It’s a shame about Mick Taylor. The former Rolling Stones guitarist has surfaced in the middle pages of the Mail on Sunday, now aged 61, skint as a tramp, fat as a pork butcher and living in a tiny hovel in rural Suffolk with thirty-five years of smack and coke abuse on his doctor’s notes. An ignominious life for an ex-member of the ‘greatest rock and roll band in the world’.
The Stones have made a billion and a half quid out of their records and tours – and that’s without the tons of cash and publishing rights to their most famous songs that Allen Klein swindled them out of – but they stopped paying Taylor his royalties in 1982, when they changed record companies and a lawyer told them to drop him from the payroll.
Taylor was a great blues guitarist and his joining the Rolling Stones was musically providential for him and them: they were musically limited but possessed of classic chops, attitude, preternatural rhythmic ability and steeped in black American popular music of the last seventy-five years; Taylor was a 20-year-old blues guitar virtuoso whose fluent playing put him in the top league of British guitarists back then. He gave them ‘guitar hero’ credibility and ability in the age of Hendrix and Clapton; they stopped him disappearing up his own arse musically. The results of this alliance can be heard across more than half a dozen LPs from 1969 to 1974, which for me constitute the high water mark of the band’s achievement. Everything before was a brilliant rehearsal of that period; everything after was a soggy cliché. As my friend and fellow blogger Mark Brentano has heard me say too many times in public houses: the Stones finished the day Mick Taylor left them.
It is a well known fact among we amateur Stonesologists that Taylor contributed to the songwriting of this period and that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards kept all the publishing for themselves, probably because they’d been so comprehensively rolled by Klein.
It’s seems clear from Taylor’s comments that he was the archetypal aloof musical protégé who thought that great musical talent was an unanswerable Monopoly card that could be used as a proxy for common sense. I’ve got a pal like that, whom I love dearly, and who is currently drinking himself to death in one of southern England’s more deprived seaside towns.
However, the Stones should cough up some cash for Mick Taylor, it’s as simple as that. The band’s leaders are, as has been noted many times, hard characters that take great exception to resignations. ‘A cross between an English gentlemen’s club and the mafia’, was how an insider described the band’s internal workings back in the day. But 35 years have passed and Taylor’s virtually an old aged pensioner. The band members could all give him half a mill and never know it was gone. Taylor says he’s finally going to the lawyers. It will be interesting for Stones-watchers to see if they settle out of court or go for the gamble.
Mick Taylor's fate is ironic, when you think about it: When he joined the band he was a teetotal, non-smoking vegan, five years younger than the rest of them. He became a long-distance drug addict and now looks ten years older than the rest of them (barring the kippered macacque that is Richards). Looking at Taylor’s picture in the paper I was reminded of Feste at the end of Twelfth Night: ‘And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.’