Live Stones Trib: 6 Sizzling Guitar Solos from Mick Taylor

by Peter Wendel
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MickTaylor72

Mick Taylor in ’72

I would argue that guitarist Mick Taylor’s relatively brief tenure, from June of 1969 to December of 1974, marked the pinnacle of the Rolling Stones’ high-flying, 55-year run.

The other Mick – a guitar virtuoso with a pedigree that includes an early stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – was an integral architect of the Stones’ Golden Era.

As far as studio work goes, the “Taylor Years” produced Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St., Goats Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll. Not a bad little string, by any standard.

Did I mention that all five of those studio albums made it to #1 in either America or the UK, or both? Well, they did.

Taylor & Richards: The Perfect Blend

With MT on lead guitar and Keith Richards on rhythm, the Stones found their perfect musical mix. Mick’s super-smooth, almost laid-back, lead presented an opposite and contrary force to Keith’s sharper, more jagged play. Contrary forces, yet at the same time the two styles were complementary – an instrumental yin and yang.

Keith-Richards_and_guitar

Richards

To use a culinary metaphor, each style created a thirst for the other – the musical equivalent of sweet and salty. In cyclical fashion, one quenched the other.

Taylor, who was all of 20 when he played his debut concert with the Stones in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969, would take the band’s onstage performances to a whole new level – earning the adulation of millions around the world and firmly establishing the Stones as one of the greatest live acts in rock history.

For proof of MT’s upward influence, look no further than the Stones’ 1969 American Tour – a run that arguably produced the band’s finest live music. It was Taylor’s first tour, having just replaced the band’s founder Brian Jones, whose addiction to drugs and alcohol had destroyed his ability to contribute to the band. Taylor quickly made his mark on America, laying down sizzling, silky-smooth solos executed with an effortlessness reminiscent of guys like Clapton, Allman and Hendrix.

A Tribute to MT’s Dazzling Live Work

We’ve assembled a sampling of MT’s awe-inspiring live work from 1969 to 1972, including stunning solos from classics like “Gimme Shelter,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Love in Vain” and “No Expectations.”

Let’s start with “Sympathy for the Devil,” the apocalyptic song from Beggars Banquet that features bad-boy frontman Mick Jagger as Satan himself. This version of “Sympathy” (below) from November 28, 1969, at Madison Square Garden is a good jumping off point because it includes searing solos from both Taylor and Richards so you can hear each guitarists’ style and sound, one right after the other.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
The Rolling Stones
Live in New York City 1969

The best of both worlds! Here we have back-to-back solos from Taylor and Richards. MT serves up his signature style and sound: bright, bouncy and as smooth and supple as the day is long. Keith’s solo, in comparison, is jagged and pointed, like tacks popping through paper. Keith gets things started at 3:12. Taylor takes over at 4:28 and lets loose for 2 minutes straight. As with many of his solos, MT starts slow and easy, but by the end he’s worked himself into a full-blown frenzy.

Here’s a video that isolates MT’s solo.

The remaining live recordings are in alphabetical order.

DEAD FLOWERS
The Rolling Stones
Live at the Leeds 1971

Taylor delivers bright and breezy fills throughout, and then lays down a dazzling solo at 2:31. His speed and precision will make your head spin. His contributions give the song wings.

GIMME SHELTER
The Rolling Stones
Live in Philadelphia 1972

MT’s ferocious, fire-breathing play takes this live performance of “Gimme Shelter” to a whole new level. He fires up the flamethrower at 1:59, and in his characteristically unassuming fashion, burns the place down. We love Ronnie Wood, but Taylor took “Gimme Shelter” higher.

LOVE IN VAIN
The Rolling Stones
Live in Baltimore 1969

This live version of Robert Johnson’s mournful blues number, “Love in Vain,” showcases Taylor’s extraordinary slide skills. This particular live performance – November 26, 1969, at the Baltimore Civic Center – is captured on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out and features not one but two magnificent solos from MT. Jagger’s aching vocals amid Taylor’s melancholy slide work combine to make this rendition a true masterpiece. MT starts his first solo at 2:08 following Jagger’s lyrics, “cry on, baby.” It’s a thing of beauty (and just as dirty as can be), rivaling his legendary slide play on “No Expectations” (listen below). For good measure, Taylor hits us with another sizzling solo going into the close (4:10).

Here’s a video isolating MT’s magnificent slide solo.

MIDNIGHT RAMBLER
The Rolling Stones
Live in New York City 1969

Hold on tight for this one! Taylor lights the fuse at about 6:35, serving up ripping leads (amid Jagger’s vocals) that set the stage for a filthy, balls-out blues solo (7:46) as the song closes. The only problem I can find with the solo is that it’s too damn short. The recording is from November 28, 1969, at Madison Square Garden (second show). It appears on the Stones’ live album, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out (1970).

NO EXPECTATIONS 
The Rolling Stones
Live in Hyde Park 1969

MT, only 20 years old at the time, gives a slide guitar clinic during his first live performance of “No Expectations” on July 5, 1969. It was a free concert in Hyde Park – a tribute to Rolling Stones’ founder Brian Jones who had died just two days earlier. Jones’ down-home acoustic slide is featured on the studio version of the song from Beggars Banquet, but the rare live versions with MT that came later take the tune even higher up the mountain. In his debut performance, Taylor serves up his first slide solo at 1:38 and another going into the close at 2:59. Why Jagger and Richards let him leave the band is one of the biggest mistakes they ever made.

Let’s raise a glass to Mick Taylor. His brief but brilliant tenure made the Rolling Stones even better!

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach Mountain Jam, The All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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