Rolling Stones Producer Don Was Says Band 'Surprised Themselves' on New Album

Rolling Stones
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Goldenvoice

Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Chuck Leavell and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones perform during Desert Trip at the Empire Polo Club on October 14, 2016, in Indio, California.

We've gotten a glimpse into the Rolling Stones' sessions for their upcoming blues covers album Blue & Lonesome courtesy of the video for "Hate To See You Go," one of two Little Walter songs on the collection.

The nearly three-and-a-half minute clip shows the Stones, including a harmonica-playing Mick Jagger and bassist Darryl Jones, working on the songs last December at British Grove Studios, blending in street scenes from New York and Chicago and some split-screen images. The video conveys the casual, second-nature feel of the project, which was a surprise development in the studio.

"It was an inadvertent left turn," co-producer Don Was tells Billboard. "We were in the studio recording something new and sometimes you've got to walk away from a song before you come back to it. So we needed to cleanse the palette and Keith [Richards] said, 'Let's play 'Blue & Lonesome' and thankfully we pressed record and we went in to hear it and it was just incredible. So we said, 'Let's do another one. Let's do another one. Let's do another one.' And by the end of the day we had six songs so, yeah, of course we go back and do it a second day and then went into a third day and finish the record."

Blue & Lonesome, of course, returns the Stones to their roots, both in terms of the members' tastes as well as early albums that featured more blues and R&B covers than original material. "I really think it captures the band at their rawest and finest," says Was, who's been working with the Stones since 1994's Voodoo Lounge and has also helmed deluxe reissues of Exile on Main St. and Sticky Fingers. "You really hear what a great singer Mick is. You hear what a great harmonica player he is, highly underrated. You hear the blend between Ronnie [Wood] and Keith turn into this monstrous guitar; It's just a larger than life, powerful sound. And you hear Charlie Watts driving this thing with his incredibly laid-back, deep pocket. And they were just having fun, without pride of ownership. I think they were just able to let go."

Was adds that, "I think they may have surprised themselves. I think everyone was surprised by how authentic and how soulful it sounded. It's something they do recreationally. They hadn't thought about it as professionals, and by the time they thought about it, it was done, which is a great way to work."

Blue & Lonesome features a dozen songs, including tracks made famous by Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Memphis Slim, Buddy Johnson and more, with Eric Clapton, who was at British Grove working on his I Still Do album, guesting on "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" and Jim Keltner providing percussion for "Hoo Doo Blues." Was says the album represents every cover the Stones worked on during the sessions. As for what happened to those original songs, the Stones gave Billboard an update on those at the New York opening of their career retrospective Exhibitionism. 


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