Jagger & Keith Richards
First release: single, July 1969
Recording date: March & May-June 1969 Recording location: Olympic Sound Studios, London, England
Producer: Jimmy Miller Chief engineer: Glyn Johns
Performed onstage: 1969-73, 1975-78, 1981-82, 1989-90, 1994-95, 1997-99, 2002-03, 2005-07, 2012-19, 2021
Bass: Bill Wyman
Rhythm electric guitar: Keith Richards
Lead electric guitars: Keith Richards (incl. solo) & Mick Taylor
Lead vocals: Mick Jagger
Background vocals: Keith Richards, Reparata & The Delrons, Nanette Newman & Doris Troy
Piano: Ian Stewart
Cowbell: Jimmy Miller
Saxophones: Steve Gregory & Bud Beadle
I know what we did do in South America. Went to a ranch and wrote Honky Tonk Women because it was into a cowboy thing. All these spades are fantastic cowboys. Beautiful ponies and quarter horses. Miles from anywhere. Just like being in Arizona or something.
Mick and I were sitting on the porch of this ranch house and I started to play, basically fooling around with an old Hank Williams idea, you know.
Keith and I were on this holiday in Brazil once and we sang it all the way through the holiday.
Honky Tonk Women is another (example of a song where the music and words came together). A lot of times you're fooling with what you consider to be just working titles or even working hooks, and then you realize there's nothing else that's going to slip in there and fit in the same way. So you're left with this fairly inane phrase (laughs).
I wrote Honky Tonk Women as a straight Hank Williams-Jimmie Rodgers sort of number. Later, when we were fooling around with it trying to make it sound funkier, we hit on the sound we had on the single. We all thought, Wow, this has got to be a hit single. And it was, and it did fantastically well. It's the sort of song that transcends all tastes.
(Ry Cooder) was around at the time... I think that's where Keith learned the guitar tuning for Honky Tonk Women. It's open-G tuning...
The guitar is in open tuning on that. I learned that particular tuning (G) off Ry Cooder.
Jimmy Miller played the cowbell and I joined in.
We've never played an intro to Honky Tonk Women live the way it is on the record. That's Jimmy playing the cowbell and either he comes in wrong or I come in wrong - but Keith comes in right, which makes the whole thing right. It's one of those things that musicologists could sit around analyzing for years. It's actually a mistake, but from my point of view, it works.
The intro to Honky Tonk Women was like, if you wrote musically that down and played it properly, it wouldn't have the same thing as the actual take does. But that's what's good about being in a band like this, there's room for things like that.
And I mean I remember the looks in the studio as we were cutting the track - Don't fuck it up now, boy, this is it. (Laughs) You know, I mean, the track was rocking.
It was a great amp on that... I really can't honestly say what it was, but the guitar was probably a Telecaster, maybe a Les Paul Jr.
I definitely added something to Honky Tonk Women, but it was more or less complete by the time I arrived and did my overdubs. They had already laid down the backing track, but it was very rough and incomplete. I added some guitars to it, but I didn't play the riffs that start it - that's Keith playing. I played the country kind of influence on the rock licks between the verses.
Nice to know that people really like the Stones' music - NOW! There have been other number ones - but at this time it has special significance.
Brown Sugar was a good single, but the best single we did in a long time was Honky Tonk Women. That's one that I really knew when it came on, because a lot of people dug it, they just couldn't stop moving. And that's what it is - just instant move your arse.
Honky Tonk can be a bastard to play, man. When itís right, itís really right. Thereís something about the starkness of the beginning you really have to have down, and the tempo has to be just right. Itís a challenge, but I love it.