Rolling Stones backing singer Bernard Fowler Shares Jagger and Keith Feud Story
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The Rolling Stones‘ backing vocals, Bernard Fowler recalled getting caught in the middle of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards‘ feud in the ’80s.
Fowler was included on Jagger’s 1985 solo album She’s the Boss and became part of the singer’s solo band for a 1987 tour. Fowler then worked with the Stones starting 1989 to record Steel Wheels and was followed by many studio recordings and live tours.
During the time Fowler joined the Stones, the disagreements between Jagger and Richards were sometimes referred to as “World War III.” In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Fowler shared that he’d perhaps become a victim of being dubbed as “Mick’s guy.” He recalled:
“I had never met any of [the others], and then they walked into the studio one by one.
“Mick and I were throwing some ideas down for a song. I go into the studio and I started singing, but it didn’t feel right to me. I remember saying, ‘Stop, stop. Stop the tape.’ Mick was like, ‘What’s up? It’s going good.’ I said, ‘Mick, I’m happy to do this for you. But if I do this, it’s going to sound like me. Maybe you and some of the guys can come in and sing with me.’ Radio silence. I guess they were talking about it. But then Ronnie [Wood] and Keith came in.”
Fowler gave the duo vocal parts to perform and the band went to listen to the playback. He continued:
“I’m standing there and I look to my left and Keith is staring at me. It didn’t feel good. It’s the first time I met him. Yes, I’m intimidated. That’s fuckin’ Keith Richards. He’s a bad man. … I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh, shit. Here we go. What the fuck is going to happen?'”
Fowler thought Richards had something to say so he asked the guitarist,
“Hey, man, is something wrong?
“I go, ‘But you’re staring at me, man. Why do you keep staring at me?’ … And then he goes, first thing he ever said to me, ‘I didn’t want to like you.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, fuck.’ I knew they had been fighting. Everybody knew.”
That’s where drummer Steve Jordan helped resolve the issue. Fowler said:
“I said, ‘Why, man? I’m cool. [Richards] goes, ‘I know you’re cool. I spoke to Steve Jordan.’ God bless Steve Jordan! ‘I spoke to Steve Jordan and he told me you were cool.’ And Keith and I have been tight ever since.”
Asked if Richards had decided he was “Mick’s guy,” Fowler replied:
“That’s where it was going. I think he saw me not trying to take that space and make it Bernard’s world when I did that song. I think he caught that I did something unselfish. He’s sharp. He don’t miss shit. He don’t miss nothin’.”
Fowler admitted Jagger was in tension as the expanded lineup had to work out how to fit backing singers into a tour for the first time ever, he added:
“Believe me, if it didn’t feel good, Mick would give us the eye.
“If he didn’t say it, all you had to do was look at his face. It said, ‘Uh-uh. Oops. Let’s go back and rethink that.’ … For me, it was about listening to the records, listening to where Jagger’s voice is doubled on the record. That’s where I need to be. When that happens, I need to be there. … Those things were important to me to help beef up that sound.”