There are songs that captivate you from the instant the needle hits the groove, they stay with you whilst you venture off in search of something fresh and new only to return to their welcoming rhythms. I can't really pinpoint my age at the time it was probably around 8 or 9 my Dad put on a vinyl album from the Rolling Stones, the album I think may have been a German release that my Dad got through a record club. The album couldn't have had a better opening track for side 1, (That place) Down The Road A Piece just roared out of my Dad's speakers, it starts with a deceptive almost jazz guitar fill which I'm assuming would have come from Brian Jones but the lines between lead and rhythm guitar in the Stones were wonderfully blurred. Then it launches with a tight crack of Charlie Watts' wrist and then the ride begins, Keith Richards assumes control with that machine gun fire Chuck Berry rhythm that he was so devoted to, all the while Charlie Watts is like a huge swinging metronome all jazz hands with a firm no nonsense beat. It was Charlie's drumming that first captured my attention because as an aspiring drummer the beat and keeping time were so important and Charlie was never out of step, there was no adornment because none was required but he is propulsive and lays the foundation for Keith to really reach for that rhythm and blues sound. Bill Wyman never gets the merit he deserves and I'll feature him in my next blog, but for pure swing and foundation Bill was a mountain. He is unobtrusive but swinging the song provides no scope for intricate arrangements so Bill rides Charlie's tail and makes sure the bottom is there for Keith and Brian to propel that rhythm. As I have mentioned before I've never been the greatest fan of Mick Jagger as a vocalist and his enunciation seems lazy but it fits the song, he adds to the intensity of the record with his rapid fire delivery. Of course that pounding left hand of Ian Stewart can't be forgotten, a man who played such a vital musical role on their early records He was a master of the boogie woogie style piano and his delivery is strident with those couplets drawn from the well of classic R&B piano playing from Otis Spann to Roosevelt Sykes and all before and after.
Up until I heard some of the early work from Levon and The Hawks circa 1961-63 I thought Down The Road A Piece was the funkiest R&B song ever recorded by a white band, it still ranks up there because it holds all the ingredients of a great R&B tune especially a Chicago one, it's funky, dirty and it swings. What may have also have given the song extra impetus was the fact that it was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago towards the end of 1964. Legend also has it that Chuck Berry happened to be in the studio that day and heard the Stones recording a song that he had previously recorded, his reaction was along the lines of "Great sound, swing on Gentlemen"! This song also appears on the U.S album release The Rolling Stones Now, I'm not sure if it had an album release in the U.K I think it may have been a B side in the U.K.