Why Rolling Stones Backing Vocalist Bernard Fowler Wants to Bring Spoken Word Back

While the Rolling Stones have amassed an absurdity of hits compilations sinceBig Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) in 1966, the newly released Honk remains distinct from familiar Stones collections by focusing on the last 30 years of the band’s recorded output. Not only is the 1989-2016 era of their catalog the most underrated, it also chronicles the real time evolution of singer Bernard Fowler’s role as the Stones’ longtime backing vocalist, who began appearing on every LP since Steel Wheels (1989) after working with Mick Jagger on 1985’s solo She’s The Boss.

As the cosmos would have it, on the very day of Honk‘s release (April 19), Fowler’s own album based around the band’s music, Inside Out, also dropped. It’s a collection of wildly reconstructed versions of eight tracks from the Stones catalog, half of which were culled from 1983’s new wave-evoking Undercover. For Fowler, however, the heavy lean on that record was pure coincidence — a happy accident that transpired as part of the album’s larger picture.

“It was not planned that way at all,” he explains. “My goal was to look for songs with good lyrical content, and when I went into the songbook those tunes jumped out at me. I wasn’t concentrating on any one album in particular. But I loved Undercover, and I loved the single. Especially the video. It was really good because of what was happening at the time in Nicaragua. We were being bombarded with that stuff on television every day. I took notice, and when I saw the video for the song, I took notice of that, too, because it was particularly strong.”

Meanwhile, the weight of two particular tunes — the Sticky Fingers comedown “Sister Morphine” and “Dancing With Mr. D” off 1973’s Goat’s Head Soup (which appears twice on Inside Out) — come across as particularly heavy in light of the current opioid crisis plaguing the United States, which Fowler argues is not as dire as it was back in the Stones’ Exile days.

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