Why Charlie Watts Wasn’t on Mick Jagger’s ‘Wandering Spirit': Exclusive Interview
Guitarist Jimmy Rip has lived many different musical lives. One of his career highlights was working with Mick Jagger in the late '80s and early '90s.
They paired up officially after the Rolling Stones singer finished his second solo album, 1986's Primitive Cool. The material began taking shape for the follow-up, Wandering Spirit, while they were still out on tour. What happened next was quite a journey, as several years and versions of the LP came and went before Wandering Spirit finally arrived on Feb. 3, 1993.
Rip continues to make music, most recently 2020's Muy Crudo, a delightful slab of blues. He shared his memories of the Wandering Spirit era in a conversation with UCR.
How did you get the Jagger gig?
I knew him because I was the guitar player in a video for Bette Midler when she sang "Beast of Burden." Mick was in that video. So I met him, and the director of that video was Allan Arkush. Allan, he directed Rock and Roll High School with the Ramones. He also directed all of The Wonder Years TV show. He’s a great director and a really funny and great guy. You know, just connections. He had worked a lot with my friend Lori Eastside, who was in Kid Creole’s band. She works a lot as a choreographer and so he called her to be the choreographer on this video and asked her if there was any musicians she thought would be great to be in the band in the video. She gave him my name and I went in. I didn’t know Mick was going to be there. Here’s Mick Jagger. I think it was 1982. It was just the very beginning of MTV because that video wound up getting played every 10 minutes on MTV. The first day, just standing in line for lunch at the catering, Mick wound up behind me and I just started talking to him. Everyone was kind of deathly afraid to even speak to him and I’ve never been afraid to talk to anybody! [Laughs.] Obviously, I talk too much to anybody! I just started talking to him and we hit it off instantly. It was long. I think it was two or three days, that shoot. We wound up back there shooting at the Peppermint Lounge in New York. For the whole time, if there was a break, we wound up sitting in the corner, just laughing and telling jokes. You know, we just hit it off instantly.
A few years later, when he had done Primitive Cool, I got a phone call from a friend of mine who worked at CBS Records. He said, "Jagger’s putting together a band; do you want to go down?" I was like, "Yeah, tell him it’s me!" They did, so I went down and I was in from the beginning, and then wound up at four or five auditions where second guitar players kept coming in. [Each] one was more amazing than the next. Robert Cray came in. He was unknown, and he hadn’t even put that first record out yet. We had a million people come in, but they just kept calling me back, so I said, "Well, I guess I got it." And then I didn’t hear anything from him for like a month! [Laughs.] I was like, what the fuck? Then I pick up a Rolling Stone magazine and see that Mick is recording in Holland with Jeff Beck and G.E. Smith and I was like, "Son of a bitch! What the fuck?" And then like three weeks after that, I got another phone call saying, “Mick would like you to come to Holland to play on the record.” I was like, "Okay, great." I went for a few weeks over there and recorded on that record. When it came time to make the tour for that, which was in Japan and Australia and a few other places, he asked me to put the band together with him, which was some of the guys that were on that record, [including drummer] Simon Phillips and [bassist] Doug Wimbish. He and I then went through a very, very funny process of auditioning the rest of the band, which was hysterical. That’s another story, but that’s how I got it.
Watch Mick Jagger's 'Don't Tear Me Up' Video
How did you end up back in the mix for Wandering Spirit?
We'd never stopped, really. What happened was that there was about three months in between the Primitive Cool Japanese tour and the Australian tour. In that three months, he and I went to his big chateau in France. We had the Rolling Stones mobile truck come down and park in the parking lot. He and I and Charlie Watts, who lives not far away, the three of us, recorded an entire version of Wandering Spirit. Which for me, is the best version of Wandering Spirit. Doug Wimbish came and played on a few tracks. I played bass on a lot of it and guitar. But that version of the record is blindingly great. The problem with it was that it sounded so much like a Rolling Stones record! It really sounds just like a Stones record. To the point where sometimes I play it for people and I say, “Hey, have you ever heard these Stones outtakes?” And they go, “Wow, how come they never put this out?” It’s like, this is not a Stones record! But Mick at the end of it said, “If I want to make a Rolling Stones record, I’ll make it with the Rolling Stones.” So he loved it, but he realized that, and it was the right thing to do. I agreed with him after a while, although it hurt when he said that. I was like, “Oh, man,” because it just sounds great, this record. He and I were writing all of those things together and sitting in a room with a cassette machine recording every word. I still have all of those cassette tapes. But then, when we realized that we wanted to make another version of it, we did the Australian tour and then I wound up back writing more stuff with him down at his place in the Caribbean. Tough life, huh? He and I, there were a bunch of years when we were kind of inseparable, going everywhere and doing a lot of work together. We did a lot of really funny, great fun stuff also. I wound up at his house in the Caribbean writing more. At the end of that couple of weeks of writing then, he said that his manager had talked to Keith [Richards]' manager and they had set up a meeting for the two of them in Barbados. Mick said, “You know, I’m going to go meet with Keith, and then if we get on alright, I’m going to make a Rolling Stones record. If it all blows up, we’ll go do this record.” I was like, “Man!”
I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan, so obviously, I want to see Mick and Keith get on okay. I want to hear a new Rolling Stones record, but we had these great songs and we had already recorded a great version of a record. And I was like, “I want to do that record!” Talk about, "you’re not the only one with mixed emotions!" I got a phone call three or four days later. Mick was like, "Yeah, well, you know, I’m going to make the Stones record," which was Steel Wheels. I said, "I understand, don’t worry about it." He said, "Don’t worry, we’ll get it together again." But the fuckin’ Steel Wheels tour went on for two goddamn years! At the end of it, I was playing with Daryl Hall and John Oates. I went right from Mick to playing with them for a few years. I was playing at Hammersmith Odeon in London with Daryl and John, and Mick came to the show and we went out to dinner. I said, “So…” and he said, “Yeah, let’s make it!” And I was like, “Great!” Then, I had to go back and tell Daryl, who had become a very, very close friend. We were neighbors living in upstate New York. I had to sit with Daryl and tell him I was leaving. It took forever before he wasn’t mad at me for doing that, but we’re okay now, I think – which I’m very happy about because I love Daryl. But yeah, that’s what was going on in that whole period.
As soon as I left Hall and Oates, we wound up back at the house in France writing. We did a whole second version of Wandering Spirit and then we went up to Olympic in London to finish it. So there’s a second version of Wandering Spirit that’s not the one anyone knows. That one is not so great, but those are the sessions that “Don’t Tear Me Up” came from and a lot of good songs came from those sessions – but we just didn’t get great versions of them. I was living in L.A. at that point. Mick came out to L.A. and he said, “Okay, well,” because me and him had been doing everything ourselves. He said, “Let’s get somebody to produce. Let’s make a list of producers.” So then, we auditioned producers. We auditioned a whole band. We had every great combination of bass and drums coming in. Just great players who have gone on to play with everybody. I think the band that is on that record was Curt Bisquera, John Pierce on bass and then we had Flea [of Red Hot Chili Peppers] play a bunch of tracks. And we had a list of like 10 or 12 producers and Rick Rubin was on that list. I don’t know, we kind of just liked what Rick said. He didn’t hardly say anything, as Rick does. [Laughs.] He doesn’t really talk much when he’s producing [either]! We did a lot of, like, he would drive around in his car and we would record and play it to him over his phone. He’d say, “Well, do one more” and I was like, “Okay, great!” It was the strangest thing. It was very strange, but the results were fantastic. It’s a great record that people still love and the sound of that record is wonderful. There was a great engineer named Dave Bianco who died a few years ago, but he just got the most beautiful rockin’ clear crisp great sound. To this day, you put that record on and you’re like, "Holy shit, wow!"
Watch Mick Jagger's 'Sweet Thing' Video
It’s a great sounding record. You have more traditional rockers and then you have songs like “Don’t Tear Me Up,” which just sound so beautiful and open. There’s a lot of that on the record.
Yeah, it kind of all led to one of my saddest – I don’t know, it’s not a regret, because there’s nothing I did. “Don’t Tear Me Up” was one of the first things that we recorded on that record. We gave it to Atlantic, the label that we were putting it out on. They went nuts. They said, “Well, geez, this has all of the great elements of the Stones' 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want' and it’s also incredibly modern sounding.” They just loved it. They were over the moon. So we then did the whole rest of the record, which took like a month or something. At the very end of the record, Mick said, “Well, you know, it would be nice to have one kind of dance-y track on the record.” We had that song “Sweet Thing,” so that was the last track we did, the last song. We were like, okay, it’s kind of a throwaway dance song. But it is nice to have a little bit of a different flavor, so great. We gave that to Atlantic and they went crazy. They said, “Oh no, this is fabulous! Dance music is so big and this is going to be the hit from the record!” Me and Mick looked at each other like, “Oh no. No, no, no, no.” So there was this argument with Atlantic for a couple of weeks. Literally, a couple of weeks. That was a real eye-opener for me that Mick Jagger couldn’t just say, “I want this to be the first single,” because we all knew “Don’t Tear Me Up” was a hit, if it was just put out right. So, I learned a real lesson there.
After a couple of weeks of arguing, Mick finally said to me, “Look, I could insist but if you insist, the company won’t put their whole heart into promoting it and then when it fails, they’ll say, ‘You see, we told you; you should have listened to us.’ So you’ve got to kind of let them do the thing that they’re passionate about.” And it makes sense, it’s true, it’s right. But it didn’t work! [Laughs.] The proof was that they put out “Sweet Thing,” and I don’t think it went any higher than the 70s or 80s on the chart. “Don’t Tear Me Up” was never promoted, never put out as a single. And it wound up at No. 1 adult contemporary and was going up the charts completely on its own. DJs had just pulled it off the record. By the time Atlantic scrambled and we did a video for it and they put some promotion to it, it was too late. It was over. With all of that, the record was supposed to come out in October. We had really solid plans to do 20 shows in Europe and 20 shows in the states – which would have been, for me, a real highlight of my life to be able to play in Europe and in the states with Mick. We did a bunch of shows in Japan, a bunch of shows in Australia, but especially in the pre-internet days, they were kind of lost on the world. A little piece in Rolling Stone was about all you were going to get on that. For me to be able to play Madison Square Garden, that’s the dream you don’t want to wake up from. As a guitar player, I’ve had that dream a bunch of times. So with all of the arguing, Atlantic came back and said, “Well, now we’ve missed the release date and Christmas is coming and we’ve got the new Fleetwood Mac and the new Don Henley and the new this and the new that, so we have to wait until after Christmas. We were like, “Okay…”
I think it was like a Feb. 3 release date, but because of that, Mick had committed to go back into the studio to do what became Voodoo Lounge. We couldn’t do any touring for that record. To this day, I feel bad about that, because the band was just killer and the record was great. So really, the only things we got to do playing it were two songs on Saturday Night Live and then the MTV worldwide live, playing everything from the top to bottom and then ciao! That’s it. That MTV thing sounds fantastic. I just can’t imagine with a month of rehearsals and 20 shows, that would have been monstrous. It would have been so good. To this day, I’m like, "Goddamn it!" It’s like the beautiful girl that got away. To my dying day, I’ll be like, “Boy, I wish we could have done that.” It would have been so much fun.
Listen to Mick Jagger's 'Wired All Night'
You talked about this a little bit, but how did Rick Rubin's presence ultimately change the album?
Rick, you know, this story has been told from both sides, but they did not see eye to eye very much. Mick is so diplomatic that he’s only alluded to it. Rick has told the story that it’s kind of almost a point of pride to him. I think Mick at one point said something to him, I don’t want to misquote him, but the gist of it is that he only ever had this much trouble in the studio with Keith. You know, Rick took it as, “Great!”
A badge of honor!
Exactly. That’s the absolutely correct phrase. Rick’s not the kind of producer that he’ll say, “You know that A minor chord, what if you put the seventh in it? It might sound good, the leading tone up to the next chord change.” He’s not that kind of producer. He used to drive me crazy. I didn’t understand it until many years later, but he kind of left you on your own a bit. It was a little bit frustrating because his way of directing was to say, “Do it again.” Me, as someone who is a studied musician and someone who has studied record production like it was a college course, I would say, “Well, what would you like different, Rick? Do you want the color of it to be different?” I’d ask him all of these questions and he would just look with his serene look and he would say, “I don’t know; just do it again.” [Laughs.] After a few days of that, I’d be ready to kill the buddha! I’d be like, “C’mon, man, you’ve got to give me something!” Much later on, I realized that was his way of doing it. He was trying to get you to bring it out of yourself, which is a way of doing it. It’s not the way I like to do it. It’s not the most fun when you’re on the other end of it. I know there’s a lot of film directors that are the same way. So he kind of produced more by saying no to things. Like, Mick would want to put another voice on or he would want to sing it again. Mick can be guilty of overproducing things, in my opinion. I’ve seen him go past the greatness, which I think is why he and Keith are so fantastic together – because Keith will put his boot down and say, “No.” That's why I think Don Was has lasted for so many records with those guys because Don is a great diplomat and knows how to come between the two and get it done in the Stones world.
With Rick, I had done so many versions of those songs and I was in on the writing of them. I was Mick’s friend and hanging out, so it was very hard for me to say, at that point, to be the producer. I should have gotten some kind of [credit]. Mick gave me as much credit as he could without putting me on there as a producer. You know, arranger, music director, whatever’s on that record. There’s a lot of credits for me on that record. But Rick really, he would say, “No, the vocal is done.” Or Mick would say, “Well, it needs more reverb or delay,” and Rick would go, “No, let’s just keep it dry, let’s keep it real.” You cannot win by putting your two cents in. So I just said, "You know, that's up to you to guys," and so Rick did a fantastic job of saying "No" – which is not easy when you're staring across the table from Mick. That's not an easy thing to do. But the record got finished in that way. Otherwise, it probably would have gone on for another six months, because we kept adding more things and remixing this and that and now Rick just said, "This track is finished; let's do the next one." In his very quiet way, that is how he got that record done. The proof is in the pudding.
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