Taylor was technically the best guitarist who passed through the Rolling Stones - doing solos that Keith
Jones and Ron
Wood could only dream of - but
his personality did not suit the band, and eventually that led to his
departure. However, few would argue that his years in the Stones (1969-74)
coincided with the band’s best moments. He had previously been discovered by John
Mayall and then continued to demonstrate his class with people like Bob
Dylan and Carla Olson, but it
was his years in the Stones that make up the bulk of our favorite Taylor
moments on guitar:
Mick Taylor made a name, almost as a teenager, with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, following in the mythical steps of Eric Clapton and Peter Green. Among his albums with Mayall, Blues From Laurel Canyon, recorded in August '68, stands out, when Taylor was only 19 years old, but despite this fact his style had already been forged, as can be seen on 2401, a song about Zappa and his close friends (the mythical GTO included) in which the young guitar prodigy shows that he is already a master of the slide.
Jiving Sister Fanny
Taylor entered the Stones in time to contribute a couple of songs to their best record to date, Let It Bleed. His inclusion came at the the band’s peak and would be part of their golden period, creating with Keith Richards the sound they would be remembered for. His ability as a soloist allowed Keith to focus on what he knew best, riffs and rhythm, which formed the band’s heart and allowed Taylor to fly. In one of his first sessions with the band he recorded the incredible Jiving Sister Fanny - that showed that they had chosen the right guitarist. On this track you can already see what they will do in the 70s, it really sounds something like the basement where they recorded Exile On Main Street, with all that dirtyness, cockiness and swagger; and a Taylor totally on fire.
The guitarist debuted as an official member of the Stones at the legendary Hyde Park concert on July 5, 1969, two days after the death of the man he replaced, Brian Jones. During that first tour he used his SG more than the legendary ‘59 Les Paul Standard that had belonged to Richards. It is with the SG that he takes a step further, with the bluesy Midnight Rambler, which found its definitive version in the take that appears on the live Get Yer Ya Ya's Out. This was an album that proved that, with Taylor on board, the Stones could say without blushing that they were "the biggest rock and roll band on the planet". After six and a half minutes Taylor is unleashed and produces some of the most incredible licks ever played.
Sticky Fingers was the first studio album Taylor recorded as a full member. It was the third masterpiece in a row by the band and, possibly, represents Taylor's best moments as a Stone. The most outstanding piece comes in Sway, a ballad on which Richards doesn’t play. In fact, it is Mick Jagger who plays rhythm guitar, and demonstrates the tremendous chemistry between the two Micks, with Taylor offering two incredible solos with his Les Paul, the first with the 'slide' and the second without it; this is one of my all time favorites.
Can't You Hear Me Knocking
The song that best explains the Stone sound and supports those who think that the band lived its best moments with Taylor. It starts with my favorite Keith riff of his entire career (and that means it's one of my 10 all-time favorites), while Taylor serves as a perfect counterpoint. It is pure rock'n'roll, dirty and dangerous, with a glorious chorus but when it seems that it is over, the band starts a 'jam' with a lot of Latin flavor and Bobby Keys on saxophone, and Taylor guitar decide that it is the perfect moment to demonstrate their skills as soloists. Taylor shows off with several nods to Santana and shows that, technically, he is the best guitarist that the band ever had.
Another gem from Sticky Fingers in which the band, specifically Richards, gives free rein to his passion for country. Keith and Taylor again demonstrate how well they work together on this song in which Taylor extracts from his Gibson ES-345 a very country-like tone, sounding almost like a pedal steel.
Shine A Light
The Stones were on a roll, or you could say in a vein, and their next piece of work would be the culmination of this incredible stage, Exile On Main Street, the album that would complete the poker of masterpieces on a roll. Recorded in 1971, in exile on the French Riviera, it was here that Taylor began to get hooked on drugs. This was something that was not very difficult, considering that the album was recorded in Richards’ mansion, in which heroin was the daily bread. So much so that, on one occasion, Taylor pulled his guitar cable and watched as one of Keith's friends fell over with the cable on his forearm. The result was, at the same time, the best album of their career (and one of the best five of all time) and the end of that golden period. The big party, before the big hangover. Even so Taylor’s contributions continued to excel, as his incredible solo on Shine A Light proves, one of the band’s great songs that again demonstrated how well he adapts to the band's ballads.
All Down The Line
But if one thing can be confirmed on Exile On Main Street it is that Taylor had reached the distinction of being an absolute master of the slide, as you can see on gems like All Down The Line, Stop Breaking Down and Soul Survivor. Perhaps the first of these is my personal favorite, with Richards creating the best background for Taylor to shine.
Goat's Head Soap was a small downer after ‘the orgy of creativity’ that Exile had represented, but that did not mean that it was without great songs. One of the best was this mid-tempo that, as in Sway, had Jagger as rhythm guitarist and that, as that one, Taylor affirms that it had something to do with his composition. What is clear is that it is one of his best moments in the band, one of those in which you remember the words of Richards, "sometimes I was in awe listening to Mick Taylor". You can also hear the tremendous influence that Taylor has had on Slash.
Time Waits For No One
But Taylor's favorite personal moment in the Stones came on the last album he recorded with the band, It's Only Rock 'n' Roll. The track is Time Waits For No One, which can only be considered as his wonderful musical farewell letter of the Stones; a solo that is absolutely beautiful and lyrical. It has a tone that is beauty in itself and the perfect use of what sounds like a Phase Shifter pedal. On this, Taylor shines; on a song that is very different from the Stones’ canon.