The beginning of their fundamental stage

By Sergio Ariza

Beggar's Banquet is the beginning of the fundamental period in the Rolling Stones career. Here they return to the roots of blues, country and early rock but this time with a sound of their own, the sound for which they are still remembered. Recorded in magical sessions between March and June of 1968, while the world burned with student protests, the Stones not only found their definitive sound but, for a moment, they were the spokes-people of the moment with songs like Street Fighting Man and Sympathy For The Devil, recorded while the Sorbonne was being taken and Robert Kennedy murdered.      

The Stones had walked to the beat of the Beatles since the latter withdrew from playing live in 1966; Jagger and Richards had also followed in their wake but failed to get as much out of the studio and psychedelia, and their Satanic Majesties Request paled before the
Sgt. Pepper's of those from Liverpool. In addition the band was going through a fairly convulsive stage, with Brian Jones increasingly distant from the rest of the band, fully immersed in drugs and resentful of Keith Richards, for whom Anita Pallenberg had left him. This led to Keith taking a step forward and becoming the main focus of the band, specifically by taking care of most of the guitars on the album. For his part, Jones's self-esteem never recovered from that blow and his interest in the group faded. During the making of Beggar's Banquet he missed many of the recording sessions and when he appeared he did not seem very interested either, despite the album representing a return to his beloved blues. It was on that record that he made his last major contribution to the band playing the incredible acoustic slide of No Expectations, possibly his best work on the six strings, a reminder of where he might have gone if he had continued to pay more attention to the instrument. Of course, the juicy slide of Jig Saw Puzzle was done by Keith himself.

But the song that best exemplifies the new sound of the band is found in the single that served as an introduction to the album, although it was not included in it, Jumpin 'Jack Flash. With this song Richards found his characteristic sound and gave it to the band. Tired of the normal tuning he discovered open tuning on five strings and created what he considers to be his best riff. Keith has always been particularly proud of Jumpin 'Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man, two of the great classics of the band - for which he did not use a single electric guitar. To get that sound Keith played his Gibson Hummingbird acoustic with an open D tuning and a Capo in E, plus a second acoustic guitar that creates the opening chord and is in a 'Nashville tuning' in which the last four strings are replaced by narrower strings and tuned one octave higher than normal. To this is added the fact that all the guitars are recorded through a cassette recorder which gives them that peculiar sound, close to one that is electric.


Of course the song that opened Beggar's Banquet is at the same level, nothing more and nothing less than Sympathy For The Devil; one of their best songs that contains one of the most furious and angry solos of all time. Keith Richards delivers his best moment as a lead guitarist possibly with his Les Paul Custom 57 connected to a Vox AC30. The solo is so great that some have doubted that Keith himself is responsible but it is enough to listen to Stray Cat Blues on this same album or his intro to Rock and Roll Circus to know that Keith's DNA is everywhere.

Of course, these are not the only virtues of a historic record. His satanic majesties ‘returned through the main door’, despite internal divisions. A plethoric Jagger called for rebellion in the streets, this was 1968 and it was time for Street Fighting Man; a soundtrack for an incendiary year. On Stray Cat Blues you can hearthe classic Stones of the 70s, on Factory Girl their first flirtations with country are detected and on Prodigal Son they again paid tribute to the swampiest blues. Parachute Woman and Jig Saw Puzzle distilled the Stones swagger, and Salt of the Earth classily closed an album that kicked off the fundamental stage of the group.