When the Rolling Stones Hit the Top 40 Without Keith Richards
What do you do when your star guitarist walks out on you during the middle of a session? If you're the Rolling Stones in 1969, you use the downtime to cut a handful of impromptu jams that end up making the Top 40.
As Stones fans are already likely aware, the release in question is Jamming With Edward!, a six-song curio that came together after Keith Richards left the band while they were recording the Let It Bleed LP. Although it's commonly accepted that Richards departed over a disagreement with producer Glyn Johns, who'd brought in guitarist Ry Cooder to help buttress the Rolling Stones' sound, Johns later attributed his absence to a phone call from his partner Anita Pallenberg. Either way, it left the other Stones at temporary loose ends.
"[Richards] went, but the rest of us decided to stay around, and they just jammed," Johns later recalled. "Ry played guitar, Mick Jagger harmonica, and Nicky piano, and it was just a joke really, just a laugh. I recorded it and they played it, and then, I don't know how long later, we dug the tapes out, I mixed it and they stuck it out on album. It didn't really warrant releasing really, but it was okay, a bit of fun, and there's some good playing on it."
Jamming With Edward! didn't see release right away. Recorded in the spring of 1969, it lingered in the Stones' vaults until the first week of January 1972, when the nascent Rolling Stones Records put it out during the brief lull between the classic Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. albums. For Hopkins, the release offered something of an opportunity to shine during a career dominated by session work, but he still wasn't overly eager to see it arrive in stores.
"It was simply a neat thing to do. It's not really a Stones record," Hopkins told Disc and Music Echo. "We use about half the jam on the record. We thought people might like to hear what goes down between actual recording proper. But it's not a serious album by any means, and I'd hate people to say 'is this the best Nicky Hopkins can do.'"
Serious album or not, Jamming With Edward! rose on the strength of its Stones association to break the Top 40, peaking at No. 33 in the weeks after its release. Not one of the more cohesive band-related efforts, it represented more of a peek behind the scenes than a truly necessary purchase for any but the most ardent Stones completist, but like much of what the band recorded during its classic era, it's a piece of work that benefits from a certain ragged, boozy charm.
And as for the title, which Johns attributed to Hopkins' "goon-type humor"? According to Hopkins himself, it stemmed from an earlier moment of studio conversation between himself and Stones founder Brian Jones. "He was playing bass, for some reason I can't remember, and I was at the other end of the studios playing piano. He called over 'Give me an E, Nicky' – but I couldn't hear. So he shouted 'Give me an E for Edward,'" he recalled. "The whole thing developed from there."