Blues Brothers: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards & Jack White

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Was Exile on Main Street an important album for you?
White: I didn't know much about Exile until Meg and I did the first White Stripes album [The White Stripes, 1999]. We covered "Stop Breaking Down," but we did it from Robert Johnson. I didn't know it was on Exile. Aftermath and Beggars Banquet were the Stones albums I listened to. Then someone told me, "The Stones do 'Stop Breaking Down,' too." My roommate at the time – Exile was his favorite album. He played it for me.

Keith, the Stones played Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley songs from the start but didn't cover the older bluesmen – Robert Johnson and Fred McDowell – until Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers. 
Richards: We were slowly going back. When I was into Chuck and Bo, I wanted to know what they were listening to. Who turned him on? When Chuck Berry started out, he wanted to be Nat "King" Cole. And he did a damn good imitation.

White: The more you look into it, it's all the same family, and you're lucky to be part of it. The difference is, Charley Patton didn't get his photo taken very often. Son House didn't get to make that many records. But you pull certain things from those guys. From Kokomo Arnold, I get the vocal phrasing. From Blind Willie Johnson, it's the slide [guitar].

One amazing sequence in "Shine a Light" is when Buddy Guy comes out for the Muddy Waters song "Champagne and Reefer." He looks ready to kill, like this is not going to be just a friendly jam.
Richards: That was the high point of the film for me. He came in steaming. I looked at him and knew – the night is on. When he took the stage, everybody else wanted to move back.

Then, at the end of the song, you give him your guitar.
Richards: It's one of my favorites, too. That was straight off the top of my head: "It's yours, baby." With everything going on that night, with this movie, I thought, "This is my respect to Buddy and to Muddy and all the other guys who turned me on."

Do you feel cheated, Jack, that you won't meet and play with your favorite bluesmen because so many are gone?
White: The problem now is if you want to work with somebody – if that somebody is still alive – you do it on one of those compilations or tribute records. Last year I got asked, "Do you want to play with Jerry Lee Lewis?" It was for one of those records. Yeah, I do want to play with Jerry Lee Lewis. But I don't want to do it like that. I want it to be where we can both get something out of it.

Photos: The Many Guises of Jack White

The Stones have made concert movies since the Sixties. Did you see any great music films as a young man, Keith?
Richards: Jazz on a Summer's Day [Bert Stern's 1960 film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival]. I think it was in 1962. We were on the way to a gig, and we stopped off at the Hammersmith Odeon [in London], Brian [Jones] and me. We were carrying our axes.

There was some incredible jazz in that movie. But it was the shots of Chuck Berry – his moves and the disdain of the jazz band playing with him. It was amazing. Chuck had this big coat on. Lit from beneath, he looked like a devil.

Jack, did you see Stones films like Gimme Shelter and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones when you were young?
White: I saw Gimme Shelter. And at a house I lived in, we had a grainy copy of Cocksucker Blues, so we watched that a few times [laughs]. Is there a nice copy of that movie? That's what I want to know.

Richards: Once we started getting into Shine a Light, I got all the Stones movies from our office. I didn't want to look at them. The only one I did watch was Cocksucker Blues.

That movie is famous mostly for the sex and drug scenes and the fact that it never came out. When I saw it, I found parts of it boring. Maybe debauchery is only interesting if you're doing it.
Richards: There are highlights, but the highlights are the shows. The rest is a grind. You get a perverse delight out of the grind. My memory of that time is a little hazy. That's why I watch it so much [smiles], so I can remember what happened. The monument to the unknown junkie is one of the best bits of cinema. But some of the cats died, like [cameraman] Danny Seymour. There wasn't anything involved in making that movie. We got used to the cats hanging around, in everybody's rooms. You carried on, doing what you did.

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