Of all the guitarists who came out of the ‘British Blues Boom’ of the late 60’s, I’d have to say that Peter Green remains my favourite, but Mick Taylor is not far behind. I think I must be one of the few people who was really enthused by Mick’s first solo album (Mick Taylor, 1979) because, rather than in spite, of the fact that it is such a diverse record, travelling from bluesy Stones-ish rock to spacey jazz-fusion in the space of about 40 minutes. It would be nice to think that Taylor’s eclectic approach was deliberate but in those days I still knew some record biz insiders who told me that the guitarist’s errrr…….lifestyle choices had turned the whole process of producing a finished album into a Grade A nightmare, so it may be that the album was a collection of the best available stuff from a huge number of sessions over several years at a wide range of studios and with a diverse crew of musicians. Check the sleeve notes if you don’t believe me. When the album did finally appear, neither Taylor or Columbia seemed of a mind to promote it at all, so it remained a curio and its author seemed to retreat into private life.
Which, let’s face it is a damn shame……. Mick Taylor was a very good guitarist in John Mayall’s 1968-9 bands and he was by some distance the best musician ever to be a Rolling Stone. He just wasn’t reallly that good at being a rock star. Just thinking back to his days with the Stones, there were some real classics, beginning with ‘Love in Vain’ on ‘Get yer ya-yas out’ and running through ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Can you hear me knocking?’ to ‘Time waits for no-one’, which was probably the only thing on ‘It’s only rock & roll’ worth listening to more than once.
Anyway, I have finally tracked down a copy of his ‘A Stone’s Throw’ album from 2000, which features a fairly stable crew of musicians, including former Jeff Beck keyboardist, Max Middleton. The first thing that strikes me is how much MT has come on as a singer – the first track is a gentle rocker called ‘Secret Affair‘ and he sings and plays brilliantly. In fact the guitar-playing throughout shows that Taylor has lost none of his talent. What he has added is a solid if unspectacular flair for writing & singing his own songs – 8 of the 10 tracks here are self-penned.
‘Twisted Sister’ is probably the album’s one true dud – with ropey lyrics about being ‘a caged tiger’ and ‘needing some meat’ and an extraordinary guitar fluff about 2 minutes in, but other than that it’s a really impressive album. ‘Never fall in love again‘ features some excellent slide guitar, ‘Morning comes’ is an atmospheric, jazzy piece with great Middleton piano that evokes the spirit of his first solo album before sliding into a smokey blues. ‘Lost in the desert’ features clattering percussion and some crisp playing whilst ‘Blues in the Morning’ is just as the title suggests and shows Taylor at his fluent inventive best. The album finishes with Taylor’s own version of Dylan’s ‘Blind Willie McTell’ – he played on the 1983 original of this song and here, he turns in an excellent cover version.
Somehow, it’s always a pleasure when you sit down to listen to a record for which you have low (or no) expectations and discover that it’s actually far, far better than you had expected it to be. The Eagles’ ‘Long road out of Eden’ was probably another prime recent example of this and ‘A Stone’s Throw’ falls under the same heading. I’m just sorry that it’s taken me nearly 10 years to catch up with it.