THE GREAT AMERICANA SONGBOOK 2023: STONES COUNTRY
Wait, what? The Rolling Stones, “The Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band In The World”, were a country act all along? Well, that might be stretching the argument a bit, but with the release of the Stoned Cold Country 60th anniversary Stones covers album, and being chosen as the focus for the much-anticipated The Great Americana Songbook at Black Deer in 2023, it’s maybe time to re-evaluate their country output.
Not everyone’s a great fan of The Rolling Stones’ country songs. And if that’s you, you’re not alone: neither is Mick Jagger. As much as he’s a fan of country – particularly Hank Williams and Merle Haggard – Jagger readily admits that he struggles to sing it, just can’t get his voice around the necessary phrasing. Take some of the Rolling Stones’ best-known songs and put them in the hands of country stars, however, and the results can be phenomenal.
‘Stoned Cold Country’ features Maren Morris singing ‘Dead Flowers’ as a straight country junkie lament, the Zac Brown Band’s version of ‘Paint It, Black’ switches out Brian Jones’ sitar for fiddle and Lainey Wilson – seen in Paramount’s ‘cowboy Sopranos’ drama ’Yellowstone‘ – adds her signature honky tonk rodeo strut to ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. Then there’s Marcus King turning ’Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ into a joyous mix of NOLA jazz meets Skynyrd jam and, just a sigh and melt away, is Black Deer-bound Steve Earle owning ‘Angie’, his fiddle player Jenee Fleenor doubling down on the jeopardy at the heart of the song’s doomed relationship.
The Rolling Stones themselves doing country, however, is a different kettle. Much as it’s bromantic to view their country influence solely through the friendship of Keith Richards and Gram Parsons, those guys didn’t meet until 1968. That was three years after Jagger and Richards wrote ‘We’re Wasting Time’, a tune that showed the band willing to tackle country, but it didn’t surface until a decade later on the mop-up compilation ‘Metamorphosis’, bundled together by former manager and money chancer Allen Klein. Just why ‘We’re Wasting Time’ – ironically Jagger’s most genuine country performance – lay rejected in a dark corner for so long may have something to do with rumours that the singer is the only Stone on the track, the guitar solo allegedly played by top sessioneer of the day Jimmy Page.
It really was Keith and Gram’s friendship, however, that kicked up the band’s country content. ‘Dear Doctor’ on Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed’s ‘Country Honk’ a year later, and Sticky Fingers’ double whammy of ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Dead Flowers’ made the influence explicit. The biggest surprise, however, probably comes via 1978’s Some Girls. Or, more precisely, the 2011 extended reissue with a bonus disc that showed just how different the album might have played had Richards not been staring down a possible seven-year stretch for heroin trafficking in Canada. With Keith distracted, Mick’s interest in Studio 54 and disco became the album’s major musical influence, but the 2011 bonus disc showed the sessions included at least four more country flavoured tracks, including covers of ‘We Had It All’ by Troy Seals and Donnie Fritts, and Hank Williams’ 1952 divorce song ‘You Win Again’. Factor in Jagger and Richards’ own ‘No Spare Parts’ , a surprise No 2 hit on the US Billboard singles chart in 2011, and Some Girls could’ve been their most explicitly country album, instead of their unlikely anti-punk disco comeback.
So, yeah, in some ways The Rolling Stones – like The Beatles via George Harrison’s fascination with Roger McGuinn – weren’t so much a country band as one always and forever influenced by country, an influence that will be more than evident at 2023’s The Great Americana Songbook showcase on Saturday night in Haley’s.
Andy has been a music journalist and editor for thirty years and has worked for MOJO, Q, Smash Hits, NME, Select and Record Collector.
Black Deer presents The Great Americana Songbook 2023, Saturday June 17th, Haley’s Bar, 21.35-22.50.