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Music

Five moments that prove Mick Taylor is a guitar-playing genius

Mick Taylor is a guitarist of the highest pedigree. Not many, if any, can claim to have played in The Rolling Stones, with Bob Dylan and name Slash as a huge fan. As a musician, it’s fair to say, he’s done it all. 

Born in Welwyn Garden City, England, he grew up in a working-class family in nearby Hatfield. He began learning guitar at the green age of nine and picked up his early licks from his uncle. As a teenager, he played in various local bands, and at just 17, his band The Gods, which featured future Uriah Heep member Ken Hensley, supported Cream at Wembley.

His route to eminence was actually started a year prior when Taylor and his friends went to watch John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers perform at the local venue, ‘The Hop’ in Welwyn Garden City. This just so happened to be the famous night that Eric Clapton didn’t turn up, and eventually, Taylor joined Mayall on stage, earning his respect in the process and opening the doors to the rest of his career. Later, Taylor said: “I wasn’t thinking that this was a great opportunity… I just really wanted to get up on stage and play the guitar.” 

After Brian Jones quit The Rolling Stones in June 1969, John Mayall and Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart recommended Taylor as his replacement to Mick Jagger. Taylor initially believed that he was invited as a session musician, however, he blew The Stones away with his first time in the studio. Jagger and Keith Richards invited him back for the following day’s recording and rehearsal session. He overdubbed parts on ‘Country Honk’ and ‘Live With Me’ for the iconic Let It Bleed, as well as the hit single ‘Honky Tonk Women’. 

Taylor made his live debut with The Rolling Stones, aged only 20, at the free concert in Hyde Park on July 5th 1969. It is estimated that a quarter of a million people attended the show, which became a de facto tribute to Brian Jones, who tragically passed away only two days prior. 

In December 1974, Taylor quit the band abruptly, citing songwriting credits and the fact he always knew, right from the beginning, that his time with The Stones would be finite. He went on to form a band with Jack Bruce, formerly of Cream, and would then enjoy a varied and celebrated career. Over the following years, he’d work with Dylan, The Grateful Dead and John Mayall again, reflecting his shining status as a musician. 

In a 1995 interview with Jan Wenner, Jagger said of Taylor’s contribution to The Stones: “I think he had a big contribution. He made it very musical. He was a very fluent, melodic player, which we never had, and we don’t have now. Neither Keith nor Ronnie Wood (who replaced Taylor) plays that kind of style. It was very good for me working with him …. Mick Taylor would play very fluid lines against my vocals. He was exciting, and he was very pretty, and it gave me something to follow, to bang off. Some people think that’s the best version of the band that existed”.

A guitar hero, who has his own unmistakable style, it’s no coincidence that some of the biggest names in rock put Taylor’s playing on a pedestal. He’s a genius. So, on his birthday, join us as we list five guitar playing moments that clearly display his stellar technique. A mixture of isolated guitar tracks and solos, there’s nothing Mick Taylor can’t do.

Mick Taylor’s five best moments:

‘Winter’ – Goats Head Soup (1973)

Taken from The Rolling Stones’ tax exile album, Goats Head Soup, ‘Winter’ is a classic. Although it was recorded in Jamaica, the band managed to evoke all the emotions that the cold British winter brings. A lot of this is due to Taylor’s rich and emotive playing. The extended guitar solo is a thing of real beauty. Comprised of slides, bends and hammer-ons, you can clearly hear where Slash got his ideas for the solo in ‘November Rain’. 

At points across this take, there’s also elements of what would become basic alternative rock playing, and you can hear where subsequent icons such as Noel Gallagher took their cues. A marvellous outing, this is how a guitar solo should be played.

‘Time Waits For No One’ –  It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (1974)

Taken from The Rolling Stones’ 1974 album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, ‘Time Waits For No One’ is an underrated moment in their back catalogue and a wholly underrated point in Mick Taylor’s career. The solo is just exquisite. Invoking the rhythms and tonality of Spanish music, it’s a spiralling piece that gave Taylor the room to shine.

Complete with runs and triads, Taylor’s meandering work here ranks among the best Stones solos of all time. Three minutes of bliss, Tayor’s guitar whisks you away to sunnier climes with a guiding hand and a knowing smile. 

‘Casino Boogie’ – Exile on Main St. (1972)

A more laidback number, there’s flecks of country rock-era The Byrds, and The Allman Brothers Band on ‘Casino Boogie’. A honky-tonk rhythm, this was the boys in the band going back to their roots. Carried by a 12-bar movement, Taylor’s work brings the track to life.

Swaggering and pulsating, this open-G moment ranks among Taylor’s finest. The solo at the end is nothing short of iconic. It’s on moments like this where we understand just why the boys in the band were blown away by his well-versed playing.

‘Brown Sugar’ – Sticky Fingers (1971)

Racial debate surrounding the title aside, this has to be Taylor’s most famous moment as a Stone. The riff and chord progression have remained a staple of guitar player’s libraries worldwide since its release. Groovy and washed-out, the song and guitar playing rank amongst rock’s most revered.

Famously, the band debuted the song live during the notorious show at the Altamont Speedway on December 6th, 1969. Here we get some of Taylor and Richards’ best dovetailing work, aiding the claim that this was perhaps the best lineup of the Stones.

‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ – Sticky Fingers (1971)

Played in open-G again, ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ is famed for the extended jam the song morphs into at the end. Captured in one take, the track has been described as a happy accident, and it does not disappoint. The band thought the tape machine had already stopped when they finished, only to find that the whole thing had been recorded.

It’s another classic example of Richards and Taylor intertwining, whilst Bobby Keys delivers a stellar saxophone solo over the top. Taylor’s solo is akin to something Robby Krieger would have delivered with The Doors.