Although one of the most philosophically oriented and intelligent performers around today, Mick Jagger is also one of the most laconic. Since the departure of Andrew Oldham from the affairs of the Rolling Stones, the burden of directing the affairs of the group have fallen on Mick, leaving him little time for much else, including interviews, photographs and all the other routines of the rock and roll star.
This interview and the photographs — probably the finest of Mick Jagger in the last two or three years — were completed in June at the Rolling Stones’ business offices in London. The interview was conducted by Jonathan Cott, assisted by Sue Cox. Although it is not the most thorough and complete set of questions and answers it is nonetheless the most extensive discussion yet available with Mick Jagger about the Rolling Stones — Someday the rest will be filled in, but in the meantime it’s a pleasure to present this as a starter.
The first thing we would like to talk about are your old songs like “Poison Ivy,” “Route 66” and . . .
“Poison Ivy,” did we ever record that? Oh, yeah. We did two versions of that. I don’t know which one you have ’cause it was never released in this country [England]. Where was it released in America?
It wasn’t released in America, it was put out in England. It was a very early recording with three other things, an EP.
Right, “Bye Bye Johnny” and “Better Move On.” That was the second version.
Why did you choose that type of material in the beginning?
Well, I mean, we were kids, you know, just kids. We did everything and that was a groove. You see “Poison Ivy” was unknown in this country. It wasn’t a hit here by the Coasters, and other songs like “Money” were totally unheard of.
Like “I’m a King Bee”?
Well, that was pretty unheard of in America. What I mean is, there were a lot of these hit records in the states that nobody knew about here, we did them and after we thought they weren’t good; but at the time it was right.
But the Stones made these songs popular.
No, not really. Everybody did those kind of songs: The Beatles, The Hollies, The Searchers, everyone. I can’t explain why.
Isn’t it true that with songs like “Come On” and “King Bee” you really re-discovered Slim Harpo and Chuck Berry for a lot of Americans who never listened to that kind of music before?
Yeah. They never knew anything about it and that’s why we stopped doing blues. We didn’t want to do blues forever, we just wanted to turn people on to other people who were very good and not carry on doing it ourselves. So you could say that we did blues to turn people on, but why they should be turned on by us is unbelievably stupid. I mean what’s the point in listening to us doing “I’m A King Bee” when you can listen to Slim Harpo doing it?
At that time did you think you were going to be a writer and get into all your own things as you have?
No, I really didn’t think about it much.
Your change in style came about when you thought enough people had been turned on to blues?
I think our change came about the same time a lot of the beat groups started. When there were no hit groups and the Beatles were playing The Cavern. We were blues purists who liked ever so commercial things but never did them on stage because we were so horrible and so aware of being blues purists, you know what I mean? You see nobody knew each other in those days. We didn’t know the Beatles and the Animals and the this and that and the other group yet we were all doing the same material. We used to be so surprised to hear other people do the same things we were doing. The thing is that the public didn’t know about any of this music because the record companies were issuing hundreds of singles a week so naturally most people missed a huge lot of them.
What were the first things you wrote?
The first thing was “Tell Me.” Well, that wasn’t the first thing we wrote but it was one of the first things we recorded that we had written. Also, “As Tears Go By,” “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday,” which was a hit here by Gene Pitney. We were writing ballads, don’t ask me why.
How did you come to record “I Wanna Be Your Man,” the Beatles thing?
Well, we knew them by then and we were rehearsing and Andrew [Oldham] brought Paul and John down to the rehearsal. They said they had this tune, they were really hustlers then. I mean the way they used to hustle tunes was great: “Hey Mick, we’ve got this great song” [done with a John Lennon accent]. So they played it and we thought it sounded pretty commercial, which is what we were looking for, so we did it like Elmore James or something. I haven’t heard it for ages but it must be prety freaky ’cause nobody really produced it. The guy who happened to be our manager at the time was a 50-year-old northern mill owner [Eric Easton]. It was completely crackers, but it was a hit and sounded great on stage.