By Jeremy Miles
MICK Taylor is one of the great unsung heroes of rock. One of the finest blues guitarists of his generation, he managed to play with the mighty Rolling Stones for five solid years and record some of the best albums ever committed to vinyl, yet walked away from it all relatively unknown.
This is a man who started his career with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – head-hunted at 18 to replace the brilliant Peter Green. Mind you, they knew exactly how good he was. Two years earlier Taylor had wandered back stage and offered his services when the Blues Breakers’ then lead guitarist, Eric Clapton, had failed to show. A bemused Mayall handed him Clapton’s guitar and by the end of the gig knew that he had just heard one of the great developing talents.
Taylor went on to join the Stones as a replacement for founder guitarist Brian Jones and has since played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Buddy Guy.
In this age of celebrity however, he has achieved the near impossible. Partial anonymity.
He is rarely photographed and, stop a dozen people on the street and the chances are they will never have heard of him.
This is even more remarkable because 59-year-old Taylor is still working and still as brilliant as ever. He is simply one of those musicians who gets on with the job rather than courting publicity.
However, his profile may be about to receive a welcome boost as he revealed when I caught up with him as he prepared for a gig with his all-star blues band at Landmarc in Bournemouth at the end of the month.
He had just been going through some drawers at his Suffolk home and found a series of old diaries from the early 70s. Now he says he is seriously thinking of writing an autobiography.
“I’d like to write something that’s accessible to everyone rather than just musicians and I think I’m at the right age now to look back and comment with a little bit of wisdom and a lot of experience.”
Some of his experiences have been extraordinary. His time with the Stones, from 1969 to 1974, included all their finest albums from Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers through Exile on Main Street to Goat’s Head Soup and It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll.
His first gig was a baptism of fire – the famed Hyde Park concert that turned into a memorial for his predecessor, found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool. He was also, of course, at Altamont, the ill-fated festival in California that descended into a nightmare of drugs and violence and ended with a fan – Meredith Hunter – being stabbed to death in front of the stage.
For many, Altamont – a seething pit of malcontent in a mud-strewn speedway arena policed by Hell’s Angels – marked the death of the hippy dream. The horror of the festival was the subject of the documentary Gimme Shelter by the film-makers David and Albert Maysles.
“That film perfectly captures the sheer anarchy, chaos and violence and just the lack of control,” said Taylor. “The Stones, myself included, were a bit naive taking that gig on.”
He admitted that when the violence erupted the band feared for their lives. “We were terrified and that’s what made us keep on playing. It wasn’t like a cricket match where we could stop because of the weather or crowd problems.”
He says he did not know at the time that anyone had died. “I remember seeing this guy [Meredith Hunter] in a lime green suit running towards the stage and realised that possibly someone had plunged a knife into his back.
“But actually that may be a reflection, rather than me seeing it at the time. It’s probably based mainly on my memories of watching the rushes of the film with the rest of the band afterwards.”
What he is sure of is that he felt lucky to get out alive. “It was absolute chaos. I remember flying out of there in a helicopter and being really glad it was over.”
Although he split from the Stones after a well-publicised row over song credits, Taylor remains hugely proud of his contribution to the band’s back catalogue.
“Listen to some of the solos on things like Time Waits For No One and Can’t You Hear Me Knocking. They’re wonderful!
“The guitar solo on Time Waits For No One in particular is fantastic. I don’t think there are too many things that I’ve done that have ever bettered that – not on record anyway.”
Taylor has many fans in the music business, not least Bob Dylan, who hired him to play on his Infidels album and then asked him to help form a live road band.
He enjoyed working with Dylan, saying: “The whole reason that he hired me was because I was a blues player. His understanding of American music is extraordinary and he gives you space to really play.”
He admits that not everyone finds Dylan easy. “I have known a few people who found it difficult working with Bob because he was too loose, didn’t give enough structure or maybe because he didn’t talk very much but you know it’s all instinctive. And actually we used to talk about a lot of things. I loved working with him. It was one of the highlights of my career so far.”
• Mick Taylor’s All Star Band with Denny Newman on guitar, Kuma Hurada on bass, Max Middleton on keyboards and Jeff Allen on drums plays Landmarc in Exeter Road, Bournemouth, on Sunday, November 30, 2008