Keith Richards To Don Was: ‘Are You Sure You Want To Be The Meat In This Sandwich?’

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Earlier this week on Late Show With David Letterman, Mick Jagger read the Top 10 list, “Top Ten Things I’ve Learned From 50 Years In Rock and Roll,” which included the following adage: “No one wants to hear anything from your new album.” It was advice he obviously didn’t take too seriously. Jagger and the Rolling Stones may not have a new album, but they do have two new songs — “Gloom And Doom” and “One More Shot,” which have both been played at all four Stones this year.

Both of the new songs were produced by Don Was, who has been the band’s producer for nearly 20 years and worked on 1994’s Voodoo Lounge, 1997’s Bridges To Babylon, 2005’s A Bigger Bang and some live/archival projects. Was recently spoke to CBS Local about his first meeting with the band.

He sat down with “The Glimmer Twins” as they were looking at bass players following Bill Wyman’s resignation. At that point, Was wasn’t sure how long his relationship with them would last, but, as he tells CBS Local, he got a good dose of the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards dynamic very quickly.

Watch Was discuss his first encounter with Mick and Keith:

“I think the record company wanted to have a producer involved [in their next album], and Mick was open to that,” Was says. “I went to S.I.R. Studios [in New York City] where they were trying out bass players. So, here they are siting next to me on a sofa, and Mick was telling me what he wanted in a producer. And Keith was telling me why he didn’t want a producer! And they would not yield the conversation to each other. It might have been ten minutes — it was probably five — but they both talked at the same time and would not yield to the other guy!”

“Finally, there’s a pause and Keith says, ‘Are you sure you want to be the meat in this sandwich?'”

By the time he hit the studio with the Stones, he was a seasoned veteran at working with huge stars, including Bonnie Raitt, Iggy Pop, Elton John, Bob Seger, Ringo Starr, Glenn Frey, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, David Crosby and Jackson Browne. He’d also produced Bob Dylan’s Under The Red Sky. He told CBS Local that he learned some important lessons on that album, which he later applied to working with the Stones. His goal on that project was to get Dylan to return to his 1960s sound, which, in retrospect, was a mistake. “I’m trying to get him back to something, and he’s trying to look forward and do something different! Which is what you’re supposed to do! You’re not supposed to just imitate yourself, you’re supposed to do something new, that challenges you.” (Read more: Don Was On Producing ‘Under The Red Sky’: ‘I Don’t Think I Was Of Great Service To Bob Dylan’)

So, when he started work on Voodoo Lounge, he says, “I wasn’t there to do what I tried to do to Bob Dylan. I was learning from that lesson. I wasn’t there to take them back to (1969’s) Let It Bleed. It was, ‘Let’s make a new Stones record!'”

Obviously it was a lesson well learned. Was has been “the meat” in the Jagger/Richards “sandwich” for a long time, and says that it still means a lot.

“I’m a lifetime fan,” he says. “I saw them on the first U.S. tour, they played at Olympia Stadium in Detroit for, like, 200 people, the week before they were on The Ed Sullivan Show. No one knew who they were! The 200 people were just people who dug the Beatles and thought, ‘Oh, another Beatles.’  I’ve been to every tour, I bought every record the day it came out, up until the ones I made.”

And it turns out that Richards has finally warmed up to Was: the two have co-produced Aaron Neville’s upcoming album, My True Story, due out January 22.

Brian Ives, CBS Local 

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