Why Mick Taylor Quit the Stones
By Curtis Smith
In 1997 Keith Richards said, "His touch, his tone, and his melodic ideas wowed me. I never understood why he left..."
Over the many years since that fateful day in December of 1974, much speculation has occurred as to the real reason that the Rolling Stones musician packed his bags and left them. Today, when asked Mick seems to find it easier to agree to whatever line the interviewer puts forth as the one single reason. Mick shrugs off jibs from Howard Stern accepting that a great mistake was made on his part by leaving. The temptation seems to lay in the idea to get Mick Taylor to sit quietly down and expand on the subject in detail without the influence of a reporter's presumptuous questions, but Mick already has done this in the late 1970's several times. Today, he comes across as being bored with the subject as if it were not the most optimal decision he ever made, but one that could not be undone nonetheless.
Major critics of Mick's departure often overlook the fact that Mick had been jamming in private with Jack Bruce, while he was a member of the Stones. In fact there was no break between his tenure with the Stones and his time with Jack Bruce. Other critics will say that Mick never was a real Rolling Stone and that the Stones fired him. However, none of the Rolling Stones themselves ever made claims along these lines. Aside from Jagger leaving a vacation to return to England to talk Mick out of quitting, the Stones took little efforts to talk Mick into staying. Keith Richards criticized the departure citing that Mick had nine months to let them know that he intended to leave the band. The Stones fully expected Mick to join them for the Black and Blue recording sessions; However, Taylor did not intend to become a solo act at that point in time and the Jack Bruce opportunity only arose in the autumn of 1974. The Stones resented holding auditions for a new guitarist during their recording sessions, they found themselves "holding the bag". Another common misconception of Taylor's departure centers on the idea that he was afraid of his decline into the drug culture, yet Mick clearly disputes this claim citing his drug habit would only worsen after leaving the band. A detailed analysis of the subject makes clear multiple ideas and influences played a part in the decision to leave the band.
Other people's opinions influenced or at least encouraged Mick's major move. Certainly Bill Wyman set the stage early on by verbalizing his own personal desires to leave the Stones. Wyman never denied his 19 or 20 year old urge to quit the band and the very idea of another band member wishing to leave, easily could have opened the door of thinking that there very well might be a better life outside the world of the Rolling Stones. Writer Steve Appleford recounts Andy Johns', Stones Recording engineer, guilt-ridden account of his own hand at reinforcing Mick's ideas. Johns describes telling Taylor to quit as the dumbest mistake of his life. Rose Taylor, Mick's first wife, takes knocks from all sides for allegedly pushing Mick to quit and telling Mick he could do better without his high profile band. Comments directly from Mick regarding Rose's involvement proves most elusive to find. Mick divorced her shortly thereafter. Other opportunities presented themselves to Mick. Paul Rogers from the formative version of Bad Company would try to recruit Mick. He played with Mike Oldfield and opened for the Stones in Billy Preston's band. Mick had other options and bidders looking to recruit his fast hand, the future looked bright. Though many of Mick's other friends implored him to stay with the World's Greatest Rock 'N' Roll Band reminding him of the millions he would make if he stayed put. Yet little suggestions and nudges add up to help formulate a decisively bold stance to strike out, at least some people supported the departure.
Clues can be found from the very first recordings sessions shared with The Stones. Taylor's self effacing and humble opinion of himself never lead him to believe that he stood as a candidate to join the mighty Rolling Stones, he merely thought they asked him to come to the studio and lay down some studio tracks. Differences in musical abilities quickly surfaced at the Hyde Park rehearsals. Taylor remarks, " I just couldn't believe how bad they sounded. Their timing was awful. They sounded like a typical bunch of guys in a garage. Playing out of tune and too loudly. I thought: How is it possible that this band can make hit records?" Taylor will often point to the age difference and cite that he never particularly wanted to ride the coat tails of other people's success. His attitude ran along the lines of "I wasn't with them when they started and I wouldn't be with them forever." On the other hand Mick's quiet and introspective mannerisms made for an easy personality to accept. His calm and non-invasive ways gave the Stones something they could not find in Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, mainly high quality guitar playing without an aggressive ego. Mick can be spotted in numerous Stones photo sessions laughing and carrying on with his band mates. These characteristics leave Mick as the only Stone to escape the true ire of Keith Richards' wraith. True musical differences surfacing later in time took a greater toll and proved to be stronger than comradery and even friendship.
Though many people point to disputes resulting from not crediting Mick Taylor for songwriting collaborations with Mick Jagger as the sole reason for leaving, deeper thoughts filled the young virtuoso's head in 1973. The Australian and European tours brought forth the best of Taylor's playing during his tenure with the Stones, while leaving him wanting more. To this day fans amaze Mick with their grand interest in these solos, because he remembers being bored to tears while on stage. In a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Mick states that the 72 minutes of a Stones concert seemed to go on for hours. In contrast, he found the much longer Jack Bruce shows to fly by. In October 1979 Mick Taylor said, "It doesn't necessarily follow that because you're in a successful rock 'n' roll band, you're going to stay in a situation like that and be satisfied. For me it was personally restricting. I'm not saying that it wasn't fun. It was a helluva lot of fun; it was great. But I had to move on and do something else." Progressing as a musician stands as a key to understanding the Mick Taylor case, that he picked Jack Bruce's jazz-fusion band evidences the urge to better himself musically, the failure of Jack Bruce to provide an atmosphere conducive to growth is the true tragedy of the Mick Taylor story.
The desire to pursue more complex musical frontiers leads the case as the strongest reason for leaving such a popular band. The other factors need to be considered. In life, not all decisions allow themselves to be reduced to a solitary piece of rationale. Little things add up and new opportunities present themselves attractively. For the Rolling Stones Taylor's departure amounted to a musical disaster, but not a financial disaster. For Mick Taylor the separation resulted in a financial disaster, but not a musical disaster. The Rolling Stones lost fans as a result of Mick leaving, but Stones fans proved to be bountiful. Mick's intention was not to go solo immediately, but to be part of another band. Money and attendance records do not make success; often bands will sacrifice complexity for the sake of expanding their fan base. In 1974, Mick Taylor made a noble decision to forsake a massive fortune for musical integrity. Many a blues artist have graced the halls Taylor currently plays.