When Mick Taylor departed from the “world’s greatest rock and roll band” in 1974, otherwise known as The Rolling Stones, people must have thought he was mad. Why on earth would anyone in their right mind leave a band which was, according to fans and even most critics, at the peak of their powers? The answer to that question is not as inexplicable as one might think. By 1974 Taylor had become increasingly resentful over the previous few years as to what he saw as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ refusal to officially acknowledge his musical, not to mention occasional song writing contributions, treating him more as a hired gun than as a fully fledged member of the group (he did however receive a co-writing credit on one song during his tenure, “Ventilator Blues” from Exile on Main Street).
There were other factors of course (he had a serious drug problem and his marriage was failing), but the lack of any real credit by Jagger/Richards was and continues to be something which angers him even to this day. And just to add insult to injury, when the Stones renegotiated their back catalogue in the late 2000’s, Taylor was excluded from receiving any royalties.
It would not be until 1979 that Taylor would finally emerge from his relative period of dormancy, when his self-titled debut album was released. By this time music trends had radically shifted and blues-rock was no longer the commercial draw card it once was. But what else was he to do, record an album with Boney M? I don’t think so.
“Leather Jacket” is the opener, and it’s not bad. Taylor may not have the strongest of vocals, but it fits in well with the music presented here, as it does on the rest of the album. It is alleged that he wrote this song as a way of taking a quiet jab at Jagger, and with lyrics such as “And you move through your world as if it were a dance/You never keep your fortune that you made in the south of France”, it’s more than possible that this is true. The bluesy “Alabama” is a semi acoustic number about being on the road, where Taylor lays down some delicious slide, and could easily be an outtake from Exile. “Slow Blues” is exactly that, all blues and no bullshit. Taylor has never sounded better, and whose playing is proof enough that he was one of England’s pre-eminent guitarists with regards to that particular genre. A timeless piece. Maybe not so the next track, “Baby I Want You”, a laid-back ballad in that late 70’s style.
It could be that Taylor was hoping to write something which may have had a chance of being played on the radio, but in an age of ELO and new wave, I reckon the poor bastard had Buckley’s. What redeems it is the impeccable guitar playing, which sounds professional and earthy all at the same time. The last track on side one is “Broken Hands”, and is the most ‘Stonesy’ on the album, as if Taylor was deliberately referencing the contribution he made on all those classic Rolling Stones records. It’s certainly the most enjoyable track of the LP, and gives him a chance to repeat some of those qualities which made albums such as Exile… and It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll so pleasurable, where Taylor succeeded in adding just the right amount of texture and sophistication alongside Richards’ more scruffy and prehistoric chords. The only element missing is Keef and Charlie Watts to complete the sonic palette. Regardless, it remains a minor classic, and the sort of track the record could have done with a little more of.
Taylor had played with Little Feat when they performed at London’s Rainbow Theatre in 1977. Taylor and Lowell George must have struck a chord with each other, because side two opens with “Giddy-Up” (a very Lowell inspired title if there was ever one), and one which sees the two guitarists exchanging licks, and just jamming out albeit in an extremely organised fashion. Lowell kicks things off with some dirty and contaminated slide, after which Taylor responds with some clean and sanitized slide of his own. The whole yin yang works perfectly, to the point that one wishes that they had of made an entire album together. “S.W.5” reveals Taylor’s weakness as a vocalist, but the sentiment of his singing and playing more than compensates. Once again, the guitar is reminiscent of his days with the Stones, which gives a clear indication of just how important a benefaction he really made.
No brilliant guitarist can be worth their weight in Rosewood if they haven’t composed at least one epic. And “Spanish/A Minor” is Taylor’s own offering to the great instrumental alter. As the title suggests, the first several minutes are a fusion of Spanish guitar and almost Pink Floydian atmospherics. At about the mid way point Taylor breaks out into a stylish and stormy solo, but before long the heavens change into a more temperate envelope of weather, with delicate piano and some soft though stinging guitar notes, as if to remind us that Taylor still had some unfinished business to settle. He also throws in a subtle reference to “Time Waits for No-one”, as if to say, ‘I’m the one who played that, and don’t you forget it’.
Unsurprisingly the album failed to make much of a dent in the charts. However I’m sure that was never really Taylor’s intention to begin with. And while it might be a statement of sorts, fans at least had reason to celebrate the guitarist’s re-awakening from his several years of slumber. Above all things, one truth this LP establishes is that the Stones would never be the same without him. Perhaps they should have paid more attention.