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At a launch event for the Confessin’ The Blues compilation, held in the speakeasy-style Maggie’s Bar in east London, on the evening of Tuesday, 30 October, Ronnie Wood revealed why he and The Rolling Stones put together a collection of what they believe to be the most important blues recordings in history.
Speaking to Paul Sexton, Wood noted the debt the Stones owe to the original blues masters, saying, “It’s a part of our education and part of our history.” Calling Confessin’ The Blues “a companion” to Blue & Lonesome, the 2015 album that found the Stones paying homage to the greats that inspired them, Wood said that curating the tracklist also gave the band an opportunity to shine a light on some of the more obscure musicians in the history of the music.
“It’s a mind-boggling collection of blues artists,” Wood said, adding, “What Mick, Keith and Charlie know between them is all you need to know.”
Speaking of the band’s choices, which range from Jimmy Reed to Little Walter, BB King and Bill Big Broonzy, Ronnie acknowledged the influence of some of the lesser-known artists who have inspired them. “I think it’s great that Mick and Keith picked unknown people like Amos Milburn,” he said, adding that the pianist was a relatively obscure figure compared to the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
Recalling the British blues boom of the 60s, during which the Stones put their own twist on the music, leading the British Invasion and introducing a whole new generation to the artists that now appear on Confessin’ The Blues, Ronnie revealed how hard it was to come by the original recordings.
“It was all record collectors and enthusiasts,” he said of the aficionados who sought the music out. “They were a rare breed. The records were like gold dust. You could never get hold of them. I didn’t see a picture of Chuck Berry for years, and Howlin’ Wolf – you had no idea what he looked like. Putting a face to the name took many, many years.”
It was through his brother Art, who brought records such as Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘Little Brown Bird’ home, that Ronne initially got into the blues; after listening to Art’s collection, the music started “cooking underneath” the jazz influence of his other brother, Ted.
“I was fortune enough that Art backed Howlin’ Wolf when he came to London. And backed Little Walter when he was on tour,” Ronnie said. It would be years before he met the original blues icons himself, but he revelled in his older brother’s stories – even if Art was worried that tales of the blues legends might have the wrong kind of effect.
“They had to clean it up a lot for little Ronnie,” he laughed. “They didn’t want him too badly influenced.”
Considering what happened next, it seems it was too late for that.