Chicago Plays The Stones
They’ve been celebrating this music since the ’60s, but the Rolling Stones really amped up their adulation of the songs and giants of Chicago blues with their acclaimed 2016 album Blue and Lonesome. There was always an irony in the fact that it took a British band to introduce much of America to the kings and queens of Chicago blues, but it was with the utmost sincerity that the Stones first covered these songs and then came to Chicago to be at Chess Studios and hang out with heroes like Muddy Waters. The gritty, urban, amplified and electrifying sound of Chicago blues was tapped by the original rock ’n’ rollers of the ’50s and even more so by the Rolling Stones starting in the mid-’60s. Blues titans like Muddy and Buddy Guy recognized and benefitted from the Stones’ outspoken adoration of them and their Windy City brethren, and a long-lasting cross-continental kinship was born.
This is what spawned the idea of Chicago Plays the Stones—even before the Stones announced the coming of Blue and Lonesome. Producer Larry Skoller and co-producer/arranger Vincent Bucher had already been working up Chicago-blues covers of Rolling Stones songs dating from the ’60s to the ’90s. “In May of 2016, I was asked to produce Chicago Plays the Stones, timed to be released in conjunction with the Chicago opening of Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones in April of 2017,” says Skoller. “The idea was to bring a set of Stones songs ‘back home’ by playing them with a Chicago blues groove—to imagine them as tunes played by Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed and the other Chicago blues icons the Stones have idolized and covered.”
A particular challenge inherent in the making of Chicago Plays the Stones was the need to respect and reflect the expanded chord structures and melodies of these Rolling Stones songs while also staying true to the sound, spirit and energy of vintage Chicago blues. This is where the inspired arrangements and performances of Chicago Plays the Stones shine the brightest. Pouring power and soulfulness into these songs are the one and only Buddy Guy (“Heartbreaker”) and young singer/harp wizard Omar Coleman (“I Go Wild”). Also crossing generations are Sonny Boy Williamson student/Bo Diddley right-hand man/Chicago legend in his own right Billy Boy Arnold (“Play with Fire”) and wicked singer/guitar slinger Carlos Johnson (“Out of Control”). Even the most famous Stones smashes receive Windy City breaths of fresh air, sounding energized and alive even as they hearken back to the Chess Records heyday, including “Satisfaction” (Ronnie Baker Brooks), “Sympathy for the Devil” (Billy Branch), “Miss You” (Mike Avery), “Gimme Shelter” (Leanne Faine), “Angie” (John Primer) and “Beast of Burden”(Jimmy Burns).
Special guests “sittin’ in” is a time-honored tradition in Chicago blues, and those guests here are none other than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Mr. Jagger lends his voice, harmonica and enthusiastic stamp of approval to Buddy Guy and the band’s rendition of “Heartbreaker.” Mr. Richards bestows his rhythm guitar work on “Beast of Burden” along side the classic voice of Jimmy Burns. Longtime Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin joined members of the Grammy-nominated Living History band to provide the backbone for Chicago Plays the Stones, digging into the compositions while keeping things nice, loose and heavily bluesy in the most Chicago of ways. “I wanted to capture that raw, live Stones vibe and energy in the studio, and present the songs as if Wolf or Muddy’s bands had played them.” And thus, the kinship between the Stones and Chicago—and between rock and blues—lives on.