Like Grand Rapids’ own legend, Jimmie Stagger, The Rolling Stones are shining a bright spotlight on the genre that invigorated rock ‘n’ roll. Check out the Local Spins review of the new album.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Occasionally, Local Spins publisher and editor John Sinkevics offers up commentary on national and regional developments on the music scene, much as he did for many years on Sundays as a music critic and newspaper columnist. Today, he tackles the latest release from The Rolling Stones.
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The headline on Rolling Stone magazine’s review of The Rolling Stones’ latest album says a lot about the mainstream’s myopic perspective on the blues.
“The Rolling Stones Reinvigorate the Blues on ‘Blue and Lonesome,’ ’’ it blares.
The truth is, blues music doesn’t need reinvigoration – just an acknowledgment from the masses
that this genre is what invigorated rock ’n’ roll to begin with.
Luckily, The Rolling Stones themselves (and not surprisingly, considering their history of being steeped in the blues) pay tribute to seminal blues artists in the most flattering and rousing way possible: by absolutely killing it on this 12-song, all-covers collection of blues gems which initially was recorded over just a few days on a whim and produced by Michigan’s own Don Was.
“Blue & Lonesome” stands as a powerful testament to the enduring contributions of too-often-forgotten bluesmen such as Lightnin’ Slim (who died of stomach cancer in Detroit in 1974), Magic Sam (who was only 32 when died in Chicago in 1969) and Little Johnny Taylor (who passed away in Arkansas in 2002), giving these songs the grittiness, soul and vintage feel that they deserve – and hopefully, educating a new audience to the power of the originals.
Then there’s the full-bore Stones cavort on “Ride ’Em on Down,” which is actually based on a 1930s romp by late Delta/country blues icon Bukka White, a relative of B.B. King’s who also had a profound influence on Grand Rapids’ own Jimmie Stagger, who housed the guitarist during shows here back in the day. (Watch a video for “Ride ‘Em on Down” below.)
Interestingly, Stagger paid the same sort of respect to the pivotal impact of the blues with his own 2015 release, “Graveyard of My Own” – his first new studio album in 14 years – which reveled in classics by White, Tommy Johnson and others.
Indeed, Stagger and The Rolling Stones themselves qualify as old bluesmen now, deserving of reverence for their own contributions to the abiding legacy of this genre.
To his credit, Rolling Stones reviewer David Fricke (who probably didn’t concoct the headline on his piece) rightly recounts The Rolling Stones’ commitment to the blues from their very inception and cites the original artists covered. He also spotlights “the hot-plate jump of the guitars over the chasing rhythm in the Little Walter sprint ‘I Gotta Go’; the feral, stalking tension in Magic Sam’s ‘All of Your Love’ as Jagger tears at the title lyric like an upper-octave Howlin’ Wolf.”
Add to that the snarl of Jagger’s voice and harmonica blasts on the title track, longtime Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell’s masterful blues romps on “Just Your Fool” and “All of Your Love,” and Keith Richards’ gorgeously muscular guitar nuances and biting lead on Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (adding to Jagger’s ferocious screams and squawks) that brilliantly wraps up the album, and “Blue and Lonesome” does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
It honors those that came before them while staying true to themselves.
Leavell may have put it best in an email exchange with me: “What can I say — a classic!”
VIDEO: The Rolling Stones, “Ride ‘Em on Down”
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