Graham Reid | | 1 min read
In June 1964, when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were still only 20, the Rolling Stones took time out from their short American tour to head into the famous Chess studios at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
With famed engineer Ron Malo, who had worked with many of the blues giants who had walked through Chess, they recorded five songs which appeared on the subsequent EP 5x5.
"Ron Malo got a good sound almost immediately," said Bill Wyman, "and we worked for four hours cutting four tracks. We knew pretty well the numbers we wanted to get in the can and the atmosphere was so marvellous that we we got through them in double-quick time.
"We were thrilled to be visiited by guitarist Buddy Guy and songwriter Willie Dixon, who tried to sell us some of his songs."
Charlie Watts noted, "The biggest advantage of recording strong rhythm and blues in Chicago was that the engineers were a lot more used to that sort of music. I don't think anyone anywhere could record this type of music as effectively as they did in Chicago."
Among the 10 songs they ran through the following day -- some of which remain unreleased -- was Chuck Berry's Down the Road Apiece (Chuck stopped by and said "Swing on, gentlemen, you are sounding most well, if I may say so") and their instrumental tribute to Chess, a groove which they called 20120 South Michigan Avenue.
There was also Empty Heart which they credited to their alter-persona Nanker Phelge.
As a slice of electric country blues it doesn't really go anywhere but boasts terrific guitar parts by Brian Jones and Richards, harmonica in the distance and Ian Stewart on organ.
They never played it live and although it reappeared on the 12x5 album it has been largely overlooked. But the confidence of the playing, the interweaving threads of the instrumentation and the fact it is little more than an idea spun out to song length shows how assured they were, even at this early stage.
They were also working hard. Within days of the sessions they were back in Britain and Europe for another tour (31 dates in about 60 days, sometimes playing two shows a day) as well as doing interviews and television appearances.
A year after their first single, constant touring in Britain, two albums in and Chess sessions behind them they were on their way.
For more on-offs or songs with an interesting back-story see From the Vaults.