40 Years of Rolling Stones’ Ya-Ya’s

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in an ABKCO press photo for Ya-Ya's

It’s been 40 years since The Rolling Stones’ concerts at Madison Square Garden yielded the monumental “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” definitive live album.

Any way you look at it, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out” was a game-changer. Just ask the people who were there for the Stones at their liveliest.

The 40th Anniversary box set

Members of The Rolling Stones
“The Stones were a better live band then any other band at that time,” Bill Wyman, former Rolling Stones’ bassist explained in a 2004 Santa Monica hotel room interview. “The band was great live always. I’m not saying they were the greatest songwriters or the greatest recording artists, but they were the best live band wherever you went. You could go up on stage and blow everybody away, no matter who they were.”

The group’s chemistry was a key factor in the Stones’ landmark live show. But the groundwork for future greatness was laid long before 1969, in the humble little clubs that the band played when it was learning on the job and paying its dues as apprentice rockers, Wyman said. The band wasn’t worried about being rich and famous, or having a career, or going on tour or going out in a limo, he said.

“It was, ‘Let’s play this music,’ and if people like it, that’s a bonus. And if we got a bit of change in our pockets, that was a bigger bonus. And it was that simple,” Wyman said. “That’s why when we played in the clubs at the beginning, we sat on stools, we drank beer, we had no uniforms, smoked in between songs. It was ridiculous. We had our backs to the audience some times. Nobody did that. In a little circle on stage. You can see those early pictures we were all close together.

So long as Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts kept the rhythm section together, the rest of the band could do what it wanted, and it worked, he said.

“And that’s what happened in the studio, and that’s what happened live. Me and Charlie were really always on the ball, always straight, always together and had it down,” Wyman said. “If we had our shit together we got it right. What he was doing and what I was doing, standing next to him and watching his bass drum, and all that, which a lot of bass players don’t do, stupidly, once we got our thing going, and the group was there, then anything could happen. That’s all there was. There was simplicity. It wasn’t how many notes you played, it’s where you left nice holes and I learned that from Duck Dunn and people like that.”

When it comes to The Rolling Stones in concert, it’s kind of like an out-of-body for lead guitarist Keith Richards.

“Once you’re on the stage, it’s just some floor boards in spite of it,” Richards mentioned in a 1999 Rolling Stones San Diego pre-show interview. “And you’re not really aware of everything you are seeing. In a way, maybe when you write songs without even knowing it you’re kinda saying, ‘Can I do this live?’ And so in a way you add that in. You don’t know if it’s gonna work, but I guess you keep in the back of your mind is ‘We’re making a record here.’ What happens if they all like it and we gotta play it live? So in a way, that maybe in the back of the mind it sets up the song to be playable on stage.”

Singer Tina Turner
In 1969, Ike and Tina Turner were touring with The Stones. Seven of their selections are highlighted in the 40th anniversary Deluxe Box Set edition of “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out.”

“We toured for years with all the English groups and I always liked what they were singing about,” Tina Turner recalled in an Oct. 11, 1975, interview with the now-defunct “Melody Maker” magazine. “The biggest change started happening when we were working around L.A. in 1966 and ran into Phil Spector,” she remembered. “He wanted to record me and when we cut ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ Mick Jagger, who was visiting Phil at the time, was in (Gold Star) studio.

“After hearing the song he wanted us to tour England in 1966 with the Rolling Stones. The English weren’t used to seeing girls with high-heeled shows, and I think they were shocked a bit,” Tina Turner said. “Mick then came to the States in 1969 and asked us to tour America with him later in the year. That’s when it happened.”

They played The Forum, Madison Square Garden and all of the big arenas, she said.

“Like ‘Vogue’ said it best: They came to see Mick Jagger but they saw Ike and Tina and they’ve been comin’ ever since,” she said. “From there on we crossed over to the pop market and it’s been that way ever since.”

Photographer Ethan Russell
Photographer Ethan Russell took readers on the road with Stones in 2007 when he published “Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones 1969 U.S. Tour” published by Rhino Books (http://www.rhino.com/search?q=let+it+bleed).

Russell’s book offers an illuminating visual and oral history of a moment in time. His collection brings to life this extraordinary story—and documents a pivotal era in history—through hundreds of never-before published vintage images by award-winning photographer and director Russell, accompanied by his interviews with members of his tight-knit and now-iconic group of 16 survivors from the jaunt.

“The 1960s was a unique era,” says Russell, “the likes of which have not been repeated, nor may ever be. Some say Altamont — the added free concert at the end of the tour–ended the ’60s. Not everyone shares that perception nor has the same sense of how we did as a generation, and the story, though arguably coming to an end, is still being lived.”

Writer/Producer Ken Kubernik
The Rolling Stones 1969 U.S. tour was, in current parlance, a “game-changer,” stresses Ken Kubernik, writer/producer, and a contributor to “Variety.”

“The Stones had been off the road since April 1967, a European jaunt that trafficked in scream-splattered, 30-minute sets, triggered by Brian Jones’ Carnaby Street flash and Jagger’s poncey posterings,” Kubernik said.

Interestingly, a tape from the Paris concert reveals the Stones jamming ferociously on ‘Goin’ Home,’ with Jones wailing on harp like a man possessed — which, of course he was. It’s a tantalizing coda to a version of the Stones growing bolder with Brian on board, which, alas, would never come to fruition. The autumn of 1969 promised much more than a great new Stones album and a return to the concert stage. The intervening years, Cream and Hendrix had dramatically raised the bar in terms of sonic substance, and, more crucially, the level of pure musicianship. The pastiche of pop song craft and rock ‘n’ roll rhythms were quickly becoming passé, he said.

“A new genre was emerging — rock. To that end, the addition of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ guitarist, Mick Taylor, whose fluid, legato lines suggested the sensibility of a tenor saxophonist, added a vibrant filigree to the Stones’ impertinent attitude and rhythmic punch. If for no other reason, the reissue of ‘Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out’ should remind discerning listeners that Taylor’s contributions — the nuanced phrasing, tonal control and magisterial command of the bar slide — elevated the Stones’ performances into a more visceral, captivating experience,” he said.

“Taylor stood stoically apart from the onstage rabble, a cipher to Jagger’s prowling and parrying Leo the lion. Yet it was Taylor’s exquisite soloing, like a surgical swipe from a paring knife, which seemed to both subvert and legitimize the sinister undercurrent of the music’s mise en scene. Listening anew, one is compelled to ask, ‘How could anyone look so Angelic and sound so treacherously sensual?’

Professor and DJ Jimm Cushing
“Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out” is one of The Rolling Stones’ best albums, according to Jimm Cushing, Ph.D., an English and literature professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a DJ on radio station KCPR-FM.

In nearly every case, the band’s performances are as strong as — or, in some cases better than — the original recordings, Cushing says.

“The guitar chemistry of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor was never heard before or since. The Faces came a little bit close,” he suggests.

Watts is incredibly good, and the interaction with bassist Bill Wyman is a “mind-blower,” he said. “It’s that kind of rhythm blues music raised to a certain level of high-performance art. We learn that rock ’n’ roll is closer to theater than we realized,” Cushing said.

By taking the artists out of the studio, the songs become more extroverted and dramatic, Cushing said.

“Recording studios encourage introversion. There are no windows to the outside world. The activity is kind of hypnotic,” he said. “Concerts are dramatic encounters with the outside world. You hear Mick Jagger enacting in front of people what he was only describing on the records. He enacts on ‘Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out’ what he describes on ‘Let It Bleed’ as far as ‘Midnight Rambler’ goes or the other tracks from that album.”

The Stones “Ya-Ya’s” box set reissues, like the recent Woodstock reissue package, allows music lovers to experience the concert with a much greater range and scope, he added. The only disadvantage is that the integrity of the original album is somewhat compromised, he said.

“The new ‘Ya-Ya’s’ reminds us that the original album issued in September of ’70 produced by the Rolling Stones and Glyn Johns was a very incomplete document of the original experience. There were built limitations then, vinyl with six songs on each side. But that limitation did not strike me as a problem to be solved, because that was the way things were. The digital revolution made it possible to get one 75-minute experience on a CD that changed that rule,” Cushing said.

After the Rolling Stones 1969 tour’s planned conclusion, the band organized one more performance on Dec. 6, for a free show that featured the Flying Burrito Brothers, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and Grateful Dead (who chose not to perform) in a free thank-you concert acknowledging their successful 1969 U.S. tour that has always been reported as the disastrous Altamont Free concert, where one person was murdered and three others died in accidents. An estimated 300,000 people attended the event.

Actor and Poet Harry E. Northrup
East Hollywood actor and wordsmith Harry E. Northup was at the Stones’ infamous Altamont gig, where the band played “Brown Sugar” live on that stage for the first. (Film buffs might recognize him from is roles in 37 movies, including “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver” and “The Silence of The Lambs.”)

Northrup and his first wife, Rita, were living in L.A., where he was employed as a waiter at the Old World Restaurant on the Sunset Strip. On Dec. 5, 1969, the couple and their 10-month-old son, Dylan, drove to San Francisco in their blue and white VW van, and slept in the van’s bad that night in the Haight before getting up to drive the rest of the way to Altamont.

“It was slow going when we got near the Speedway. We parked on the side of the road and walked a long way. We took turns carrying Dylan, he recalled. “At the concert, we met five long-haired surfer guys and three girls we knew from Santa Monica. It was a gray day. It seemed like half a million people were there.”

They had driven up Pacific Coast Highway many times from Santa Monica to see the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, among others, in Golden Gate Park and other venues, but they had never been at a gathering this large.

Northrup remembered seeing a young woman who kept trying to climb up onto the stage, only to be kicked in the face by one of the Hell’s Angels hired for security.

“She must have been a masochist, because she kept going back for more,” he said.

It wasn’t until the Northrups were back in their van, driving south on the 5 Freeway that they heard about the murder at Altamont. In 1970, Northrup saw the Mayles Brothers’ film “Gimme Shelter,” which showed all of the violence in its vividness, he said.

“Most of the time, we stayed on the perimeter and danced. My wife loved the Stones. She pranced and pointed and sang like Mick. She had seen The Beatles at Shea Stadium years before,” Northrup said. “We shared joints, people gave us food: fruit, juices, sandwiches. Our surfer friends danced, held Dylan. Once, I snaked my way down to the left side of the stage just as the Stones sang, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’ It was electric.”

“We danced and had a wonderful time. The Stones and Santana were tremendous. We felt renewed.”

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