As Don Was enters his 30th year as the Rolling Stones' record producer, the world renowned musician and record exec took time out to talk about his initial meeting with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Was, who was on a particularly hot streak, having produced Bonnie Raitt's Grammy Award-winning 1989 Nick Of Time album, was tapped to produce the Stones' 1994 Voodoo Lounge collection.
Was recalled the scene to Mojo, recalling, “They’d signed to Virgin Records and the label wanted them to have a producer. So I went to New York to meet them. And they were auditioning bass players at SIR. I was watching and then Mick and Keith came and sat on either side of me. Mick started talking about what they needed from a producer. And Keith started talking about why they didn’t need a producer. And they would not yield the floor to the other guy.”
He went on to say, “It went on like this — both of them talking at the same time — for probably two or three minutes, which is an incredibly long time. I was just going back and forth between them, thinking, What the hell is this? Is this a technique for weeding out the faint of heart? Then they finally ran out of breath. At which point, Keith said, 'You sure you want to be the meat in this sandwich?' (laughs)”
When pressed to define the Rolling Stones, Don Was explained, “Well, they are the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. I remember walking into the big studio at Ocean Way (in L.A.), it’s just Mick and Keith and Charlie (Watts) in this cavernous room, and the room felt completely full. Their personas are like the blow-up dolls they had on the Steel Wheels tour, they’re like five storeys high. And when they channel that into something, when they become the Rolling Stones, there’s nothing like it in the world.”
He went on to shed light on his unparalleled longevity with the band: “The reason I think I’ve lasted that long with them is I love the Rolling Stones. And I just want them to be the Rolling Stones, whatever that means. But what that means is they are all part of the fabric, no one guy is dominating the fabric. It’s when they all join together that something larger than life happens.”
Don Was, who's been the Stones' primary producer since 1993 had the dream job of not only digging tracks out of the archive for the 2010 deluxe Exile On Main St. reissue release — but he was behind the boards as Jagger, Richards and former guitarist Mick Taylor put the finishing touches on some nearly-finished Exile-era tracks. We asked him what boundaries he set for himself before working on such an important project: “You bring respect, man. I'll tell you, the boundaries are laid down by Keith. Keith sent me a fax at the very beginning. He said, 'You don't have to make it sound like Exile — it is Exile.' And that was it. That was the guiding principle.”