British musicians have exposed the Blues to audiences for countless years. The Beatles, The Yardbirds. The Animals, The Stones. The list goes on and on. In the 1960’s many Americans received their first exposure to the Blues through cover tunes they heard from young British bands. These bands were often shocked that America was literally being exposed to something they were bringing back across the pond, even though it was born in the States.
Electric Blues guitarists played a big role in this resurgence, and many of them passed through the doors of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Eric Clapton earned his “Clapton is God” status during his time with Mayall. Peter Green followed Clapton, showing audiences that God had a companion! But the man who had the unenviable task of following both of those players was Mick Taylor. Although many doubted that there was anything left to say in the guitar chair of Mayall’s band, Mick Taylor soon quieted any doubters by forging a style all his own that’s still going strong today.
Mick Taylor was born on January 17, 1949 and first picked up a guitar at age 9. He played in several bands during his early teenage years, and formed a bond with John Mayall fairly early on. When Mick turned 16, he and several friends went to see Mayall’s band with Clapton on guitar. This particular night Clapton did not show and Mayall played the first set without a guitarist. Taylor approached him before the second set, asking if he could sit in. Mayall agreed and was greatly impressed with the young guitarist’s abilities. Nothing happened immediately, but Mick left his number with John in case he ever did find a need for him. When Clapton did leave the band, Peter Green filled his shoes, and when Green left to form Fleetwood Mac, Mayall knew exactly who to call. At 17 years old, Mick Taylor landed a job replacing 2 revered guitarists that most men twice his age would never think of trying to follow. But follow them he did.
Taylor didn’t try to copy or retread anything the previous members did. He simply went out and played exactly what he felt was right, and soon developed a loyal following of his own, His playing can be heard on the Mayall albums Crusade, Bare Wires, and Blues From Laurel Canyon among others. You can hear a drastic sense of development compared to his later work, but the playing is no doubt great still, especially keeping in mind that you’re listening to someone play that was still under 20 at the time.
In 1969 the Rolling Stones were looking for a replacement for Brian Jones. John Mayall dropped Taylor’s name to Mick Jagger and he was brought into the studio to help with a few tracks on the Let it Bleed album. Taylor has said that at that time he assumed that he was only being used as a temporary session musician. Jagger and Keith Richards liked what they heard though, and Taylor soon made his public debut with the band at a Hyde Park concert. At age 20, Mick Taylor was a full fledged member of the World’s biggest Rock n Roll band. Taylor went onto develop as an exceptional slide guitarist. That paired
with his unique Blues and Jazz style contrasted beautifully with Richards harsher, rougher playing approach. The Stones released classic albums with this lineup, including Stick Fingers, Exile On Main Street, Goat’s Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock n Roll. Many feel that these were the best years and the best albums ever put out by the Stones, this author included. Yes Jagger and Richards should be rightfully credited for making this music great, but make no mistake, what made it that much better during those classic years was Mick Taylor.
In 1974 Taylor announced that he was leaving the band. Various reasons and stories have been circulated over the years but at the end of the day, Mick Taylor was officially out of the Rolling Stones. He has gone on to have a constant solo career with many albums showcasing his playing at it’s finest, but sadly going under the public’s radar most of the time. He spent most of the late 70’s playing in various projects and finally released his first solo album in 1979. The self titled Mick Taylor album shows Mick playing some of the finest Blues ever recorded. His fluid runs and Jazz sensibility are all there.
1982 found him being asked to join his old boss John Mayall for “The Reunion Tour.” Recordings from this tour find the band in top form. The Bluesbreakers never sounded better and the tour was drawing attention everywhere it went. One particular show saw Bob Dylan backstage asking to meet Mick. The two hit it off and Dylan ended up recording
his next 3 albums with Taylor as well as hitting the road with him. From the mid 80’s and on, Taylor has been quite content playing smaller venues and being more up close and personal with his die hard followers. He’s released several very noteworthy recordings, particularly 1990’s Stranger In This Town and 2000’s A Stone’s Throw. Both show that Mick has not lost anything over the years, in fact it’s safe to say that his playing has done nothing but improve with more style and maturity.
Trends come and go and Mick Taylor has been quite happy not chasing them and playing the Blues on his terms. 2013 saw the Stones taking him out for multiple live dates to celebrate the band’s 50th Anniversary. Once again, all reviews agreed that Mr. Taylor’s playing was top notch and brought the band to new heights they had not seen live for quite some time. Play on Mr. Mick Taylor. Thanks for the music.