mono tapes were transferred to DSD digital utilizing full track mono heads and the following vintage tape machines: Ampex ATR 102 with Class A Aria electronics
Ampex 351 with original tube electronics.
“With regard to Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed, the mono mixes of the original releases were created by folding the stereo mix to mono, also known as a stereo to mono fold-down. For the first time though, this was done directly from the first generation flat stereo masters. ‘Sympathy For The Devil,’ being a true mono mix, was the exception.”
The Rolling Stones in Mono is available via uDiscover and Amazon for the first 90 days after release (ending December 30, 2016) and thereafter will be sold everywhere.
The Rolling Stones In Mono (15 CDs or 16 vinyl LPs) is bundled with a set of nine extremely limited Rolling Stones 7” vinyl singles. Each single is an exact reproduction of a significant hit record from a different country with original art matching how the single looked in that specific nation at the time of release. After the bundles are sold out, the remaining individual 7”s will only be available in local record stores in their respective countries.
Spanning the era between 1963 and 1969, The Rolling Stones in Mono covers the formative years of the band with producer Andrew Loog Oldham and spotlights the work of Hollywood’s RCA recording studio engineer, Dave Hassinger.
In the Fall/Winter 2015 #40 issue of Ugly Things magazine, Dave Hassinger described Andrew Loog Oldham to music journalist Greg Prevost.
“Andrew was one of the best producers I have ever worked with, because he knew what not to do. A lot of producers get too entangled like they want to leave their print on something. A lot of producers try to take over. Andrew didn’t do that-he would make suggestions, and he knew the Stones in and out.”
During this era, most rock and pop recordings were originally recorded in mono, with stereo often an afterthought, dealt with only following the completion of the original (mono) version of a given track. In short, mono reigned and this was, indeed, the case for the Rolling Stones during the period. While typical playback systems of the time were less than sophisticated, the original mono recordings, especially as heard through quality components, were of the highest audio quality and had a powerful and very direct impact.
“You felt you were in the room. . .
listening to exactly what went down in the studio, no frills, no nothing,” Keith Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography, Life.
“You don’t have to be Phil Spector or Brian Wilson to appreciate mono as anyone who’s purchased the recent mono Beatles box can attest,” admits Michael Fremer, editor of
“When these records were originally produced they were meant to be heard in mono both because they were played on the AM radio, which was mono and because the young people buying the music mostly had monophonic record players.
“So groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — as well as their producers and manager — were far more concerned about the mono mixes than they were about the slapdash stereo mixes produced later, often without the group’s participation. This was also true of Bob Dylan, who after attending the mono mixing sessions of Blonde On Blonde left Nashville, leaving to others the stereo mixing chores.
“Fine, but what does that have to do with today’s listening, which is almost exclusively stereo? The early recordings were produced on but a few tracks so often sub-mixes that contained more than a few elements had to be produced to make room on adjacent tracks. These sub-mixes were intended to be ‘folded down’ to produce the more important mono mixes, so most of the time, in order to produce the stereo mixes, voices and instruments were placed haphazardly left, right and center in what’s best described as ‘three-track mono’ or as was the case with early Beatles albums two track ‘left/right’ mono with the instruments on one side and the vocals on the other, which produced a totally unnatural perspective,” Fremer underscores.
“In the early days of stereo having different sounds coming out of two different speakers (plus the ‘phantom’ center channel) was a dazzling novelty making it easy to ignore the disjointed and artificial soundstage, with each of the channels having its own compartmentalized sonic environment. When exposed to the original mono mixes of familiar ‘stereo’ mixes, today’s more sophisticated listeners can easily grasp the superiority of the mono mixes, which have a coherency, solidity and yes, depth of field that make the stereo mixes sound disjointed and far less satisfying.
“That is one of the reasons original mono pressings of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other groups have increased in value. That said, bass had to be seriously attenuated (‘rolled off’) on those early records so they wouldn’t skip on ‘kiddie phonographs’ of the day. In fact EMI had an employee whose only job was to play test pressings on all of the “kiddie phonographs” of the day to be sure they would play without skipping. Those that did were labeled (for obvious reasons) ‘kangaroo cuts’ and new lacquers had to be cut with less bass and perhaps less dynamic range.
“Records in the recent mono Beatles box have noticeably superior bass compared to the originals and the Rolling Stones boxes since these LPs are made to be played back on today’s high quality record players that can track the lowest bass notes and the widest dynamic range found on the original tapes.”
The sound contained in The Stones In Mono box is breathtaking. I’ve never heard Bill Wyman’s bass work on these discs so prominent in the mix.
The best comment I’ve received about The Stones In Mono is courtesy of David Kessel. “I always knew drummer Charlie Watts was sort of like Chico Hamilton and Shelley Manne. But I didn’t realize until now that bassist Bill Wyman played at times like Ray Brown!”
GARY PIG GOLD
“At this point it should cer-tainly go without saying that any mid-’60s state-of-the-art audio was always best delivered via a single solitary speaker,” insists Stone-ager since age ten Gary Pig Gold.
“Needless to say that speaker would usually be housed within the nearest hand-held six-transistor radio; all the better to remain Rolling atop the relentless drive of ‘Heart of Stone,’ ‘The Last Time,’ most obviously ‘Satisfaction’ and even up to and most certainly including ‘Street Fighting Man.’
“But over in the 12-inch division as well, each Phelge-arranged/Oldham-produced album did, does, and always will sound lean, louder and prouder in its true monophonic form. And who better could have possibly been chosen to help erect this newfound Wall of Stones than Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche, that invaluable L.A. key to the Aftermath of the band’s initial successes. True, the Brian Jones-led intricacies of this ’66 work especially required more thought, more notes, and many more hands-on-deck. Nevertheless, like those Beatles simultaneously toiling over their Revolver back home a, you bet, mono mix actually illuminates as opposed to muddies the likes of ‘Lady Jane’ and even ‘Miss Amanda Jones.’
“Come 1967 however, one would think Stereo would be the only way to fly, if for example the wildly pan-happy Are You Experienced mixes are of any indication. But again, somehow, it is the MONO Satanic Majesties which best exemplifies and illuminates the 3-D Stones — Keith’s guitars in particular — throughout what many still most misguidingly believe to be the band’s dodgiest-ever 44 minutes. And now it, like all its Mono-boxed brethren, should become the immediate go-to format for vintage-’60s Stones forevermore.”
“To understand why these mono mixes are so important, you have to know the historical environment,” states Daniel Weizmann.” The music’s original delivery system — 45s and AM radio — was a total contrast to the world around it. In those days, you didn’t hear rock music at the supermarket, the stationery store, or the car wash. The piped-in instrumentals were “hi-fidelity” and crystal clarity was the gold standard. This new sound coming over the car radio was a thunderous onslaught, a dirty stampede in which no one instrument, not even the lead singer, could steal the spotlight. Compare any one of these tracks to something from the great Tutti Camarata or, say, a Bobby Darin 45 and you can immediately hear the difference. The Stones, more than most of their contemporaries, had a different set of sonic intentions — with hidden piano parts, tape bleeds, and a rumbling bass that seems to seep out onto every other instrument. It’s what set them apart. They aimed to disrupt.”
“I bought Out of Our Heads for $2.98 at Frigate Records in what is now West Hollywood in that glorious summer of 1965,” recalls author and record producer Kenneth Kubernik. “I still own it. ‘Mono’ is prominently displayed on the front cover; the alternative version, for a buck more, had something called ‘electronically reprocessed stereo’ or some such nonsense which made little sense to my eleven year old brain.
“Stereo was reserved for my friends parents hi-fi systems, to play Montovani (also on London Records, the Stones label) or Andy Williams with strings albums. Since we were still immersed in buying singles, the concepts of mixing, mastering, track separation, etc. made no impact. It was just the electric charge of that opening riff on ‘The Last Time,’ or Jagger’s commanding ‘THAT’S how strong my love is…’ which centered our attention.
“It was until years later that I finally heard the stereo mix of …’Satisfaction’ and the distant tinkle of Ian Stewart’s piano (or is that Jack Nitzsche) and Keith’s acoustic guitar finally made its presence felt. That’s fine for our current epicurean sensibilities; as a kid way back then, though, it was more than enough to sing along to the jangly, unkempt ‘Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man,’ whoever he was.”
Dr. James Cushing
“I heard something else in these unified mono mixes, though — a seriousness, a self-conscious commitment to announcing the power of this blues/R&B music and living out the freedom it seemed to promise,” observes Dr. James Cushing, a radio programmer at station KEBF-FM in Central Coast California.
“That seriousness comes through in the unified sound of the mono mixes. ‘Here are these songs,’ the albums say. ‘They are the essence of what we do and who we are.’ For contrast, I spun my clean mono LP of The Beatles’ Second Album, and the difference was immediate. The Beatles sound like they’re having way more fun with their Motown covers than the Stones are having with Solomon Burke and Bobby Womack!
“Actually, the Stones were ahead of the Beatles in terms of their use of stereo! Aftermath, from early ’66, offers a stronger, more realistic stereo mix than Revolver or Sgt Pepper. Not being contractually tied to Abbey Road Studios, the Stones could sample a wider variety of engineering concepts and the early records really benefit from that. I’m ambivalent about the mono-vs-stereo on Aftermath. Both mixes sound powerful to me; on the other hand, the stereo Revolver is less powerful than the mono.”
Andrew Loog Oldham
The Rolling Stones in Mono
will contain a total of Andrew Loog Oldham and Jimmy Miller originally produced 186 tracks, 56 of which have have not been heard in mono since the advent of the digital age.
Before Oldham and the band parted company during 1967, manager/publicist and guidance counselor Oldham produced the group’s first fifteen singles, including “Satisfaction” which, in the second half of ‘65, went to #1 in 38 countries. Additionally he produced their first ten LPs and first three EPs.
“We did ‘Tell Me’ at Regent Street studio,” Andrew Loog Oldham told me in a 2004 interview we conducted. “Keith’s guitar leaked throughout the bass drum because there weren’t enough microphones to go around. And you have to remember it was basically the first song Mick and Keith wrote together that they recorded for themselves. ‘Tell Me’ was sexy. I just remember the relationship between the drum kit and the acoustic guitar. You could only overdub once more. Mono to mono. Or otherwise you’d get ‘Under the Boardwalk.’ You can hear the leakage.
“Coming to L.A. and Hollywood in 1964 and the wonderful reality of when Sonny Bono did pick us up at the LAX airport,” recounted Oldham. “Because if it wasn’t a Cadillac it had huge fins, and those cars were wonderful. And his trunk was full of Caesar and Cleo ‘Baby Don’t Go’ records. And he was dressed pretty bizarre for 1964. It was somewhere between Johnny Weissmuller and rock ‘n’ roll in a way. And he was a funny, engaging guy. Sonny picked us up at LAX and took us to a hotel. But when you walked into RCA there was sunshine.
“I was looking for a home to produce the band. When we walked into RCA and we were actually visiting studio B where the Brian Stone and Charlie Greene 45rpm for Atlantic was being cut in the best Bobby B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans fashion, including Bobby Sheen. And there was Jack Nitzsche, Gracia Nitzsche, Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, and Cher. I have a total recollection of Cher. Not unlike the Vashti Bunyan vibe. The waif. Total ‘young girls are coming to the canyon.’ And there it is: Jack Nitzsche and the backing vocalists.
“When you walk into a situation like RCA, suddenly you have the physicality of it. And the physicality of it is so overwhelming that I can actually see it in front of me now. I can see the corridor, the control room on the right and the studio in front of us.
“Then I got taken into Studio A, which was huge. I went, ‘this is it. We have our home.’ I met engineer Dave Hassinger in there, Of course, he was doing a session. Dave Hassinger looked like Los Angeles.
“I think there are two tambourines on ‘Satisfaction.’ There’s a regular one that easily could have been Jack Nitzsche. But in the middle it was too American for that part and that’s Brian Jones. And Jack plays piano. He was brilliant, man. Come on. The piano on Let’s Spend The Night Together’ was just turnaround Charlie.
“I remember the later sessions for Aftermath where ‘I Am Waiting’ sprang from,” continued Oldham. “There’s incredible clarity to what they were doing. It was like a linear thing. Filmic. They were vivid, and the key to that vividness was Brian Jones. The organ on ‘She Smiled Sweetly’ by Brian is just amazing. I like ‘She Smiled Sweetly’ more than ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday.’
“‘Sweetly’ was boy/girl, living on the same floor. Whereas, both those other songs have a ‘To the Manner Born’ quality to them. Trying to write and evoke. And Mick’s vocals…Remember: He’s an actor. He can’t sing. He acts the words. There you go.
“Between The Buttons and Aftermath, without a doubt quite a few harried moments. And we did it in Hollywood at RCA. Aftermath works. They wrote every song on the record. It’s like when you go see a stage show or see a movie that works. One of the keys is ‘besides the fact that’s it’s not me on stage. That’s me.’ So there is a sense of humor with the songs and the records. We’re in Hollywood. Some of Hollywood came through the door and I’m one of the conduits dragging it in.
“Aftermath and Between the Buttons, and in the U.S. Flowers, were some of my finest hours as Mick and Keith reached the ability to compose whole albums for the Stones. The songs were just brilliant, only eclipsed by the idea that the Beatles, Ray Davies and, coming up through the ranks, Pete Townshend, wrote better.
“The media and the BBC would just not accept what damn fine writers Mick and Keith had turned into. Wonderful social commentaries that had their roots somewhere between vaudeville and the BBC World Service. I’m not just talking about the obvious, ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Paint it, Black. I’m talking ‘She Smiled Sweetly,’ ‘Connection,’ ‘All Sold Out,’ and ‘Back Street Girl.’ The laconic comments, the posed rancor, Mick and Keith’s songs at that time cut right through the picket fence and into the very life of then.
“I’d better stop now or if Keith reads this might be reaching for the vomit bag.”
And, as I wrote in Andrew Loog Oldham’s 2003 memoir 2Stoned, and it obviously applies to The Rolling Stones in Mono, “can you imagine how different the ALO-produced and Hollywood-birthed product would be if done in New York? I shudder at the thought…”
During a 2002 interview, original Rolling Stones’ bassist Bill Wyman and I discussed the Chess Records, Regent Street and RCA facilities.
“We had recorded at Chess for a couple of dates. Keith talks about how he saw Muddy painting the walls at Chess. It’s funny. It gets headlines and it gets a laugh. Willie tried to pawn a song on us and Muddy did help us in with the gear. It’s in my diary that day.
“The greatest thing about Chess Records wasn’t the recording, or having Buddy Guy walk in, Muddy, and Chuck Berry coming and saying ‘Swing on, gentlemen, you are sounding most well, if I may say so,’ and he knew he was going to make some money. But it was being told we could go down in the cellar and pick some albums if we wanted. Racks of Little Walter albums we had never seen. That was the magic of Chess for us. And me plugging into a plug direct for the bass. Direct!
“When we came into Hollywood we went to RCA. We walked into the studio and it was too big. We were really worried. We were intimidated. We were used to recording in little places like Regent Sound. The studio was like this hotel room. And Chess wasn’t very big either. Suddenly we’re at RCA and it’s enormous. It was like Olympic [in England] later. But we solved that same problem. We thought ‘God, we can’t record in here. We’re gonna get the wrong sound.’
“But Andrew had this brain wave and he put us all in the corner of one room, turned all the lights down, and just tucked us all around in a little small circle. And we forgot about the rest of the room and the height of the ceiling. And we just did it in this little corner.
“And Dave Hassinger the engineer got all the sounds we wanted. Brian picked up all the instruments in the studio. The dulcimers, the glockenspiel, the marimbas. And I played some of that stuff as well. The organ where I laid on the floor and pumped the rhythm for ‘Paint It, Black.’
“We just experimented in there. Brian brought in electric dulcimers, autoharps. He just did so much to those songs from 1964-1966 in RCA. Brian created so many new sounds. Then he got the sitar together, just so he could play a riff. He wasn’t as good as George Harrison on it. George really learned the sitar and studied it. Brian didn’t, he just picked it up and worked out a little riff for one song. He did it with flutes. And he was brilliant at that. Dave Hassinger helped us do those things and he was always … we never had one bad word with Dave.
“At the time we didn’t know the R&B heritage of the RCA studios. All we knew was here was this engineer and on the same thing as we were. Dave used to say we’d just come in and do it. RCA engineer Dave Hassinger was one of the pro-voters for ‘Satisfaction’ being a single. And Jack Nitzsche said it was the first time in his life that he saw a band just come in with no thought or no preparation or anything. He said it in books before. We’d just do it and it sorta blew his mind. Because we had no pre-plans and just do it in three takes. ‘Let’s do that one.’ RCA was our first studio that had four tracks. We were on two and three tracks before that.”
“One of the great things about recording in Hollywood at RCA was after a session you’d walk into the car port and literally on the other side of the building was [jazz club] Shelly’s Manne-Hole,” Charlie Watts revealed to me at a 2016 Stones’ Coachella Desert Trip tour rehearsal at Third Encore studios in Burbank, California.
In my 2014 book Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956–1972, Watts remembered, “I went to Shelly’s Manne-Hole twice-once to see Charles Lloyd, Albert Stinson [with Gabor Szabo and Pete LaRoca], and the Bill Evans Trio with Paul Motian on drums [and Chuck Israels]. I saw Shelly at his club.”
“I was taught mixing and recording engineering by Producer/Engineer Val Garay who in turn learned the same skills from RCA engineer Dave Hassinger,” explained Richard Bosworth, a record producer, mixer and recording engineer and has worked with Don Henley, Toto, Neil Young and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
“From 1967 until late 1969 the group recorded at Olympic Studios in London as they weren’t touring at the time and it made sense to record close to home. However they did continue to mix and do final overdubs on the albums Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed in L.A.
“Dave Hassinger was now a record producer for Warner Brothers Records so the group brought over from England their producer Jimmy Miller and engineer Glyn Johns to work at Sunset Sound and Elektra Recording Studio, two modern but decidedly smaller studios than the large orchestral studio that was RCA.
“In Olympic they had a similar large orchestral recording space as RCA and the studio was well equipped with state of the art custom audio consoles designed by the chief technical engineer Dick Swettenham who later made them available to other studios under his Helios Electronics company. Previously to Olympic Swettenham performed the same function at EMI’s Abbey Road facility.
“The advent of eight track audio tape recorders occurred during the Stones time at Olympic. With more tracks to work with the band’s recordings took on a much greater depth as heard on Their Satanic Majesty’s Request. I had the golden opportunity later to work on an album with Andrew Lloyd Webber at Olympic Studios.”
On December 2nd, the Rolling Stones will release a new studio album Blue and Lonesome, produced by Don Was over a three-day session last December in London.
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood were joined by sidemen Darryl Jones, Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford. Eric Clapton appears on two tunes.
The blues-themed collection is the Stones’ homage to the influential Chicago-based Chess and Vee-Jay record labels.
Standout tracks are a handful of Little Walter tunes: his title track “Blue and Lonesome,” “Just Your Fool,” “I Gotta Go,” and “I Hate to See You Go,” plus “Commit a Crime,” courtesy of Howlin’ Wolf, two Willie Dixon-penned compositions, “Just Like I Treat You” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” Magic Sam’s “All of Your Love,” and “Little Rain,” by Jimmy Reed, written by Reed with Vee-Jay executive, Ewart G. Abner, Jr.
In late September when I was invited to attend a Stones’ rehearsal, during a break, Ronnie Wood readily disclosed a fondness for Jimmy Reed. “Jimmy Reed was one of the premier influences on the Rolling Stones and all the bands that love American blues from that era until the present day.”
Ronnie also volunteered that the last time he saw his dear pal Bobby Womack was when they sang together in 2013 at BluesFest, held at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The Ronnie Wood Band, including Mick Taylor, played a tribute to Vee-Jay recording artist Jimmy Reed, and Ronnie presented Womack with a BluesFest lifetime achievement award. In 2012, Wood played a BluesFest event to the many musicians who graced the Chess Records label.
Harvey Kubernik has been a music journalist for over 44 years and is the author of 8 books. During 2014, Harvey’s Kubernik’s Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956–1972 was published by Santa Monica Press. In 2017, Sterling will publish Kubernik’s 1967 Complete Rock Music History on the Summer of Love.
Harvey Kubernik has been a music journalist for over 44 years and is the author of 8 books. During 2014, Harvey’s Kubernik’s Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956—1972 was published by Santa Monica Press.