Were you happy with the last record, Undercover?
Yeah, I liked it. It didn't sell perhaps as much as I would have liked, though it sold over 2 million copies — I shouldn't really complain. There was plenty of stuff on it that was mine: "Undercover," "She Was Hot." Keith contributed to all that stuff. Some was completely his. But it wasn't like I was frustrated with it because it wasn't my material.
There will be speculation, I guess, that your solo record means the Stones are winding down.
I don't think so. I mean, we're going into the studio in January, and we're planning a tour for next year. Ronnie said so on MTV! [Laughs] Who am I to say there isn't going to be?
Just to press the point, say five or ten years down the road. . .
Well, forget it! [Laughs] I don't want to think about it!
I mean, there can't really be a Rolling Stones when you're all fifty.
No, I don't think so either. So, maybe subconsciously, I'm thinking, "Hey, I better do it now." I don't want to wait until I'm that old to do it; it seems silly.
It must have been fun to work with new musicians for a change.
Yeah. I started off with Sly [Dunbar] and Robbie [Shakespeare] and all the people I knew, really. We had Jeff Beck, and we had Jan Hammer at the beginning, and then I had Chuck Leavell and Eddie Martinez — he's a guitar player. So that was sort of the beginning, and then later on we had Michael Shrieve on one track. And on the ballad ["Hard Woman"] we had Tony Thompson — he was with Chic. Herbie Hancock did some overdubs. And Pete Townshend played acoustic guitar.
Nice to give the guy a little work now and then.
Yeah. [Laughs] Keep him away from his publishing business at Faber and Faber.
Did you write these songs the way you usually write material for the Stones? Don't you normally headbang with Keith a bit?
Usually, I hit them around with people, with Keith. Sometimes I write them all down and say, "Hey, this is it." Or sometimes I'll say, "Well, this really can use a bridge." This time I really tried to have them done. I got them much more ready than I would have with the Stones, because with the Stones — with any band — the great advantage is that they all kick the tunes around for you. You can't really expect guys that you've got in to do that. But even though I got the demos down, it didn't matter, because the guys that I worked with were very involved. They weren't going, [bored] "Oh, yeah, thanks." In that way, it wasn't really that different from working with the Stones.
How did you pull together the producers, Bill Laswell and Nile Rodgers?
Bill's a real kind of thinking guy — I like the stuff he did. Obviously, I didn't want to make a hip-hop record, and Bill wanted to make a rock & roll record. And so we sat around, talked about musicians, and the idea sort of fell into place. And then Nile was working with Jeff Beck on his album. So then when he finished that, I said, "Maybe it's good to do some tracks with Nile." And I'd written a few different songs. I said to Bill, "I'm going to play them to him," and it went from there.
Did you want it to sound different than the Rolling Stones?
Well, you got to remember that a lot of this stuff is kind of subconscious with musicians. I knew it was never going to sound like the Rolling Stones, and the great thing about it was the mystery: I was throwing elements together, and I didn't know what was going to happen — nor did the musicians. And they were having fun. All of them were really up for it.
For you as a vocalist, what's the difference between singing with a guy like Beck and singing with Keith and Ronnie?
Not a tremendous amount of difference really. I mean, Jeff's very much a lead player; he doesn't like to play parts over and over, which Keith and Ronnie would do. That's a great difference. But I had Eddie to play the parts. And then the similarity is that very few guitar players will play the same solo twice, so you better get it. You know, there's a certain point where you've got to catch that heat, that flash.
Obviously, I know Keith and Woody much better than I know Jeff, though I've known Jeff for years. But I'm not quite as attuned to him or the other musicians when they're really on, whether this guy will play forever like this and get better and better, or whether he's just going to do it once and go, "Well, that's it, guy. You didn't get it. Goodbye."
How did Beck turn out to be?
Very patient. And very hard-working. I went home at like two in the morning, and he was still in there. That's not bad.
Have you thought about videos yet?
Yeah. While I was writing the songs, I was thinking of videos. I was thinking visually a little bit more than normal.
Some people think that's a dangerous trend.
I think it's good. Not all lend themselves to visual treatment, and I'm not saying I wrote or rewrote or changed or whatever. But when you start to get a cinematic approach — when you have something down, and you think about it — it does bring certain images. I mean, the creative thing works in a very odd way. How do you write a song? I don't know. It comes out, and it's a miracle really. It just comes out, and you have these visual images, and you think, well, let's carry them a little bit further and make them a little more cinematic or something.
You know, "Lucky in Love" and "Running Out of Luck"? Before, I would maybe have had to change it: "Oh, I can't have two songs with luck." I use that, so that becomes a kind of slightly thematic thing, if I want to use that for a video.
You almost have a Prince-type piano attack on "Just Another Night."
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Bill [Laswell] did that. And I think we did it well before "When Doves Cry." It was almost contemporary. See, I'm a big Prince fan, I'm not gonna hide that. He was on our '81 tour — you know what happened to him?
He comes on for five minutes, they throw two cans at him, and he leaves.
I mean, he was supposed to do four or five more gigs. He was big then already. He wasn't any kind of thing I discovered under a bush.
That was a tough time for cross-pollination of audiences.
Well, I think it was just the clothes really. The underwear. [Laughs] The underwear! It wasn't the singing or the style or anything like that.
Didn't you think he was a prima donna for not hanging in there and taking the heat?
To be honest, I never saw what happened. I don't think it was really serious. I don't think he was hurt. I mean, hey, they throw a lot of cans anyway. I mean when I go on, they throw everything [laughs].
I went to see him in Detroit, and his audience is all fourteen-year-old girls clutching their Instamatic cameras and screaming their heads off. He ends with this tremendous version of "Purple Rain," but everybody is filing out. And the third night in Detroit he just started screaming at them.
You get these funny audiences. It's got to change the way you act and the show you do. I remember with the Stones, we used to play for a college crowd, and we were used to mature people. They were older. And to go from that to playing for the thirteen-year-olds with the Instamatics who are just screaming and not knowing any of the tunes, really, is kind of weird, you know? The Stones went through this whole phase where we got really bored playing, because all they wanted to hear were the hits, and they didn't want to know about the blues, and we were feeling very blues purist.
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