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Rolling Stones’ Producer Connects at Grammy Museum

By Mike Palecki
Published: Friday, June 04, 2010, at 12:17PM
Don Was at the Grammy Museum Becky Sapp / Wire Image

Longtime Rolling Stones producer Don Was talks with Grammy Foundation VP Scott Goldman during an event at the Grammy Museum.

Few have a better perspective on the music of the Rolling Stones than Don Was, the band's longtime producer. On Thursday, Was offered a unique glimpse of the band to fans gathered at the Grammy Museum, providing a context seldom experienced by listening to their songs or attending their concerts.

The discussion, moderated by Scott Goldman, Vice President of the Grammy Foundation, had the audience captivated within minutes. Was thanked everyone for attending and commented, “I spoke to Mick Jagger this morning and told him what I was doing tonight and he sends you his best.”

Was’ most recent project involved selecting ten unreleased songs from recording sessions for the album "Exile On Main Street" and producing them for the 38th Anniversary reissue.

The producer was charged with the task of making the new songs part of the original. “Mick called me in 2009 and was tip-toeing about something that wasn’t pleasant," Was said. "He sent me four CD’s from an enormous amount of 'Exile On Main Street' tapes and wanted me to narrow 50 or 60 fragments into ten songs.” Keith Richards followed up, Was recalled. “Don’t make it sound like 'Exile On Main Street'- it is 'Exile On Main Street!'”

Only songs recorded between 1969 and 1972 in England, Richards’ Villa Nellcote in France, and Los Angeles were included. Although the vocals were of an unusually low volume according to industry standards, there were no modern day adjustments. “They have to match the original 18 songs," Was said. "It’s etched in stone”.

Following that, Goldman asked Was, “Specifically, what is the sound of their exile?” He replied, “It’s murky, grainy, black and white-but not sloppy.” Was next addressed numerous press allegations that the summer at Villa Nellcote was just a decadent party. He conceded there was a very wild party going on upstairs, but not in the basement studio. “Everything was very professional and the Rolling Stones were taking care of business.”

The presentation included never-before-heard outtakes of the songs “Shine A Light” and “Loving Cup.” Was' favorite of the ten bonus songs for the 2010 reissue was “Following The River.” From the original tapes of Nicky Hopkins' soulful piano, Jagger overdubbed vocals in 2009.

“It’s one of his best lyrics ever," Was declared. "It’s very emotional and chilling. I heard it as a farewell to the audience and Mick’s girlfriend started crying thinking it was farewell to her”. The ballad has been transformed into an epic music video for YouTube.

In 1972, Exile On Main Street entered the UK music charts at #1. The 2010 reissue-did the same, and last week it entered the U.S. Billboard 200 at #2.

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GRAMMY Museum

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