It’s as if The Rolling Stones’ career has come full circle. They began with early albums in ‘60s covering a number of blues tunes from originators. Two years ago they released Blue and Lonesome, an album of a dozen blues covers. Just two months ago they collaborated with Chicago blues musicians to release Chicago Plays the Stones and now they’ve worked in conjunction with BMG and Universal to hand pick 42 essential blues tracks on Confessin’ the Blues.
By now we all know that The Stones recorded at Chess in Chicago. You can summon up any number of YouTube videos where they play alongside Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, or Buddy Guy. (maybe others too). Yet their role in this project is humble. There is very little on the cover or even in the liners that speaks to the Rolling Stones. The band wants the focus on the original artists; where it should be. So, aside from Ronny Woods’ cover art and a couple of quotes, one would have to look carefully to ostensibly see how The Stones factor into this project. Kudos to them for not assuming the spotlight.
There will be no commentary on any individual track. You’ve heard all these songs at one time or another, just not sequenced and arranged this way. But, even one without an advance notice of this project could quickly review the song list and quickly recognize that The Rolling Stones have recorded many. After all, Blue and Lonesome accounts for twelve and by this writer’s conservative count, they have recorded 26 of the 42, including the title track and several other well knowns like “Prodigal Son” from Beggars Banquet and “You Gotta Move “ from Sticky Fingers to name just two. Several others were likely performed in live shows. Yet, this does not make it a self-serving effort. It’s important that folks hear the original tunes from the pioneers and it also makes it fun to compare them to The Stones versions.
The booklet is a treasure as music journalist Colin Larkin gives an overview of the importance of the blues and detailed commentary on each track. The names are explicitly familiar running from the Dela bluesmen like Robert Johnson, and Reverend Robert Wilkins to, of course, Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf, the Chicago bluesmen like Magic Sam, Elmore James, Otis Rush, Little Walter and Buddy Guy, to the rock n rollers like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley – 26 different artists in all. Four from Howlin’ Wolf and three from Muddy, Little Walter and Bo Diddley represent the most from each individual artist, while several others have two.
Over the years, many bluesmen have expressed gratitude to The Rolling Stones for making U.S. audiences aware of them. Even today, you’ll hear that from Buddy Guy, if you attend his live show. It’s well documented by now that Mick Jagger’s first love was the blues. Jagger recounts, “The first Muddy Waters album that was really popular was Muddy Waters at Newport, which was the first album I ever bought.” Ronnie Wood says, “That’s how Mick and Keith first got close as well, on the train coming back from college. They noticed each other’s record collection and it was, ‘Hey, you’ve got Muddy Waters. You must be a good guy. Let’s form a band’.”
As such big supporters of the blues, the band and BMG have decided that 10% of BMG’s net receipts will be donated to the non-profit Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation to keep the blues and historical projects like this one alive. The album will be available as a 2-CD set, 2×2 vinyl LP set and 5×10” vinyl book-pack (mimicking the original 78 rpm releases).
If you’ve listened to Blue and Lonesome, you know that The Rolling Stones, despite their blues-rock moniker, can deliver blues purely and authentically. Knowing that they can play that way, makes it a no-brainer to realize they can pick out the vital blues chestnuts.