There’s a relatively new book out on the market that it seems not many people know about, or at least not many of the people who hang out here, and that needs to change.
Journalist Dan LeRoy, who has written for the likes of the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Newsweek, among others, took it upon himself to pen a fantastic little collection of stories about rock albums that have been finished but never released. Titled “The Greatest Music Never Sold,” LeRoy tells the story behind nine major rock artists’ albums that are done, in the can, completed, ready to rock, yet sit on a shelf somewhere collecting dust.
What does this have to do with the Red Devils, you ask? Awesome as they were, they never wore the mantle of Major Rock Artists. As such, nothing they did on their own should even merit a mention by Mr. LeRoy. However, the Devils, being generally wonderfully talented musicians, attracted the attention of major artists and individuals in the industry, Rick Rubin being the obvious example. It’s through this side door that the Devils snuck to make their name as more than just another bar band or run-of-the-mill neo-classic blues outfit. Rubin brought the Devils formally in touch with the likes of Mick Jagger and Johnny Cash, and the former is the reason we can be so grateful to LeRoy.
You see, Jagger recorded an album that has become something of a widely-circulated secret, a “popular unknown,” if you will. Never having received an official title, the bootleg surfaces with names like “Nature of My Game” and “Mean Old World.” No matter the words on the spine, what counts is the goods inside: a collection of vintage blues favorites sung by Mick and backed up by everyone’s favorite ass-kicking West Coast blues assembly, The Red Devils.
While Mick is unarguably a worthy subject and a titan in the world of rock, the real treat for those of you who have surfed into this little corner of the interverse is that LeRoy wasn’t content to just list a bunch of tracks, go on about how awesome Jagger is, shake his head over the non-release of greatness, and then close the door. LeRoy is actually interested in the Red Devils. Crazily enough, he goes into not only the recording of Jagger’s lost wax artifact, but delves fairly deeply into the history of our favorite backing band and then goes on to relate further tales of their adventures post-Jagger, like the Johnny Cash backing sessions…and the recording of the Devils’ second album. Unless you’re a pretty well-connected and ardent fan, it’s likely that you’ve never heard about their second album and only studio effort.
In his approach to this book, LeRoy bestows a true gift on the reader. In the introduction, the he opines that “rock journalism produces all too many volumes that are little more than rehashed news reports stitched together with commentary – often of dubious value – from the author. I did not want to contribute to this library, so early on I adopted this approach: if I could not get new information about an album from a primary source, I left it out of the book.”
When I read that, I got pretty excited. What this means is that we’re not receiving a simple rehash of available information. Quotes and anecdotes are included from the likes of Bill Bateman, Jonny Ray Bartel, Dave Lee Bartel, and Ginny Tura, information from interviews conducted as late as January 2007.
Dave Lee Bartel on the no-practice, all-feel approach to recording Muddy Waters’ “Still a Fool”: “I didn’t know well enough to play in my fucking bedroom.”
Jonny Ray in disbelief at the spontaneous decision by Rubin and Jagger to record with them: “I figured we’d get about halfway through it, and then he’d fire us, and call in some studio people.”
Bill Batemen working with Mick: “I sat down with him at the board, and we wrote the lyrics out. ‘Cause he couldn’t understand a Muddy Waters song, he couldn’t understand a Slim Harpo song. He’d say, ‘What’s he saying there, Bill?”
Unless you were hanging out heavy on the scene in the early nineties, there’s a strong chance you don’t know a whole lot of this story. Do yourself a favor and pick it up. You’ll be glad you did.