The Story of Mick Jagger’s Unreleased Blues Album
If the process of recording blues classics with the Rolling Stones for their upcoming Blue & Lonesome LP felt familiar for Mick Jagger, it wasn't just because he knew all the songs by heart — he'd also done this kind of thing before.
Jagger's previous brush with an album of blues standards took place in 1992, while he was working with producer Rick Rubin on the solo LP that ultimately morphed into Wandering Spirit the following year. Rubin was also working with a Los Angeles band called the Red Devils, who he'd signed to his Def American imprint — and whose standing gig at the city's King King club had drawn attention from a growing list of famous rockers. Tipped off to the band, Jagger turned up at the King King in May 1992 and sat in for a performance that included Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" and Little Walter's take on "Blues With a Feeling."
For Jagger, who'd been toying with the idea of a blues record since the Stones finished their Steel Wheels tour, the show was just the spark he needed to actually get down to work. Using Rubin as a middleman, he summoned the band to Hollywood's Ocean Way Recording studio in June, pausing the Wandering Spirit sessions for a day of running through some of the singer's favorite numbers. According to Dan LeRoy's book The Greatest Music Never Sold: Secrets of Legendary Lost Albums by David Bowie, Seal, Beastie Boys, Chicago, Mick Jagger and More, the Devils were paid a flat fee of $750 for the session, which Jagger called to order by plunking down a pile of records.
"He said, 'Okay, guys, these are my favorite records," recalled bassist Johnny Ray Bartel. "I'm gonna play 'em once for you, and then we're all gonna jam along to the original versions. And then we're gonna record it.' Basically what he wanted was the ultimate spontaneity and not a whole lot of rehearsing at all, and just nail it down really quick and let's see what we get."
What they got was a 13-hour blues marathon that produced more than a dozen songs — most of which were tracked in a few takes. Although it wasn't enough to derail Wandering Spirit, Rubin publicly predicted the Red Devils sessions would be released "someday" — though in the meantime, the Devils were left without any real assurances, or even a copy of the tapes. They continued to build a reputation through their live shows, and Rubin would later hook them up with Johnny Cash in the fall of 1993, but Jagger was already on to the next thing.
Even though the Red Devils sessions remain officially unreleased — with the exception of the track "Checkin' Up on My Baby," which worked its way onto 2007's The Very Best of Mick Jagger compilation — tapes eventually found their way into circulation. In LeRoy's book, Bartel speculates that singer Lester Butler got his hands on a cassette that he "sold to some Italian guys" who turned it into a bootleg, while drummer Bill Bateman recounts the night a member of Jagger's entourage "hoodwinked" Rubin's "right-hand gal" and made off with a CD burned from the DAT masters.
However they made their way out into the world, the songs Jagger cut during his day with the Red Devils are readily available to anyone interested in seeking them out — and as you can hear above, they offer an interesting window into Jagger's lifelong fondness for the blues as well as an entertaining appetizer for Blue & Lonesome.
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