Midway through recording the Rolling Stones' "Voodoo Lounge" album, producer Don Was turned to bass player Darryl Jones with a suggestion. "Play something like the bass line in 'Street Fighting Man,' " said Was.
To which Jones responded, " 'Street Fighting Man'? Could you hum a few bars of that for me?"
Jones laughs as he tells the story, knowing how improbable it sounds now. But it's true -- the man the Rolling Stones picked to replace original bass man Bill Wyman grew up in almost total ignorance of the band and its music.
"I haven't been a huge Rolling Stones fan," Jones admits. "I haven't known every song that they've played." In fact, he didn't begin to become familiar with the band's music until a couple weeks before he was scheduled to audition for the band -- at which point, he says, he started listening to a few greatest hits collections.
Yet here he is, 14 months later, rehearsing in Toronto as a fully integrated member of the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band. Granted, it's not quite the same as being a founding member -- at this point, only Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts have full shares in the band -- but Jones' presence is enough to let Ron Wood joke, "At least I'm not the new boy in the band anymore."
Jones is pretty pleased with the situation. "I think I'm going to have a great time," he says, with typical understatement.
But for millions of Stones fans, two questions remain: Who is this guy? And, what on earth made a non-fan like him want to try out for a band like this?
Answering the first question is easy: Darryl Jones is one of the best bass players on earth. At 32, his resume includes stints with Miles Davis (who hired Jones when he was a mere lad of 19), Sting (that's Jones on bass in the film "Bring on the Night") and Madonna (he was part of the barely seen band in "Truth or Dare"). A musician's musician, he's equally at home in jazz, funk or rock, and is known as much for his easy-going personality as for his more-than-considerable ability.
L As Was puts it, "He's a monster, but he's a humble monster."
Jones' humility isn't just a matter of personality, though. Unlike a lot of hot-stuff bass players, who show off their string-popping, .. thumb-thumping virtuosity at every opportunity, Jones opts for a more minimal approach, one that supports the song instead of trying to overshadow it.
"He wasn't in there trying to lay his signature all over the Rolling Stones," says Was. "His parts are very humble and supportive, and really ego-free. Which, second to the fact that he grooved like crazy, was the most attractive thing about his playing. He really tried to be a part of the foundation."
"I kinda play from the simple school," says Jones, with a shrug. "Bare, fundamentals bass."
'It could work'
That's what made him interested in auditioning for the Stones in the first place. "I thought that my style of playing could fit with this band. That's kind of what pushed me to start asking questions about who was auditioning, and things like that. Because I guess in the back of my mind I thought that my style could fit with them. It could work."
Getting an audition wasn't as simple as answering an ad in the back of the Village Voice. But Jones knew enough of the right people to pass word along that he wanted to try out for the band.
"I had met Keith, and I had met Mick actually a number of years before," he says. "So I started to call around. I left my name at Mick's management, and started telling friends of mine who knew them -- who knew Keith or knew somebody in the Stones -- that if they were going to listen to a number of bass players, I'd like to be one of them."
Eventually, the band got in touch. "They flew me to New York," says Jones, "and we played through, you know, about six or seven hits -- 'Brown Sugar,' 'Miss You,' 'Tumbling Dice,' and a few other tunes."
Amazingly, that was the first time Jones had ever played those songs. Even so, he found the audition a pleasure. "They have made it easy, I must admit," he says. "I mean, it was just all smiles and warm handshakes. They really -- it seemed like they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. They asked me if I knew the songs. They said if I didn't know the songs, they would teach them to me, and then we would play them.
"I auditioned for another job about a week after I auditioned for the Stones," he adds. "And in that case, the woman who I auditioned for was sitting behind a table. The band played, and afterwards, she interviewed us.
"I don't say that it was an unpleasant experience, necessarily, but it just reminded me that here this woman, who is a very, very big figure in the music business, hadn't done it before. It was obvious to me that she was as afraid of auditioning people as the people were coming in to audition. And in that case she was really not able to make me feel as comfortable as the Stones did."
No hiding in music
Maybe that's because Jones made it easy for the Stones to feel comfortable with him. "I have a theory that just comes from playing live music for 30 years," says Was. "Play music with someone for 15 minutes, and you'll know more about them than if you hang out with them for five years. Because in life, we know how to hide a little bit. But you can't do it with music, and I really think people play just like who they are."
So what kind of person does Darryl Jones' playing reveal? "Darryl's this really sweet, quiet, unassuming guy, and fit into the band like that," answers Was. "It's quite a testament to what a good guy he is, really."
It also says something for his honesty as a musician. When he was preparing for the audition, Jones decided he wasn't going to try simply to learn how to play Wyman's old parts. "I didn't sit down and try and learn it note-for-note," he says. "I was kind of listening for how he was playing. How much space was he leaving? Where was he leaving it? What are the particulars of the bass line that really helped make the song function?
"After I looked at those things, I decided I'd better play the way I play in this audition. It's the same thing that I felt when I auditioned for Miles. It was like a voice came to me before I went into the audition. I thought, 'Well, if I go in here and play like somebody else, and I get the job, that means that I'll have to play like somebody else for the duration.' I just couldn't see doing that.
"And I guess it worked, because they listened, and felt, 'Well, this can go with what we do.' "
Jones adds that his sense of style will probably come through in the band's live shows as well. "They're not looking for me to do the Bill Wyman, stand-in-one-place, cement-boot dance," he says his new band mates. So he has every intention of getting into the groove physically as well as musically.
"Really, I get what I do onstage from the music," he says. "It's like Miles used to tell the guys in the band: 'If you look at Darryl and he's not moving, something is wrong.' "
IF YOU GO . . .
When: Monday, Aug. 1, and Wednesday, Aug. 3, 8 p.m.
Where: RFK Stadium
Tickets: $39.50 and $50, with limited $50 tickets only available for Monday
Call: (410) 481-7328