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50 Licks: Myths and Stories from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones
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50 Licks: Myths and Stories from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones

by Peter Fornatale

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Behold the Rolling Stones: run-ins with the law, chart-topping successes, and now the World's Greatest Continually Operating Rock and Roll Band. 50 Licks tells the story of the Stones, right from its very origins.

On July 12, 1962, London's Marquee Club debuted a new act, a blues-inflected rock band named after a Muddy Waters song-the Rolling Stones.


Behold the Rolling Stones: run-ins with the law, chart-topping successes, and now the World's Greatest Continually Operating Rock and Roll Band. 50 Licks tells the story of the Stones, right from its very origins.

On July 12, 1962, London's Marquee Club debuted a new act, a blues-inflected rock band named after a Muddy Waters song-the Rolling Stones. They were a hard-edged band with a flair for the dramatic, styling themselves as the devil's answer to the sainted Beatles.

A young, inexperienced producer named Andrew Loog Oldham first heard the band at a session he remembers with four words: "I fell in love." Though unfamiliar with such basic industry practices as mixing a recording, he made a brilliant decision-he pitched the band to a studio that had passed on the Beatles. Afraid to make the same mistake twice, they signed the Stones, and began a history-making career.

This is just one of the fifty classic stories that make up 50 Licks, each named for a different Stones song. Many are never before told, some are from exclusive interviews-including with elusive bassist Bill Wyman-and all are told by the people who lived them. Part oral history, part memorabilia, this fiftieth anniversary book is the Stones album every collector will need to have.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his final book, the late Fornatale (Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends) misses his intended mark but still scores a hit with this ramshackle collection of observations, stories, and ephemera surrounding one of rock's most iconic bands. Using 50 songs as its proposed thematic axis, Fornatale promptly abandons it after the table of contents, preferring to offer 287 pages of anecdotes, photos, and off-the-cuff analysis. Readers willing to abandon any expectations (not even the songs/chapters are organized chronologically by release) will likely find Fornatale to be an unabashed admirer of the band, and it's on that level that the book succeeds. Among the real beauties here are Keith Richards's thoughts on the pressure of following up a hit like "Satisfaction", John Lennon's harsh remarks regarding the band ("Satanic Majesties is Sargeant Pepper"), the often-silent Charlie Watts on Brian Jones's demise, and the artful collage of comments surrounding the creation of "Exile on Main Street" from the involved parties. Casual listeners expecting a literal song-by-song analysis will be sorely disappointed, but Stones fans interested in the details of the band's career will likely find this to be a highly entertaining read that'll give them a deeper appreciation of the band's legacy.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher

“Pete Fornatale offers 50 classic stories from 50 years of the Rolling Stones, many never heard before, and some exclusive interviews with, amongst others, former bassist Bill Wyman.” —Choice (UK)

“A highly entertaining read that'll give [fans] a deeper appreciation of the band's legacy.” —Publishers Weekly

“[A] nice look at the Stones as musicians, celebrities, and young men growing to maturity in the public eye.” —Booklist

Library Journal
Fifty years, 50 cool stories (or "Licks"), each named for a different Rolling Stones song and often drawn from previously unavailable material. FM rock pioneer Fornatale, who died in April, joined with Corbett—the radio voice of Harvard University football and a lifelong Rolling Stones nut—to deliver another celebratory piece on the Band That Played On…and On.
Kirkus Reviews
A numbingly familiar look back at the Stones' 50-year career. Pete Fornatale (Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock and How It Changed a Generation, 2010, etc.), who died in April 2012, was a longtime host at New York's WNEW, an FM radio power with access to some of the biggest names of the classic-rock era. Old on-air interviews with most of the Stones conducted by the author and his colleague Dave Herman serve as the foundation for this fawning oral history, much of which will be old news to fans of the band. The biggest problem with any rehash of the group's career at this point is that nearly everyone with a tale to tell has already told it at full length. Band members Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Ronnie Wood have all published their own books, some of which are excerpted here. Mick Jagger hasn't taken pen in hand yet, but he is already a past master of the interview that says nothing. A lengthy sit-down with Pete Fornatale, conducted in 1989 on the launch of the Stones' clothing line, is a main attraction here, and it could not be more vacuous. Is there anything new to be gleaned about the band's early history from Andrew Loog Oldham or Marianne Faithfull after their fine memoirs? Can journalist Robert Greenfield offer any fresh insights about the band's 1972 tour not found in his definitive report STP? At the other end of the interview spectrum, the writer offers wince-inducing recollections from the hoi polloi: co-author Bernard Corbett on his junior high years as a Stones fan, radio engineer Jeremy Rainer on his duty as an extra in the concert movie Shine a Light. Dully told and messily designed, the book is a dutifully assembled piece of anniversary product that does little to illuminate the Stones' saga. The Stones' dog-eared story is better told in a dozen other accounts.

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Bloomsbury USA
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7.14(w) x 9.82(h) x 0.64(d)

Read an Excerpt


Myths and Stories from Half a Century of the Rolling Stones

By Pete Fornatale, Bernard M. Corbett, Peter Thomas Fornatale


Copyright © 2013 Pete Fornatale and Bernard M. Corbett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60819-921-1




Every great story has to start somewhere. So where does this great story start?

July 12, 1962, was the first time that an entity publicly described as "Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones" took the stage. It happened at the fabled Marquee Club in London, opening for the late, great Long John Baldry (known for a tune that went, "Don't try to lay no 'boo-jee woo-jee' on the king of rock 'n' roll!").

Wait a minute. "Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones"? In the early days, the Rolling Stones were very much Brian Jones's band.

DICK TAYLOR: Brian Jones pulled Mick and Keith and then myself into the band. We were definitely Stones at that point. All the elements were there, apart from Bill Wyman, because at various rehearsals Charlie played.

Brian's head must have exploded when he saw that billing, but it is explainable.

BILL WYMAN: Brian was the leader of the Rolling Stones for a year and a half. He formed the Rolling Stones.

CHARLIE WATTS: He worked very hard, Brian.

BILL WYMAN: He organized the whole thing when nobody would accept us, nobody would book us in clubs, nobody. He used to write letters to the magazines and things.

CHARLIE WATTS: I was in this very strange situation with the Rolling Stones because I used to play in a band that the Rolling Stones used to knock because they had all the gigs: Alexis Korner. We had somewhere to play. It was a bum jazz night, which was Thursday, a no-money night, and Alexis turned it into the biggest night of the week financially for the club, which was a big thing in London. And there was a helluva lot of animosity about it all. And Brian thought that the Rolling Stones were as good as Alexis's band and he wanted the club owners to give his band a chance. Alexis got all these people together really. He gave you a stage to play on. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about when I used to play with him. It was a really good band at one time, but you're talking about real history now. That's when Brian was really fighting.

As Charlie points out above, actual Thursday night residency at the Marquee belonged to Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, but on this particular July Thursday the group was booked for a very high-profile appearance on the BBC Jazz Club broadcast. So Baldry was bumped up to headline at the club, and an opportunity was thus created for this shiny new ensemble revolving around Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ian Stewart, Dick Taylor, and Tony Chapman. But still, shouldn't it have been "Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones"? Or rather "Elmo Lewis and the Rolling Stones," since Jones was still using his pseudonym at the time?

Since earlier in the year, Mick had been a regular vocalist with Korner's ensemble band. But the BBC budget only allowed for a total of six musicians, and Mick was the odd man out for Jazz Club and didn't make the trip. Since his name was already known to the Marquee Club regulars, it was slapped onto the blurb about the gig. It signaled some sense of Thursday night continuity: in Korner's absence, the club would be serving up business as usual. Needless to say, it was anything but "business as usual."

So how does a band get from one good gig to the biggest stages in the world—for half a century? Well, it's a process of mix and match, trial and error, charisma and chemistry. Let's not forget addition and subtraction. For instance, subtract Chapman and Taylor; add Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman.

DICK TAYLOR: There were various little things which nudged me towards not continuing. Basically, the bass thing was one of them, because I felt I always wanted to play guitar. I think if I had been the guitarist in the Stones ... But I must say, there was no personality clashes or anything like that. We all got on very well. That's one of the things that I think everybody should know, that while I know that they had their problems later between Brian and Keith, in that time everybody got on very, very well.

The early days were not easy. Keith Richards tells a story about collecting cans for their deposits so he could buy guitar strings.

BILL WYMAN: Those first six or nine months it was really hard to get gigs.

CHARLIE WATTS: Then you joined, then I joined and we had nothing, man.

Brian, Mick, and Keith lived together in a flat in Edith Grove (along with another roommate, James Phelge, who would go on to provide half of the Stones' nom de plume in the early days, Nanker Phelge). The place was a notorious dump.

DICK TAYLOR: I couldn't believe it. I'd been to a few places that were a bit squalid. I think Edith Grove really took the biscuit.

BILL WYMAN: Nobody would book us, they were all into traditional jazz. And some blues groups. Brian used to write to the BBC to ask for auditions. And we went down for an audition, to play, and afterwards they rejected us. They said the band is OK, we could use them for American musicians that come over, blues musicians, but the singer's no good, he sounds too colored. That was the reason they rejected us. And Brian would write to the music papers letters saying what he thought blues was, and he was in a band that played a Chicago form of blues, and he would really get involved in all that when everybody else was almost giving up. And nobody had any money. The band was almost breaking up at different points. There were people coming and going, different musicians.

CHARLIE WATTS: I was out of work at the time. Because me and him are the only two people who actually had jobs. And I was out of work and I used to hang around with Brian and Keith, and their days used to be mad. They'd just sit around all day, actually they'd sleep all day, and sit around all night listening to Jimmy Reed, the same record. I can remember listening to these records. And I'd never heard of Jimmy Reed at that time. Well, I had but it was very new to me. They showed me how good those people were.

BILL WYMAN: I used to borrow records, learn them by heart, and sell them for breakfast.

The hard work and blues obsession eventually started to pay off as the new lineup, including Charlie and Bill, started to build a following.

JOHN MAYALL: I heard them first on a Sunday afternoon at a club where they had a residency. It was very professional. They had a really good repertoire. They were a really exciting band and they had it all together. The thing that struck me was the reaction of the audience. They were really getting off on it and everybody knew there was something happening.

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. On this first night of going out publicly in front of approximately 150 people, most of whom could be described as middle class bohemian blues purists, stick to the basics. Build on the shoulders of the masters who got you here in the first place. No one expects any original compositions from a fledgling entry on the R&B circuit. No one wants attempts by someone with future songwriting potential to slow down another blues-drenched Thursday. In fact, quite the contrary. They want tried-and-true classics to propel them into the last workday of the week, so they can pick up their paychecks and make their plans to party for the entire weekend ahead. That means selecting a repertoire that leans heavily on those acknowledged masters, and covering the hell out of them for your entire time on stage.

The Stones took the stage, and opened up with an internationally known rock 'n' roll hit written in 1952 by the seminal songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Originally called "K.C. Loving" by Little Willie Littlefield, the title was changed seven years later to "Kansas City," and a new version by Wilbert Harrison made it all the way to number one on the popularity charts. The Stones (and for that matter the Beatles) probably became aware of it from a cover version by Little Richard that became a hit in the United Kingdom in 1959. Mr. Penniman performed it in a medley with his own song "Hey, Hey, Hey," which is exactly how the Fab Four recorded it on their Beatles for Sale album at the end of 1964.

Not surprisingly, the Stones also covered selections from the sacred blues canon, by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and no fewer than six songs (fully one third of their entire set) by Jimmy Reed: "Honey What's Wrong," "Bright Lights, Big City," "Hush, Hush," "Ride 'Em on Down," "Kind of Lonesome," and "Big Boss Man." Also not surprisingly, they did the Chuck Berry hit "Back in the USA." But very surprisingly, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones covered a song called "Tell Me That You Love Me" that was written by Canadian teen heartthrob Paul Anka. (As he proved once again on a recent PBS tribute to the late Buddy Holly, Anka earned his street cred in the formative days of rock 'n' roll music. The Stones' decision to cover him in their debut is a testament to it.)

In summation, a quartet of musicians that music historians regard as four sixths of the original Rolling Stones came together under that name on that sweaty July night in 1962.

We began this chapter with a question, so let's end it with two more:

Was this the night that changed the music world forever?


Was this the night that would be worth celebrating as the fiftieth anniversary of the Rolling Stones in 2012?


Excerpted from 50 LICKS by Pete Fornatale. Copyright © 2013 by Pete Fornatale and Bernard M. Corbett. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Pete Fornatale was an award-winning broadcaster and author, and a fixture on the New York radio scene for four decades. 50 Licks was his final book.
Bernard M. Corbett is the radio voice of Boston University hockey and Harvard University football. He is the author and co-author of fifteen books. He lives in Stoneham, Massachusetts, and is a lifelong Rolling Stones fan.
Peter Thomas Fornatale is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn, New York. His favorite Rolling Stone is Charlie Watts.

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