Read the true story of the creation of legendary Rolling Stones’ bootleg “Bedspring Symphony,” a personal vocal performance of “Honky Tonk Women” by Mick Jagger, and how it all led to a revelation about the meaning of life, in my memoir, NEVER SAY NO TO A ROCK STAR: IN THE STUDIO WITH DYLAN, JAGGER, SINATRA AND MORE, available now. Here’s an excerpt:
In my mind’s eye, I was sitting in the control room of studio R-2. It was September of 1974. I had not yet reached my 19th birthday.
The King Biscuit Flower Hour, a syndicated radio program that broadcast live recordings of the greatest bands of the time, booked studio time with Phil to remix tapes of the Rolling Stones recorded in Brussels during their ’73 European tour. Mick was coming in to supervise the remix. We’d be spending the next several days together.
Waiting for Mick Jagger to arrive at the studio was agonizing. Having become apprenticed to my master almost a year before, I had already worked with a number of famous people, but none that I loved. My heart beat with tremulous excitement.
Like a true star, in the same way that the Stones would build excitement by getting on stage at the last possible moment, Jagger waited in the wings till we were all assembled in the control room so he could make his grand entrance.
The 31-year-old Jagger, in a billowy green silk shirt, a blue ascot with yellow polka-dots, tight black pants and low, black leather boots, blew into the room, affecting shyness. In his deliciously crusty Mockney baritone, he asked, “Am I in the right place?”
The question was ironic. How could Mick Jagger ever be in the wrong place?
For once, the reality beat the fantasy. Mick could shine his charm on a room of 4 or 5 as brilliantly as he could light up a stadium of 50,000. With his moppy hair, crinkly eyes, and toothy smile, he was radiant, spectacular, gorgeous.
We were all deferential to the future Sir. Even Ramone, whose first record was the Grammy-winning Girl From Ipanema, who later recorded Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and had worked with the scariest artists from Streisand, to Paul Simon, to McCartney, seemed a little humbled by the presence of Mr. D. Usually, Phil was fiercely possessive of his console. But for some unknown reason, without Mick saying a word, he yielded the mixing seat to Mick, who sat down and placed his fingers on the red faders. These were the sliding volume controls for the various instruments: Bill’s steady bass, Charlie’s propulsive kick, snare, toms, and cymbals, Mick Taylor’s crying lead guitar, Keith’s indomitable, archetypal guitar riffs, assorted horns, keys, and background vocals, and Mick’s own manically-inspired lead vocals.
We listened to the first song, “Brown Sugar.” Mick adjusted the balance between the instruments, trying to get a blend that would bring you into the middle of the concert.
I was pulled back to 2005, my reverie disturbed by the explosions, fanfare, and the crowd’s ritual cheer that greeted the band when they finally emerged on stage. It was like seeing some more old friends, also noticeably aged, but still having it. Duke and I sat on the right, Keith’s side. As the memory of Charlie pounding the tom-toms and Keith’s syncopated guitar chops on “Brown Sugar” morphed into the real live opening chords of “Start Me Up,” I was lifted out of my seat, and filled with joy. If I didn’t have the same endurance I had in ’72, I had a deeper appreciation of the music. I knew every note by heart now. As I had discovered the limits of my own talent through the years, I knew how impossibly magical it was to create such a transcendent spell.
When Mick pointed his finger in the air and pulled the mic toward him, his weathered face dissolved, replaced by the one I had seen so many years ago. As I watched the band in front of me, I saw other, older pictures in my mind.
I sat inches from young Mick, at his side, by the console, watching his hands on the red faders. Usually, when a mix was in process, the mixer would become quite precious about the placement of these faders. Balancing the instruments could be a delicate affair, and when you got something you liked you were very careful to keep the slider in a very precise place. Before the advent of digital recording, it was my job to notate exactly where every knob in the studio was placed, so we could always get the magic back.
But Jagger, after playing with the mix for a while, got frustrated, and knocked down all the faders to zero, ruining all that he had just built up. He got out of his seat, growling, “Ahh!” and signaled Ramone to take over.
Ramone, without hesitation, leapt behind the board to ride the faders like he was running a thoroughbred, swooning and tapping his foot, bringing his mystic vibe into the proceedings. But as amazing as he could be, this wasn’t his thing. He was more a jazz, folk, and pop man, not a rocker.
As Ramone tweaked the timbre of Keith’s guitar, Mick looked at me, without Phil seeing. He rolled his eyes and crinkled his nose, signaling he wasn’t happy with the sound Ramone was getting. Nodding back at Mick, I intuited that he wanted something tougher than the clean sound Phil was going for. Mick tilted his head, encouraging me to crank it. He wanted me to sharpen the tone, using what we called an “outboard equalizer” which sat behind Ramone, out of his view. Behind Phil’s back, I twisted the “EQ” knob all the way up to boost the midrange, so Keith’s guitar would rub in your face. Jagger nodded his approval and smiled at me. I swooned. I never told Ramone that little secret. It was just between me and Mick.
This memory suffused me with a warm glow, as I watched Jagger on the stage circa 2005, his voice as strong as ever, if somewhat thicker with the decades. My smile broadened, as I remembered how, after the EQ moment, Mick had seemed to take a liking to me. Or maybe he was just a sweet guy who was nice to all the assistant engineers. He’d come into the studio and walk straight to me, gently punch me a few times, rub my long, curly red hair and say, “How ya doin’ Gin-jah?”
With that, I ascended to a realm somewhere between heaven and nirvana. I’m straight, but if he would’ve asked, I would’ve said yes to spilling some beans all night long. READ MORE