“People ask me all the time — because I’ve done books about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — which band I like better, but it really wasn’t about that,” Andy Babiuk, author of the fantastic new Rolling Stones Gear (opens in new tab) told me recently.
“I did Beatles Gear (opens in new tab) first because they really did pave the way for everyone and everything that came after.
"But as soon as I finished that book, I knew I wanted to write the definitive Stones book.”
Rolling Stones Gear, Babiuk’s followup to 2002's Beatles Gear, is perhaps just that. Stones Gear isn't just a comprehensive list of the equipment the Rolling Stones have used over the course of the band's 50-plus-year career — though it is, of course, that. It’s also a fantastic, detailed chronology of the band’s history and might be the most complete and compelling biography to date.
“I was very careful not to make Beatles Gear a nuts-and-bolts equipment book,” Babiuk said. “You don’t have to be a gear wizard to enjoy Beatles Gear. I wanted it to be a book even a casual fan of the Beatles could pick up and enjoy, but it also was intended to give the reader insight into the instruments the band used and what was special or unique about them.
"With Stones Gear, I wanted it to be even more over the top. So if you’re a Stones fan, you can read the story of the band, learn about the equipment they used and actually see pictures of the band using the equipment from sources that people just don’t have access to.”
What Babiuk has done with co-author Greg Prevost is provide not just an excellent oral history of the band, but a visual one as well. The over-sized, hefty hardcover book features hundreds of color and black and white pictures of the Stones, not just performing or posing for the camera, but using the equipment mentioned. Best of all, the details provided allow the serious reader to easily find the footage of the gear mentioned.
“When I did Beatles Gear, YouTube didn’t exist to see clips of the gear,” Babiuk said. “I had to resort to old VHS and even Beta tapes. So it’s great that now, while you’re reading the book, you can pretty easily find the clips I’m referring to and see the Stones in action using the pieces mentioned.”
Brian Jones looms large over the early pages of the book. Clearly interested in any musical instrument he could get his hands on in the early days of the band, Jones quickly fades into the background as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards steer the band to stardom. As the story progresses, as a result of his unprecedented access (Babiuk was able to play many of the pieces pictured in the book), Babiuk is able to provide tremendous insight into the equipment used by all the Stones, including those of drummer Charlie Watts, guitarists Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood, and especially bassist Bill Wyman.
“Bill is really the Stones’ historian,” Babiuk said. “His Rolling with the Stones book is probably the best book about the band out there, and he’s kept everything over the years. So I was able to visit with him at his home in London and show him 450 pictures in chronological order. And he was really helpful, but what I realized is that these are really just guys.
"They weren’t gearheads or obsessed with every little detail. The things we fans agonize over weren’t that important to the band in many cases. But I felt it was important to get this information down — and to get the band’s insight as much as possible — so there’s a better understanding of the inner-workings of the Stones and what it’s taken to make everything happen over the years.”
Babiuk’s approach, and his undeniable credibility as a serious rock historian, earned him the trust of the band and its tight inner-circle. But it also earned him a historical footnote of his own.
“One of the coolest things that came out of this,” Babiuk said, “is that Pierre De Beauport — the Stones’ equipment manager, who was incredibly helpful to me and sympathetic to what I was trying to accomplish — got out some of the pieces that were in storage for us to look at and photograph, and they ended up using them. So the [Gibson] Hummingbird [acoustic] Mick is now using on tour is Keith’s guitar that we write about in the book, and that is a really important piece.”
Jeff Slate is a NYC-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He founded and fronted the band the Badge for 15 years beginning in 1997 and has worked with Pete Townshend, Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Steve Holley, Laurence Juber and countless others. He has interviewed and written about everyone from the Beatles and Kiss to Monty Python and rock musicals on Broadway. He is an avid collector of rock and roll books and bootlegs and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and the Beatles. For more information, visit jeffslate.net.