One of the most iconic songs The Rolling Stones have ever laid down, ‘Brown Sugar’ could have been very different had the version they recorded with Eric Clapton on slide guitar ever been released.
Lucky for you, we have that very version right here for you to enjoy in all its sliding rock and roll pleasure and it is without a doubt one of the most integral moments of Clapton’s work with the band.
The song may not have made it passed the band’s own censorship today, finding most of its thematic content from the pits of rape and slavery, but in 1969, with The Rolling Stones at the height of their fame, ‘Brown Sugar’ was destined to be a hit and it didn’t disappoint. Recorded just a few months after Brian Jones’ death, it goes down as one of the most impressive riffs ever recorded.
Yet, that accolade doesn’t fall on the head of lead guitarist Keith Richards. No, in fact, the riff was from the mind of singer Mick Jagger as he tried to rehabilitate a damaged hand during the filming of Ned Kelly in Australia. He wrote the song about his then-secret girlfriend Marsha Hunt, which does add an extra layer of disgust when considering the original lyrics to the song—something Jagger himself has attested to.
The track was recorded at the soon-to-be-famous Muscle Shoals Sound studio, Alabama in the early weeks of December 1969. Mick Jagger told a reporter who was waiting outside upon entering the studio, “I’ve got a new one myself,” he said. “No words yet, but a few words in my head—called ‘Brown Sugar’—about a woman who screws one of her black servants. I started to call it ‘Black Pussy’ but I decided that was too direct, too nitty-gritty.”
The then-producer at Muscle Shoals was quoted in Keith Richards’ autobiography Life as saying: “I watched Mick write the lyrics. It took him maybe forty-five minutes; it was disgusting. He wrote it down as fast as he could move his hand. I’d never seen anything like it. He had one of those yellow legal pads, and he’d write a verse a page, just write a verse and then turn the page, and when he had three pages filled, they started to cut it. It was amazing!”
The song would be recorded and cut ready for 1971 album Sticky Fingers but would have its live debut at the doomed Altamont Speedway Festival, where The Rolling Stones would headline and a number of tragedies would take place. Most notably the event would see the murder of Meredith Hunter and the accidental death of three others and become a black day in music.
A year later with much of Sticky Fingers in the can, the band decided to celebrate guitarist Richards’ 27th birthday at Olympic Studios in London. It would see the band cut a brand new version of ‘Brown Sugar’ with legend Al Kooper on piano and bonafide Guitar God, the incredible Eric Clapton on slide guitar.
While Keith Richards preferred this version of the song it never made the final cut for Sticky Fingers. Now, you can listen to the Clapton version below after it was shared by the band alongside a special edition of the album. Listen below to the unreleased version of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ with Eric Clapton on slide guitar.
Source: Open Culture