Anniversary Editions

October 24, 2019

The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed

Keith Richard and Mick Jagger review 
print proofs of the Let It Bleed album cover art.

The Rolling Stones Let it Bleed 50th Anniversary Limited Edition celebrates the album’s five-decades with a newly remastered release package

THE ROLLING STONES’ groundbreaking multi-platinum selling album Let It Bleed was originally issued in late 1969, charting at #1 in the UK and #3 in the US. In celebration of the album’s original release a half-century ago, ABKCO Records is offering Let It Bleed (50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition) this November 1. This 2 LP/ 2 HybridSuper Audio CD set was entirely remastered in both stereo and mono by Grammy®-winning engineer Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering.

The collection also comes with a reproduction of the 1969 7” mono single of “Honky Tonk Women”/ ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” in a picture sleeve. Also included are three 12” x 12” hand-numbered replica-signed lithographs printed on embossed archival paper, and a full-color 23” x 23” poster with restored art from the original 1969 Decca Records package. An 80 page hardcover book that includes an essay by journalist David Fricke and never-before-seen photos by the band’s tour photographer Ethan Russell is part of the set. ABKCO Records is also releasing the remastered stereo version of Let It Bleed as a stand-alone CD, vinyl LP, and digitally.

Eleven-time Grammy®-winning mastering engineer Bob Ludwig was tasked with remastering this edition of Let It Bleed and worked from Direct Stream Digital files taken from the original tapes at a 2.8 MHz
sampling rate.

“When we did the first Let It Bleed remaster in 2002, our intention was to pay homage to the original work,” said Ludwig, who is no stranger to the Stones catalog, having mastered or remastered many of their classic albums over the past four decades.

“When we did this new version, the purpose was to make it as great as it could possibly sound. If you listen on a good set of speakers or good headphones, you’ll hear subtle things in the background that are now much more clear that were somewhat hidden before.”


Graphic designer Robert Brownjohn’s sketches for his original cover art depicting several random round items piled onto the spindle of an antique record player (including a cake with figurines representing the band members) is reproduced in Let It Bleed (50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition). The sketches are offered on two 12” x 12” lithographs, hand numbered, replica-signed and printed on embossed archival paper.

A third lithograph of the finalized art, sans titles, completes the set housed in a foil-stamped envelope. Brownjohn passed away less than a year after the release of the album; his estate granted ABKCO exclusive use to manufacture his images and signature. The package also comes with a reproduction of the full color 23” x 23” poster that came with the original 1969 Decca Records UK version of Let It Bleed.

“Honky Tonk Women” (b/w “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) was originally released four months ahead of Let It Bleed. “Honky Tonk Women,” with its distinctive cowbell-centric intro, was a #1 hit in both the US and UK, and was reprised on the album in a countryfied manner as “Country Honk.”

The Rolling Stones, at this point already a critically and commercially dominant force, composed and recorded their eighth long player (tenth for the U.S.) amidst both geopolitical and personal turmoil. In June of 1969, during the peak of the Vietnam War and the era’s social upheaval, the group was in the process of recording eight Jagger/Richards-penned tunes and one cover (“Love In Vain” from the canon of bluesman Robert Johnson) when they made the difficult decision to part ways with founding member Brian Jones who was found dead in his swimming pool the following month.

Jones had already been replaced by 20-year-old guitar prodigy Mick Taylor formerly of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Let It Bleed stands as the only proper Rolling Stones full-length that contains contributions from both members; Jones played autoharp on “You Got the Silver” and congas on “Midnight Rambler,” while Taylor laid down slide guitar on “Country Honk” and guitar tracks, along with Richards, on “Live With Me.”

“After I completed The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper, I went to London and I was picked up at the airport by my good friend Denny Cordell,” multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper reminisced in a 2018 interview.

Kooper subsequently became the pianist and organist as well as the French horn player on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

“He then said, ‘the Stones’ office called me and asked if I felt like playing on a few recording sessions with them. They want you to play on some sessions.’

“I said, ‘How did they know I was gonna be in England?’ And Denny replied, ‘I didn’t say a fuckin’ word. And I don’t even know how they figured out I was involved. But they called me for Tuesday and Wednesday night at Olympic studios.’

“The next day we left the hotel and went shopping on Kings Road and ran into Brian Jones in a shirt store who asked, ‘Are you gonna play the session, Al?’ I could never say no to these people. So I went. The main reason they wanted me was that Nicky Hopkins, their regular keyboardist was in the United States.

Keith Richards at Peter Tork's house, 1969. PHOTO BY Henry Diltz

Keith Richards at Peter Tork’s house, 1969. PHOTO BY Henry Diltz

“I went to the studio. Bill and Charlie were there. I met them before with Bob Dylan. I sat at the organ and met Jimmy Miller, the producer. Mick and Keith bolted through the door. Mick wore a gorilla coat and Keith a hat with a long feather. Everyone sat around and they passed out acoustic guitars to anyone who could play acoustic guitar. Then Mick and Keith played acoustic guitar ran down the tune for everybody with the chord changes and the rhythm accents. There was a conga player in the room who rolled hash joints. It was decided that I would play piano on the basic track and later do an organ overdub,” stressed Kooper.

“I got a groove going which I heard on an Etta James cover version of ‘I Got You Babe’ that worked. It had nothing to do with Sonny & Cher. I could not believe the Etta version. I heard it on the radio and thought it was unbelievable. I wanted to own it and bought it. They played the song in the studio to learn

“Keith picked up on it with a guitar part that meshed with my organ part. Producer Jimmy Miller showed Charlie an accent and he just couldn’t get the part. Jimmy sat down at the drums and stayed there and played on the take. Charlie was unhappy but he hid it completely. Very graceful. He didn’t throw a temper tantrum but said ‘why don’t you just play the drums?’ He said it sincerely. He didn’t say it like I would have. (laughs). Bill played bass, I played piano. Mick and Keith played acoustic guitars. Keith then did a lead electric guitar part and I overdubbed the Hammond organ. We were out there together. Brian Jones was in the corner on the floor reading a magazine.”

The second of four Rolling Stones albums made with producer Miller (Traffic, Blind Faith), Let It Bleed perfectly captures the ominous spirit of the times with “Gimme Shelter,” the opening track. Keith Richards came up with the song’s hook while witnessing people scramble for shelter during a storm; it evolved to a much darker direction with background singer Merry Clayton’s cries of “rape” and “murder” on the choruses of the finished recording.

Mick Jagger, during a September 10, 1970 interview on Danish radio, commented about the tune.

‘“Gimme Shelter’ is just about the fact that it doesn’t matter how safe you are or think you are safe, something could always happen to you at that very minute or that minute later that could either destroy you or change you in some way. So it means that just because you are safe and secure in your house doesn’t mean that you really are safe.”

Before vocalist Merry Clayton added her spine-tingling vocals to those of Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter,” Merry had already shared a microphone with Bobby Darin, Pearl Bailey, and was a member of both the Blossoms and Ray Charles’ Raelettes.

During her studio career, she has sung backup on records with Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Phil Ochs, Burt Bacharach and Carole King. Clayton also starred in director Morgan Neville’s Academy Award-winning Best Documentary Feature 20 Feet From Stardom released in 2013.

During October 1969, the Stones had already prepared the basic rhythm track for “Gimme Shelter” with producer Jimmy Miller and engineer Glyn Johns in England at Olympic Studios.

Jagger, Richards, Miller and Johns in late October relocated to Elektra Studios in Los Angeles with engineer Bruce Botnick who had previously worked on albums with Love and The Doors.

“First of all, Glyn Johns did all of the recording,” Botnick explained to me in a 2009 interview. “I facilitated and worked as a second engineer to get him through the night. Glyn did a great job. And he was under a lot of pressure with them.

“The first playback of ‘Gimme Shelter’ was incredible… On the Let It Bleed album, I made suggestions and brought in the country music fiddle player Byron Berline for ‘Country Honk.’”

The Roling Stones at Peter Tork's house, 1969. PHOTO BY Henry Diltz

The Roling Stones at
Peter Tork’s house, 1969. PHOTO BY Henry Diltz

“Gimme Shelter” songwriters Mick and Keith, Miller along with longtime associate multi-instrumentalist Jack Nitzsche huddled during their October 18th -27thSouthern California studio visit just before the Stones embarked on their US tour in November ’69.

Nitzsche was an omnipresent figure and key Stones’ collaborator on over a half a dozen of their previous LP’s. Jack was a major contributor to Aftermath and Between the Buttons albums. His keyboard and percussion efforts are evident on “Satisfaction,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Yesterday’s Papers,” and
“Sister Morphine.” He also arranged the choir on ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Nitzsche and engineer Andy Johns worked with Jimmy Miller, the gifted percussionist/ producer.

“Jimmy was an extremely talented man,” volunteered Andy Johns. “His main gift I think was his ability to get grooves, which for a band like the Stones is very important. He was quite influential then and came up with all sorts of lovely ideas for them. In fact, that’s him playing the cowbell at the beginning of ‘Honky Tonk Woman.’ He sets it up. Nicky Hopkins added so much to the band. He was extremely rhythmic. When people think of Nicky they think of his right hand. But he would make the groove happen sometimes,” summarized Johns.

Initially, Mick, Keith, Jimmy and Jack had intended to utilize Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie for the role Clayton filled, but she wasn’t available, possibly due to illness or alleged reports that Bramlett’s husband, Delaney refused to let her work with the Stones. He had met them in 1965 on the set of the television series Shindig!

Nitzsche then suggested Clayton to augment the hypnotic and weaving guitar efforts of Keith, who sang on the recording as well, along with the propulsive drum work of Charlie Watts, pianist Nicky Hopkins, Bill Wyman on bass, percussionist Miller, and Jagger’s harmonica playing.

“Jack phoned me at home from the studio in the Los Angeles area one night where I lived with my husband, Curtis Amy,” remembered Merry Clayton in a 2008 telephone interview we did. [Amy was a legendary jazz musician himself, known for his classic album with Dupree Bolton, Katanga!).

“Jack called and Curtis told him I was just about ready to go to sleep. See, I was pregnant,” disclosed Merry, “but Jack insisted that he had to talk to me about this Stones’ session immediately as I was about to go to sleep. Curtis then woke me up. Jack was on the line. ‘Merry, I really need you to do this part. There is no other singer who can do this. Please.’

“I always loved Jack, like Lou Adler, he always took a chance on me. I worked with Jack on the Performance soundtrack he did and I had worked with Jack earlier on a record he did with Neil Young in 1968 or ‘69. ‘OK…’ I was really tired that night, but I got up, put on my coat, got in the car with Curtis and we drove up La Cienega Blvd. to Hollywood later that evening where the studio
was located.”

Arriving with her hair in curlers, Clayton was warmly greeted by Keith Richards, and then checked out Mick Jagger in the flesh. “‘Man, I thought you was a man, but you nothing but a skinny
little boy!’

“They played me the song and asked if I could put a little somethin’ on it…I said, ‘stop the song and tell me what all this stuff meant’ before I went any further. ‘It’s just a shout or shot away’ was something in the lyrics. I said, ‘I’m gonna put my vocal on it and I’m gonna leave. ‘Cause this is a real high part and I will be wettin’ myself if I sing any higher!’ ‘Cause my stomach was a little bit heavy…”

Just before her vocals were added on the track, Merry, no rookie in the music business, had politely voiced concerns about payment procedure and credits.

“So, we went in and did it. Matter of fact, I did it three times. I didn’t do an overdub. Mick’s vocal was already on it when I heard it and I recall he did a bit of touching up after I left. But they got what they wanted,” reinforced Merry.

“‘It was so nice meeting you guys.’ ‘Oh Merry you sound incredible. We just love you. We’re gonna work with you…’ I was walkin’ out the door as they were talkin’. ‘OK. ‘Love you guys, too! See you some other time…’

“And I got in the car with my husband who took me right home and I went right upstairs to bed. And that was the ‘Gimme Shelter’ session.”

Very swiftly the Stones’ legal team generated an agreement requesting her signature. “Next thing I knew, lawyers had talked and everything was cool. And, it was a go on the record.”

Partially owing to physical strain exerted on “Gimme Shelter,” Clayton suffered a miscarriage shortly after returning home.

“Then I immediately heard it on the radio in Los Angeles. It’s a powerful track,” admitted Merry, who was credited as Marry Clayton on the initial Let It Bleed LP pressings.

“My dad was a Bishop at church,” confided Clayton, “and he heard it and said, ‘Merry, what is this line in the song about rape and the murder?’ ‘Well dad, that’s part of the song.’ And he laughed. ‘Boy, they’re really singing them different these days.’ I call him Reverend Doctor Daddy. ‘You know they’re singing them different these days and that’s what it is.’

‘“Well you know, just remember one thing,’” he replied, “remember as you go out there on the road and travel on the road with the Rollin’ Cockers, ‘cause I worked with Joe Cocker, too, so he could never get the names together, ‘Just remember when you are out there with the Rollin’ Cockers, daddy is prayin’ for you.’ ‘Oh daddy, I need that so bad. Thank you so much.’ And he added, ‘do it while you’re young ‘cause when you get older you’re not going to run up and down the road.’

“My father always encouraged me to do things with class, dignity and integrity,” proclaimed Clayton, a graduate of Jefferson High School’s music department in Los Angeles under renowned instructor Sam Browne.

I remember when KMET-FM in Los Angeles first spun “Gimme Shelter” from a Let It Bleed acetate dub they acquired before Let it Bleed shipped to retail outlets.

I discovered Merry Clayton’s seductive voice coupled with Jagger’s tour guide lead vocal. I was stunned. Clayton is both sonic witness and participant in this dark doomsday audio warning.

“In a way, maybe when you write songs without even knowing it, you’re kinda saying, ‘can I do this live?’ And so in a way you add that in,” Keith Richards revealed to me in a 1997 interview around a Rolling Stones’ concert in San Diego, California.

“You don’t know if it’s gonna work, but I guess what you keep in the back of your mind is, ‘We’re making a record here; what happens if they all like it and we gotta play it live?’ So, in a way, maybe in the back of the mind that sets up the song to be playable on stage,” underlined Keith.

“Gimme Shelter” was debuted on the Rolling Stones ’69 United States tour. I then really heard the number performed at their two November Southern California concerts in Inglewood at the Forum I attended as a teenager which made an indelible impression.

Due to water damage from a wet floor in the arena, caused by an earlier ice hockey game, the first show on November 8th started at 11:45 pm and the second one spilled into November 9th ending at 5:15 am.

Over the last 50 years the “Gimme Shelter” master tape has been licensed by ABKCO for broadcast in many feature films: Adventures in Babysitting, GoodFellas, Casino and 20 Feet From Stardom. It’s been utilized in television: The Simpsons, Dexter, Nip/Tuck and The Vietnam War. The source recording was also incorporated as a trailer for the Discovery Channel’s When We Left Earth, which documented the NASA space missions.

The song has been covered by Ruth Copeland, Grand Funk Railroad, Cal Tjader, Michael Hedges, Divine Horsemen, the Sisters of Mercy, Cud with Sandie Shaw, and Merry Clayton herself.

During a 2015 Jazz Foundation annual benefit concert, A Great Night In Harlem, held at the Apollo Theater in New York, Keith Richards and members of his X-Pensive Winos band, Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler, along with Sarah Dash, paid tribute to Clayton who was severely injured in a near fatal car accident in 2014 losing both her legs at the knees.

Richards and company performed “Gimme Shelter” at the venue. Clayton, who was unable to attend the tribute, accepted the Clark and Gwen Terry Award for Courage via a pre-recorded message.

Merry Clayton is currently recording a gospel album with producer Lou Adler.

Harvey is an award winning author of 15 books. His anthology, Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection Vol. 1, was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone has been nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.

During November 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble published Kubernik’s The Story of The Band From Big Pink to the Last Waltz.

Harvey Kubernik’s 1995 interview, “Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown” is in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader.

Harvey penned the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s KaddishElvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century.

In November 2006, he was a featured speaker discussing audiotape preservation and archiving at special Library of Congress hearings held in Hollywood, California.


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