Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, a rare concert by an all-star outfit.
A Rolling Stones revival celebrating the band's early '70s lineup has been prompted in part by the DVD Ladies & Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones, a concert film featuring performances during their 1972 stateside tour, as well as the expanded rerelease of the band's landmark Exile on Main Street, an album that still stands as one of its greatest. At that point, the band consisted of Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards, bassist Bill Wyman, and drummer
Charlie Watts, along with the "new guy," guitarist Mick Taylor, and an
accompanying crew that included saxophonist Bobby Keys and pianist Nicky
Hopkins. So it seemed sort of like "Exile on Ocean Drive" when some of
those same Stones ex-pats turned up unexpectedly for a gig at a now-defunct club once situated in an unassuming suburban shopping center in West Miami.
It was, to say the least, an unlikely place to catch a concert, so naturally it was surprising when, in the summer of 1985, fliers began appearing that announced an upcoming gig by a makeshift combo composed of Mick Taylor, Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins, and Crosby Stills Nash & Young bassist Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels, along with a drummer whose name I unfortunately can't recall.
It was an all-star lineup. Hopkins had gained fame as a legendary session musician whose credits included sessions with the Beatles, the Who, the Stones, the Kinks, the Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, whose ranks he officially joined in the early '70s. Taylor had previously played with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers prior to being hired by the Stones, and after leaving them in the mid- '70s, he went on to work with Bob Dylan, Jack Bruce, Steve Cropper, and a host of other notables. For his part, Keys had collaborated with fellow Texan Buddy Holly in the late '50s and later became part of a high-profile musical contingent that included George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and Delaney & Bonnie. In the '90s, he took up residency in South Beach and became musical director for Ron Wood's Sobe nightspot, the club aptly dubbed Woody's.
Being a fan who followed these musicians' shifting fortunes, I could hardly believe that these legendary personalities would actually choose to do a gig that was practically in my backyard. Consequently, I arrived at the club early, hoping to greet them when they arrived for the gig. Sure enough, shortly before start time, they made their entrance en masse, walking up the winding staircase that led upstairs to the stage. I was in an ideal position to welcome them, although in truth, the environs were so nondescript that very few people were even on hand to hear them. I first approached Mick Taylor and promptly reminded him that we had met a decade earlier when he and the Stones took a hiatus in the Virgin Islands during their '72 tour, alighting on St. Thomas, where my family and I were residing at the time. Taylor had put on quite a bit of weight, and the youthful look of innocence he radiated while in the employ of the Stones had given way to a more wizened appearance. Naturally, he didn't appear to remember our earlier encounter, but he was gracious enough to indulge my hero worship all the same.
I also introduced myself to Hopkins, although he was clearly more reserved than his compatriots. In fact, he looked painfully thin and somewhat sickly, creating a worrisome impression that belied his many years of nonstop musical activity. Sadly, he died less than a decade later -- in 1994 to be exact -- succumbing at age 50 to complications from intestinal surgery relating to his ongoing struggle with Crohn's disease. As I recall his appearance at the time of that gig, it was clear that his health was far from ideal.
I didn't talk much to Keys, mainly because I remembered how, when I first met him on that street in St. Thomas as he was accompanying Charlie Watts, he seemed so indifferent. When I first ran into them by chance outside a gift shop they had stopped in, he seemed anxious to avoid any pleasantries, even though Watts was content to give me a token hello. I got the impression he was absorbed in his rock-star persona and not necessarily interested in mixing with mere mortals.
The gig was great, with the band's set list comprised of some basic blues standards, occasional covers, and, naturally, a select number of Stones songs from the era that found the three principals part of the band. The latter offerings leaned heavily on tracks from Sticky Fingers, highlighted by rambunctious renditions of "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," "You Gotta Move," and "I Got the Blues." Given the fact that some of these very same musicians played on the original sessions, the versions replicated in concert came close to the originals.
Of all the South Florida shows I've had the pleasure of attending, this particular gig stands out simply because it was so unexpected. For all intents and purposes, it was a one-off supergroup whose performance flew well below the radar.