On May 12, 1972, The Rolling Stones released their seminal “Exile on Main Street” – but lots of folks besides Mick, Keith, Mick, Bill and Charlie helped make the record what it was.
On May 12, 1972, The Rolling Stones released their seminal “Exile on Main Street” – but lots of folks besides Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts helped make the record what it was. Today, on the album’s anniversary, we remember some of them who are no longer with us.
The “Exile on Main Street” sessions stretched over eight months and took place in both France (where the Stones had exiled themselves to avoid the taxman back home) and Los Angeles, but it was rare that all four permanent band members were in the room at the same time. With Richards in the throes a of serious heroin addiction, Jagger busy with his new bride Bianca and their daughter, and Wyman disagreeing with the recording atmosphere in their Nellcôte villa, The Rolling Stones relied on a number of other musicians to complete the double album that many critics would argue was their definitive statement.
Here are some of the other key players:
Born in New Orleans in 1936, singer Shirley Goodman was best known as one half of the 1950s R&B act Shirley and Lee, who scored their biggest hit with the million-selling “Let the Good Times Roll” in 1956. The duo split in 1962 and Goodman moved to California to form a short-lived act with fellow New Orleans native Jessie Hill. She started doing back-up vocals as a session musician in L.A., performing on records by the likes of Sonny & Cher and Dr. John (who also played on “Exile”) before backing up The Stones during the second half of the “Exile” sessions, contributing vocals on “Let it Loose.” She left music for a time but would experience a career resurgence with the disco tune “Shame, Shame, Shame,” which became a worldwide hit in 1974. She died in July of 2005 at the age of 69.
A session musician from north London, Nicky Hopkins’ résumé reads like a who’s who of classic rock, with Hopkins playing on records by The Beatles, The Who, Jeff Beck, The Kinks, Jefferson Airplane, Carly Simon, Joe Cocker, Neil Young and a host of others. He started playing with The Rolling Stones in 1967 and would contribute to their records through 1976. The rollicking piano on “Sympathy for the Devil” is one of the faster numbers he recorded for The Stones as they preferred to use him on ballads (opting for Ian Stewart on the rock songs and Billy Preston for the more soul and R&B flavored tunes). While Led Zeppelin was still in its formative phase, Hopkins declined an invitation to join the band, and for much of his life was unhappy that he didn’t receive royalties on most of the hit albums he played on since he was just considered a hired hand. Late in his life, he enjoyed a lucrative career composing for Japanese film soundtracks before dying in Nashville in 1994 following complications from intestinal surgery. He was 50 years old.
Born in Brooklyn in 1942, Jimmy Miller started as a lounge singer before he worked on hundreds of records as a producer. He remains best remembered for his role in helping The Stones shape some of their finest work – albums like “Beggars Banquet,” “Let it Bleed,” “Sticky Fingers,” and “Goats Head Soup.” He was also on hand for “Exile,” and not only helped produce the record but also contributed drum and percussion tracks, playing on “Happy,” “Shine a Light” and other tracks. “Jimmy was brilliant on Exile,” said Keith Richards. “At the height of his talents.” A worn-out Miller stopped working with The Stones after 1973, but would later produce albums by The Plasmatics, Motorhead, and Primal Scream. He died in Denver, Colorado in 1994 at the age of 52. The cause of death was liver failure.
Keyboardist Billy Preston had a thriving solo career with top 40 hits and a Grammy Award to his name, but he also played with some of the biggest names in rock history, including The Band, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Elton John, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and an outfit called The Beatles. He was signed to their Apple Records label but would hook up with The Rolling Stones after The Beatles disbanded. He played on no fewer than seven of their albums and toured with the band in 1973 and 1976. Though they had a falling out over money in 1977, he would later contribute the odd track here and there and play on solo records by Stones personnel. Other milestones: Preston wrote Joe Cocker’s hit “You Are So Beautiful,” played on Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album, wrote the soundtrack for the film “They Call Me Mister Tibbs,” and was the first musical guest featured on “Saturday Night Live.” He continued playing and recording right up until his death in 2006 of kidney failure.
Most casual fans of The Rolling Stones are probably unaware that one of its co-founders was Ian Stewart, who was the first to respond to the “Musicians Wanted” ad placed by Brian Jones in classified section of Jazz News back in 1962. His ability at the keyboards was well respected, but The Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham thought six people made the stage too crowded – and unlike the skinny Brits, Stewart was a stocky, lantern-jawed Scotsman. Oldham didn’t feel Stewart fit the band’s image and convinced The Stones to fire him – though Stewart agreed to stay on as a road manager and piano player who contributed to every album except “Beggar’s Banquet.” He also played a key role as a sounding board for new material. “Stu was the one guy we tried to please,” said Mick Jagger shortly after Stewart’s death. “We wanted his approval when we were writing or rehearsing a song.” The band even lobbied to get his name included when they were inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Said Keith Richards in his autobiography published last year, “Ian Stewart, I’m still working for him. To me, The Rolling Stones is his band.”