The Stone who rolled away
As The Rolling Stones turn 50, former guitarist Mick Taylor tells John Bungey of reunion plans . . . and Mick Jagger's todger
The liquid summer of 2012 has brought the jubilee of a proud British institution -- one that has suffered the odd annus horribilis but enjoyed a few anni mirabiles too. It has survived fad and fashion with its dignity, and most of its teeth, intact. Yes, the Rolling Stones are 50 years old on Thursday.
The anniversary of their first gig, July 12, 1962, will be marked with books, films, and exhibitions but no glimpse of the Methuselahs of rock themselves. The Stones say they won't be ready to roll out anniversary gigs until 2013.
Bill Wyman, who quit the band in 1992, is slated to be involved, and also tipped for a guest spot is the man sitting next to me in a Mexican restaurant.
"If there was a tour, I'd love to do it," says former guitarist Mick Taylor.
"I'd like to do some recording as well."
Although Taylor has joined forces with fellow band members since he left -- including a set in London with Ronnie Wood the weekend before last -- he has not played with the full band for 38 years and has enjoyed/endured what you could politely term an uneven career since.
He is, though, the band veteran you are most likely to see on the road this year, leading his own punchy blues band with a renewed vigour.
But, as he's slightly tired of being reminded, his callow younger self once played outstanding lead guitar with the best vintage of the Stones: the one who forged 'Honky Tonk Women', 'Brown Sugar', 'Tumbling Dice' and 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll'. Between 1969 and 1974 the Stones created the template for every blues-rock, guitar-abusing, drug-abusing, gang-band to blast a stadium since.
Not that the 20-year-old Taylor was initially convinced, after joining the Stones in 1969 from John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers: "I remember being struck by how out of tune and awful they were," he says. "I remember wondering how they could make such great records when they couldn't even tune their guitars up."
Taylor left in 1974, unhappy about a lack of songwriting credits, bored by the band's inactivity and worried about his own drug habits. Regrets? None, he insists. But life also brought addiction, homes burnt down twice and he acquired a rock vet's tangled genealogy: two marriages, girlfriends, a daughter on each side of the Atlantic. Today, while Mick Jagger has an estimated fortune of £200m, Taylor lives in a two-bedroom semi in Suffolk.
Taylor insists he is content: "I'm very happy, very relaxed and I'm healthy."
In 2010 Taylor recorded new guitar parts while Mick Jagger sang a vocal to a half-finished Stones track from 1972. 'Plundered My Soul' went to No 15 in the French singles charts. While Taylor used to brood over alleged unpaid royalties, he insists that he does not care.
I ask what he thinks of Richards's 2010 autobiography Life, in which the veteran Stone paid lavish tribute to Taylor's musical skills but called him morose and shy. "He said I was fighting demons but so was he. I wasn't shy, it was just that everyone wanted to talk to Mick and Keith not me or Bill or Charlie [Watts].
"I enjoyed the book but in some ways it's like reading about a completely different person, a mythological Keith.
"What surprised me was the competitiveness, all that competing for women. He's a guy in his late sixties and he sounds like an 18-year-old."
And what about the reference to Mick's "tiny todger"? Taylor laughs. "That was kind of nasty. I don't remember anybody in the Stones being particularly well endowed and I should know."
Taylor also learnt for the first time from the book just how upset Richards was at him quitting.
Richards wrote: "I always want to keep a band together. You can leave in a coffin or with dispensations for long service, but otherwise you can't."
Taylor recalls it thus: "He sent me a message saying, 'Dear Mick, thanks for all the turn-ons. It was great playing with you.' Possibly because I had my own problems, I didn't realise how he was affected."
Taylor has a lot of time for Jagger: "Mick was always the leader; he had the final say and still does. He was very funny, very entertaining and very intelligent.
"He was middle class, better educated than the rest of us."
When I last met Taylor, 15 years ago, the mantle of being an ex-Stone seemed to weigh heavy. Today, he appears much more proud. Nevertheless, he is sanguine about the Stones' place in history. "People say to me, 'What do you think people will think about the Stones in a hundred years' time?'
"Their music doesn't travel. It's very difficult for other artists to interpret Stones music because it's got its own attitude and rebelliousness that's got nothing to do with the notes -- whereas the Beatles will be remembered for their harmonies and melodies, or Bob Dylan songs for their words.
"But that's not to say the Stones are overrated. I think this is the most enduring rock band that has ever existed."