Mick T Part IV! 

Popular mythology - per ROLLING STONE magazine and your average classic rawk radio station anyway - would have it that Mick Taylor disappeared after his official announcement on December 12, 1974, that he had left the Stones. Reports of his disappearance are, of course, are rather exaggerated.

 The initial course of action after leaving the Stones was his working with the Jack Bruce Band. A few small vinyl appearances by Taylor did surface in early 1975; he had recorded two tracks with Robin Millar at London’s Apple Studios in August of 1974 with Andy Johns at the helm; the single “Catch as Catch Can” b/w “For My Life” was released in early 1975, with Taylor on both sides. In October of 1974, Taylor had recorded one song, “Day of the Percherons,” with Tom Newman; that track appeared on Newman’s February 1975 LP FINE OLD TOM. But obviously it was the music to be made with Jack Bruce that was most important.

Bruce was obviously most famous for his work with Cream, but after Cream broke up, he had released some very critically acclaimed solo albums, as well as recording with jazz drummer Tony Williams and guitarist extraordinaire John McLaughlin. His post-Cream work took his playing to a higher level of musicianship, exploring progressive rock and jazz fusion flavors: musician’s music. None of this work had struck the commercial public as successfully as Cream, and that band has remained to this day his calling card. The word that he would play with another ex-Bluesbreaker raised the general public’s potential expectations of a return to that Cream sound, but his new band featured not one but two keyboard players - Carla Bley and Ronnie Leahy (CRAWDADDY and ROLLING STONE reported that Max Middleton would be in the band, but that changed, though Mick has played with Max in the 80’s and 90’s!!). Jack Bruce had hopes that jazz powerhouse Tony Williams would be available, but when he was not, drummer Bruce Gary stepped in.

Apparently, a key link in Taylor’s leap to the Jack Bruce Band was Stones engineer Andy Johns, as described in Steve Appleford’s 1997 book THE ROLLING STONES: IT’S ONLY ROCK’N’ROLL: SONG BY SONG. He writes: “Johns and Taylor were about the same age, in their mid-twenties, and had by then spent a lot of time together, most recently hanging out during the 1973 European tour and at the Jamaica sessions for GOAT’S HEAD SOUP. In Munich, Johns says, “He was whining and moaning: ‘I never get to do what I want, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this much longer.’ And I’m going, ‘What are you crazy?! You’re going to quit the Stones? You’re out of your fucking mind!’”

Before IT’S ONLY ROCK’N’ROLL was finished, Johns’ own heroin problem had grown so severe that he wasn’t invited back to the sessions after the holiday break. He eventually went to work for Jack Bruce, formerly singer and bassist with Cream, who was then organizing a new band. Johns called Taylor. “Come one man, you’ve been talking about this for ages, quitting the band,” he told Taylor, who was preparing to leave again for Munich to begin work on another album. “Come play with Jack! It’s the real thing! Jack’s a genius and so are you!”

...For Taylor, the quiet, blond, young blues virtuoso, his exit from the Stones was inevitable. It was also a brutal career choice. “He would have left anyway,” says Johns. “But the timing of it was obviously that my phone call instigated it. It was the worst thing I ever did. It wasn’t a smart move...though they were jolly surprised when he quit. ‘What is he, insane? No one’s ever left us before!’”

The March 1975 CRAWDADDY explains where Bruce was at this point. He had “patiently waited all fall (1974) for guitarist Steve Hunter to arrive from America, Jack religiously rehearsed with drummer Bruce Gary, running through the collected Bruce-Brown works. December arrived, Christmas lurking on the horizon, before Jack realized that Hunter was not coming to England as previously planned. With the new year rapidly approaching, and Jack Bruce feeling naked without a group, the situation had looked bleak.

Enter Andy Johns, producer of both (Bruce solo albums) SONGS FOR A TAILOR and OUT OF THE STORM, who casually suggested Mick Taylor as a probable candidate for filling the guitar vacancy. Bruce and Taylor met, did a few studio sessions, and a week later announced Taylor’s departure from the Rolling Stones. Jack had found his guitar player.” While the dates may be slightly off here, this is more or less the agreed-upon story of the birth of this new Bruce-Taylor-Bley band.

The CRAWDADDY article continues: “I had just imagined Mick to be a very competent lead player,” says Bruce. “It’s just when I tried to form this band I discovered how few good, varied guitar players exist. Sure, there’s a few imitation John McLaughlins and lots of imitation Eric Claptons, and then there’s Mick.” Bruce pauses in admiration. “A very unique player. I must admit to being ignorant of the Stones’ records. Of course they buried Mick because of the difference in musicianship, because the Rolling Stones aren’t a musical band, it’s something else.”

...The Bruce Band will play a smooth synthesis of diverse styles, forging ahead with a firm grasp of ‘60’s rock and ‘70’s space jazz. The personnel is all-star, but the band belongs to Jack, whose music cements the band’s foundations.

“It is my band, there’s no doubt about it. Initially I felt it shouldn’t be my band, that it should just have a name and I’d be a sideman....But Mick felt strongly that it should be my band. He’s right for now, but I feel this group will grow into something else. The starting point for live shows will be OUT OF THE STORM, but what I’m really excited about is the possibilities of group writing.”

This latter statement appears to contradict what ultimately did occur; Taylor has stated that he DID want an equal partnership group, and was dismayed when the band did not write new material but rather focused on Bruce’s previous albums!

CRAWDADDY continues “Bruce hopes to kick the band into shape for tours in the spring, first with European dates and later in America. “This isn’t the type of band that will need much rehearsal,” he says. I do want a certain amount of improvisation but I’m fed up with half-hour solos. We will work within a flexible framework. Once there was a time where half-hour solos were necessary - my whole musical language was formulated standing onstage at the Fillmore playing the first thing that came into my head. But music has reached a point where it can be used as a language, not disjointed parts...

“What’s really tremendous are the audiences we’ll get,” Bruce predicts with childish pride. “Obviously we’ll get some of the Stones audience, which really doesn’t worry me because I firmly believe the music will be good enough for everyone to enjoy. There will be people familiar with my solo things, and with Carla. But no one,” he threatens, “is going to get what they expect.”

Unfortunately, it turned out that Mick Taylor certainly did not get what he expected from the Jack Bruce Band. He told GUITAR PLAYER (Feb 1980) “We got the band together quickly, and it was really like a promo tour for one of Jack’s many solo albums. That was really different. I mean totally different. I never thought it was going to be that different. I had very high hopes and expectations of Jack and me being able to do something together. But it really didn’t happen, you know. We just got a band together very quickly and went on the road playing Jack’s songs. It didn’t happen.”

To flash back to mid-1975, ROLLING STONE ran the headline “Bruce and Taylor’s Band of Misfits.” Carla Bley said “We’re all in the same boat...Mixed up people who never belonged in any place we had been before. Here we are, on the misfit farm.” Mick Taylor said “It certainly happened at the right time for me...I never suffered from the same pessimism that Jack did. I’m not a solo artist. But for a long time I felt that I wasn’t developing as a musician. My potential was wasting away and it was so simple, just a need to play with the right people. I know most of jack’s bands have been very short-lived, but this band is different. It formed itself by a common desire to play with Jack, and play his music. We’re not session musicians doing this for a gig. We’re doing this because we love it.”

The band did make a tour through Europe after their rehearsal period. “I was surprised by the audiences,” said Taylor. “I’m sure they didn’t know what to expect. I even had doubts whether it could work on stage. At the beginning of concerts, people would scream for old Cream, even old Rolling Stones songs, but we didn’t compromise by playing those things and the audiences still enjoyed it.”

In fact, the band DID end up playing some crowd-pleasing Cream numbers amidst their own very eclectic set. The music that this Jack Bruce Band played was very unlike anything Mick Taylor had been heard playing on before. If you can imagine something like Yes’s music with Jack Bruce singing, that perhaps would be the closest way to describe the sound: very modern 1970’s music with complicated time signatures and rapid changes of tempo and dynamics. Electric keyboard sounds were a significant part of the overall sound. Each band member was a virtuoso, playing difficult, complicated music. It was certainly not music that would have fans tapping toes, much less dancing in the aisles: this was cerebral head music, highly inventive and creative but very challenging, and certainly above the heads of an audience that expected “Brown Sugar” or “Sunshine of Your Love” sounds as common denominators.

Per Al Lewis’ UNKNOWN STONE, during the tour’s press meetings, Mick Taylor was, naturally, asked more questions about his defection from the Stones than about his new music!! He answered “The Stones were such a strong band that I never had a chance to grow and develop. My playing tended to get very mechanical. There wasn’t enough depth for me to feel set. We only played for one hour and 15 minutes, but, quite honestly, I used to feel bored on stage. It would seem like we were on stage for hours and hours. With this band we play for two and a half hours and it’s all over in a flash.”

Preferring to talk about the Bruce Band, Taylor explained “There are hundreds of good bands, but not many good songwriters. That’s one of our strengths. Jack, Carla, and myself have all had the experience, the time to grow musically and to grow up. We’re not going on stage playing self-indulgent constipated music. We enjoy it, and we let everyone know.”

Jack said, “It hasn’t been a sell-out or a hype. We haven’t done “Brown Sugar” yet.”

“Not yet,” warned Taylor.

“’Brown Sugar,’ said Carla Bley. “How does that go?”

 The Jack Bruce Band toured Europe from April 22 through May 19, with dates in Spain, France, Austria, West Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden. After a short pause, their U.K. tour ran from May 30th through June 9th. Their appearance on BBC TV’s “The Old Grey Whistle Test” show on June 6th gave TV land a chance to see and hear the band. Mick Taylor was slender as a rail, with very long hair and dark sunglasses on. As was characteristic of his Stones onstage demeanor, he stood and delivered, offering pure musical output rather than visual excitement. The TV show appearance also provided the only official document of this band so far. The 1998 CD “Jack Bruce: Live On The Old Grey Whistle Test,” released in Europe, contained 7 of the 8 tracks broadcasted on that episode, omitting the track “Without A Word.” What is worse than that omission was the editing of the song “Smiles and Grins”; on the video of the show, it is clear that Mick delivered a closing solo of similar dimensions to that of “Time Waits For No One.” On the CD that solo is drastically cut, and if only for that reason alone (though there are plenty of other good reasons!) the video is well worth tracking down.

Before the 1998 release of that official CD, only bootlegs had surfaced. On the Mick Taylor bootleg MAY I HAVE A RECORD CONTRACT, one track appeared, “Out Into The Fields,” recorded on May 8 in the Netherlands. The quality was boomy audience, but clear enough. The slow, dramatic number let Taylor be heard, squeezing out some emotive leads. In the mid-90’s the CD Haight Street Records bootleg WEIRD OF HERMISTON documented the band’s Gothenburg, Sweden show from May 17, 1975. This offered eleven songs, including Cream’s “Politician” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” but had cuts. However, here at last the uninitiated could hear the band more thoroughly. Again, it was not the best sound quality, more audience recording, but the nature of the band could be distinguished.

Of all of the bootleg CDs to surface of this line-up, the most recent is arguably the most complete; Killing Floor’s 2-CD set LIVE IN STOCKHOLM, from the May 16 show. Once again the sound source is an audience tape, this one with some noisy neighbors, but the sound improves as the set goes on. This serves as a useful comparison to the other CDs; for one thing, it has the full lengthy “Smiles and Grins” closing solo. It also contains a rushed but fiery “Sunshine of Your Love.” It is interesting to see where Taylor and Bruce take this; as might be expected, two keyboard players dilute the force of it a bit, but there is some great jamming. All three of the CDs mentioned have the band’s take on Tony William’s fusion instrumental “Spirit.”

Mick Taylor’s sound often had a more jazzy, chorused tone than he had played with during the Stones. He was shown playing his brown Gibson ES-345, and his note choice was busier, less blues but just as much fire. It was the most demanding musical gig he had ever been faced with, as each song was a mini-epic with several parts, and two very active keyboard players adding to the sound, as well as the equally busy “lead bass” of Jack Bruce!

Mick had always shown stellar musical virtuosity; here he was in band of similarly-minded players, and the results were often jaw-dropping. Had this line-up lasted, it may be that his name would have become more often cited alongside guitarists like Steve Howe or Mike Oldfield. Sadly it was not to be. Some reports held that the band was plagued by drug problems. Christopher Sandford, in his book MICK JAGGER: PRIMITIVE COOL, reports “One of Taylor’s few public appearances with Bruce was at a Cambridge May Ball in 1975. He seemed to doze off onstage while students catcalled from the shadows.” Communication and egos, of course, were the other problems.

According to Al Lewis’ UNKNOWN STONE, “After the short-lived tour, a few hours before they were to go into the studio to start their first album, Mick and Carla quit the band. Mick said “I don’t think it was a musical mismatch, I just think it was the wrong time. I’d left the Stones and I knew why I left but not where I wanted to go. Jack was in a bad patch too, and it was destined not to last. Some of these supergroups look good on paper, but...well, who knows what would have happened.”

In 1990, Mick told DOWNBEAT magazine that Jack Bruce was “the most frustrating and musically interesting person I’ve played with.” He repeated his admiration for Bruce in March 1999’s TOTAL GUITAR magazine: “Early fusion stuff like the Crusaders was a big inspiration - as was jack Bruce whose roots are in jazz as well as blues...Those three records he did after Cream folded are among the best solo albums any English musician has ever done. And Jack would show me some great open tunings - like the open Em7 tuning on ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon.’”

Mick Taylor and Carla Bley then began working together on two solo projects; one was an album by Carla’s husband Mike Mintler. The second was of songs composed by Taylor/Bley, written for the Jack Bruce Band. Neither project got off the ground.

Mick had joined the Jack Bruce Band feeling that he could not be an artist without a band, that he was not ready for a solo career. He had spun out more webs of dexterous and emotional guitar, this time in a dazzling jazz-rock context, but still had not gotten the chance to express his own musical ideas. He had never shown the desire or inclination to led his own group, and had honestly stated this aloud. His statement to ROLLING STONE in 1975 had been “I’m not a solo artist.” The frustrations from the short-lived Jack Bruce Band stint led him, perhaps, to think otherwise.

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