Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and two of the band’s back-up vocalists, Bernard Fowler and Blondie Chaplin, gave a surprise performance on Monday night, October 28 in Los Angeles, California at the Joint, a small club that only holds approximately a hundred people.
The core band was comprised of longtime Stevie Nicks guitarist Waddy Wachtel, former Tom Petty drummer Steve Jones, and bass player Rick Rosas, who played on Neil Young hits including “Rockin’ In The Free World.” Also lending support in the band were upstart vocalist Memphis, and veteran British singer Terry Reid, whose long list of performances includes having played at the wedding reception of Stones vocalist Mick Jagger to Bianca Perez Morena de Macias.
Some of those who were in the audience had arrived at the gig, anticipating that something special would happen this evening, due to the fact that prior to his joining the current Stones tour, Fowler had been a member of this band that played at the club every Monday night for over a year. It was not lost on many who were in the club that the Stones would be in town this week, gearing up for two Los Angeles shows. For many who were present, this was essentially Fowler’s greatly anticipated homecoming, and his return would have been enough for the stunned audience, let alone to also have the stage additionally graced by Richards. Fowler credited Wachtel with inviting Richards to join the band for the evening. Backstage, Wachtel quipped, “I didn’t start the rumors that Keith would be here. Really, I didn’t! I can’t help rumors that start out there.”
Fowler entered the club, coming through the back entrance, and upon seeing his fellow musicians, gave emotional long hugs and greetings. Fowler would tell the audience, “I missed you all. Damn, I missed you all,” as he introduced the band’s members to the audience.
Richards, donning his trademark handcuffs, skull ring and other assorted silver jewelry, was clearly the life of the party, along with Fowler. The Stones guitarist ascended the stage with a black Gibson, and then would later use Wachtel’s 1970 sunburst Gibson SG. Richards and company broke into a rendition of the song “Key To The Highway,” a blues number written by Charles Segar and Willie Broonzie, a standard that has been covered by countless blues artists. Richards and Fowler interacted on stage, and an animated Fowler grabbed Chaplin by his jacket and hugged him while the pair added vocal lines and harmonies interlaced between Richards’ vocals and guitar licks.
“You know I know some of the guys here,” quipped Richards. In addition to solo work and Stones projects that the Stones axe slinger has done with Fowler, Wachtel was Richards’ other guitarist in his side project, The X-pensive Winos, which embarked on tours in 1988 and 1992, and released two albums, yielding Richards’ solo hit “Take It So Hard.” In addition to his performances with the Stones, Chaplin appears with Richards on the Grammy-winning Hank Williams tribute album, Timeless, on the track “You Win Again.”
As the surprise ensemble broke into the Stones classic, “Jumping Jack Flash,” an energetic Richards looked as if he was performing it for the first time, as he showed endless energy on stage. The intimately situated audience caught a close-up view of Richards, who donned various silver charms that were weaved into his hair. Fowler pranced about the stage in his black leather jacket, singing lead on one of the song’s verses. In addition to his work with the Stones, Fowler’s extensive discography includes recording with Yoko Ono, as well as co-writing and co-producing Stones guitarist Ron Wood’s Slide On This.
When Richards left the stage, he joked, “Thank you very much. I’ve got work to do now. Bye, ladies and gentlemen,” and with that, the guitarist of the greatest rock and roll band in the world departed the stage.
Fowler stayed on to sing AC/DC’s metal anthem, “Sin City,” as Wachtel shredded power chords. Fowler’s mastery for captivating an audience had long been well known to members of the audience who had previously witnessed Fowler’s diverse vocal range, which allows him to seemingly effortlessly rock hard or to otherwise mesmerize an audience with his uniquely soulful introspective style.
Richards, Fowler and Chaplin will perform with the Rolling Stones at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Halloween night and and at the Wiltern Theatre on November 4.
PHYLLIS POLLACK lives in LA. She is a music producer, publicist for rock and rap bands and an anti-censorship activist.