Mick Taylor is a name that will forever remain synonymous with The Rolling Stones, a guitarist whose contribution, at least instrumentally, cannot be underestimated much less ignored. And while Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ song writing credit was practically bullet proof, to the extent of being almost Machiavellian when it came to copyright, for many years Taylor’s own ideas were left largely forgotten and unrecognised. In other words Jagger and Richards were far more dominating when it came to controlling their product, not to mention their potential fortunes.
Now I must say that Carla Olson is someone I am not all that familiar with, even if she does come with an impressive resume. I bought this album based on Mick Taylor, and Taylor alone, so initially I was a little sceptical and dismissive of her talents. But let me say that she is every bit the consummate guitarist and vocalist as any rock and roll artist on the planet, and a musician who really knows her stuff (and no I’m not being patronising just because she’s a woman). Too Hot for Snakes (AKA Live at the Roxy) was recorded live at The Roxy Theatre, Hollywood in March 1990, and consists of a kick-ass collection of players such as George Callins (guitar), Rick Hemmert (drums), Jesse Sublett (bass guitar), Tom Junior Morgan (sax), Phil Kenzie (sax), John Logan (harmonica), Barry Goldberg (piano), and the one and only Ian McLagan (Hammond organ, piano), who is sadly no longer with us, having passed away in 2014.
The album opens with the upbeat “Never Wanted to Cry”, which rocks along in a Tom Petty meets Keith Richards kind of way. It’s nothing special if you ask me, but nothing to make the listener want to press the forward button either. On “Remember That Moon” Olson establishes herself as a female Richards, albeit without the croaky voice. Her guitar playing certainly owes itself to early ‘70s era Stones. Not a bad thing in my view. “Who Put the Sting on the Honeybee?” grooves along quite nicely, before things get all bluesy with “Slow Rollin’ Train” and “Trying to Hold On”, the latter especially with Taylor’s distinctive slide playing shining through. The listener may want to skip past “Diamonds and Rubies”. Although it does contain some rather fine moments from Taylor and McLagan provided one has the patience to endure the first couple of minutes.
“See the Light” could be a Stones outtake circa Sticky Fingers, but I’m not complaining as long as the whole thing works, which is the most important quality any song can have. “You Can’t Move In” is a little too Thomas the Washboard Tank Engine for me, yet is enjoyable all the same. Olson introduces the next song as from a “classic album”, at which moment Taylor adds “one of those forgotten classics”, before launching into “Broken Hands”, a song Taylor may never have written had he not been with the Stones. Some of the lyrics are a bit corny, but there can be no doubting the excellence in Taylor’s playing. Song’s like these just don’t jump out of no-where. They emanate from years of experience. Not to mention just a pinch of bitterness thrown in.
When I first heard “Sway” it was one of those monstrous tracks that commanded your attention from beginning to end. It’s no secret that Taylor part composed it with Jagger, yet never received any credit. Here the guitarist absolutely owns it, drives it, and puts in one of his finest performances ever, with an extended solo that would put Slash to shame (no offence to Slash by the way). By including this on the LP, it was almost as if Taylor was raising a middle finger to Jagger/Richards, by way of saying “You may take the credit, but these riffs are mine.”
Taylor revisits his John Mayall roots on the instrumental “Hartley Quits”, a song he recorded way back in 1968, before it all slows down with the Olson sung “Midnight Mission”, another track where the listener might be tempted to reach for the remote control. Not so “Silver Train”, the final song of the album, where Taylor is clearly in his element, and no doubt revelling in the opportunity of playing the old tunes again. I’m sure the audience had a smile on their collective faces.
Albums by Mick Taylor seem about as rare as conjunctions between Earth and the outer planets, meaning that Too Hot for Snakes is an important document to own. Carla Olson may not appeal to everyone; however my feeling is that without her this LP would never exist. So what if she’s on the B-side of Tom Petty, my pleasure stems from hearing the guitarist who used to be with The Rolling Stones. A man whose talents were for a long time underappreciated except for those in the know, or who at least had performed with him. Whether he has made his peace with Jagger and Richards, I do not know. One thing’s for sure, he definitely deserves his fair share for helping to create some of the greatest rock ever made.