TBT – Mick Jagger and The Red Devils Kill It On “The Famous Blues Sessions”
Editor’s Note: This week, Throwback Thursday looks at a cult classic, recorded in 1992, and never “officially” released. To this day however, it is one of the most sought after blues albums by fans and collectors alike.
In 1992 producer Rick Rubin was working with Mick Jagger on his third solo album, Wandering Spirit. At the time, he recommended a band he had been working with to Jagger. Jagger checked them out at the club King King, where they had recorded several live sets that became the album King King, produced by Rubin. According to Red Devils bassist Johnny Ray Bartel, none of the songs were rehearsed, with most being done in three takes or less. Jagger had wanted to “recreate the spontaneous, rough and tumble quality of his favorite early Chicago blues.”
Recorded at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, one noted session in particular, lasting thirteen hours, yielded thirteen songs. The Rabbit label bootleg issue, Mick Jagger and The Red Devils – The Famous Blues Sessions, contains 21 tracks including alternate takes. For the most part, the sound quality of the CD is actually pretty good. Jagger and The Red Devils did a brilliant job imbuing these performances with the “rough and tumble” quality he was hoping to achieve. The recordings were extremely successful in this regard.
The Red Devils are: Lester Butler – harp and vocals, Mick Jagger – vocals, Dave Lee Bartel – guitar, Paul Size – guitar, Johnny Ray Bartel – bass, and Bill Bateman on drums.
The performances laid down here are magnificent indeed. Even so, we did have our favorites. The seminal Little Walter hit “Blues With A Feeling” has Mick moaning, and the stripped down sound of the band, along with the melancholy harp, come together for a beautifully mournful sound. “Ain’t Your Business,” as played here, has more depth and bounce than the Hound Dog Taylor version most are familiar with; this version stomps and swings! The Sonny Boy Williamson II classic “Checkin’ Up On My Baby,” as performed here is scintillating as it bubbles and simmers, with Mick and the band in peak from. “One Way Out” is closer to the Elmore James version, and Jagger’s vocal is bold, and has that patented Mick Jagger swagger to it. Bukka White’s “Shake’em On Down” positively struts and strolls here with a vigor that is palpable. The Willie Dixon composition, Elmore James hit “Can’t Hold Out,” listed here as “Talk To Me Baby,” jumps and swings. “Dream Girl Blues” is decadently slow, and Jagger’s delivery is sultry, with the band laying down a spectacularly slow, grinding groove.
This album sounds like it was recorded live in the alley behind the club. It is loose, fluid blues, having the same live, spur of the moment, let’s-put-it-down intimacy as those beloved Chess studio recordings we love so much. The Famous Blues Sessions is a work of love, and a thing of beauty. Poke around online and you’ll probably be able to find some form of this available. If you can get hold of a good sounding copy, do it!