Even though time is on our side, it’s hard to wait alone for the greatest rock band in the world to make Chicago their stomping grounds, so let’s count the nights together. If you’re excited about The Rolling Stones “50 & Counting” Tour, you already know these rock lords thrive live and in the studio with the help of some sensational guests, and one, a solo artist in his own right, just moved back to Chicago this winter.
“Miss You” was a Stones tune injected with a gigantic jolt of lightning when Harlem-born, harmonica player, Sugar Blue, who spent more than 27 years in Chicago, waltzed into a Parisian recording studio — he was living there in the 1970s — to perform his iconic solo.
“The Stones liked to get in the studio and really jam and that’s really how it happens,” Blue explained. “There’s only so much plotting and planning you can do — this isn’t a war, this is music (Laughs). The legend says that they found me in the Metro and the truth of it is different…but as they said in the old days, later for the truth, let’s print the legend.”
What was it like working with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in the studio? Blue summarized: “When I play, I do my thing. I can’t do anybody else’s thing. All of the music is fairly basic. It’s a one-four-five progression. With Keith being the lover and scholar of the blues as he is, when he brings it to the table, it’s loaded with the truth. Coming from a blues and R & B background, it’s very easy for me to see where he’s coming from. They were easy and fun. It was a hoot and a holler. Once we were hitting it, most of that stuff went down live and you can feel that in the music.”
Blue also played on “We Had It All.” “It was a country tune that Keith did that wasn’t on the original album, Some Girls. “What I like about Keith,” says Blue, “is he really comes from the heart and his musical heart reaches out in many different directions, which is what makes Keith as powerful a center of the Stones as he is, which also speaks to his attributes as a creative musician.”
Blue went on to play blues harp on Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You, although the memories are a bit foggy. “I’ll tell you, this was back in the 1900s! (Laughs). The things that I remember most are the big grins that we shared and the laughter when everything was right in the pocket. And then after the last note is sounded, you wait and you wait and you wait and then everybody explodes. Yeah! It was a great track. Those were the things that stick in my mind — the joy of the creative effort coming to fruition. That’s what I remember most.”
Blue’s early experiences involved some very special musicians that the Stones idolized, too. “When I first got here in 1975, I was hanging out with Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and Big Walter Horton. When I say I was hanging out, I should specify that these men took the time to mentor me and to guide me through the myriad of things that I had to learn to truly understand how to play this music.”
“There were people like Little Walter, Junior Wells and James Cotton. I remember that these guys took the time to explain the life because there’s so much more to the blues than the notes. There is a lifestyle and philosophy that goes along with it that makes the music true in your heart and in your hand. Those are the things that live with me.”
Blue wished “the greatest rock band in the world” a warm welcome prior to the Chicago tour. “Welcome to the Chicago blues scene. Welcome to the home of the blues. Welcome back to your roots because the roots of the Stones are truly the blues and, more specifically, the Chicago blues. They even named themselves after one of Muddy Water’s tunes…”