The Story Behind “Gimmie Shelter”


In 1969 the Rolling Stones were once again in various studios recording their 13th LP Let It Bleed.  The album release was after 1968’s “Beggar’s Banquet” and before the 1970 live recording “Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out” at Madison Square Gardens in New York City.  It is the lead-in track it what was one the Stones’ most iconic albums. This would be the final appearance by Brian Jones on a Rolling Stones recording, he played on two tracks. As it was, Jones did not play on the Gimmie Shelter track. Gimmie Shelter was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.  Richards began working on the song’s signature riffs while Jagger was away filming the motion picture “Performace”. The listed personnel on the recording are Mick Jagger harmonica and lead vocals, Keith Richards on guitar and backing vocals, Bill Wyman on bass, Charlie Watts on drums, Nicky Hopkins on piano, Merry Clayton on backing vocals and producer Jimmy Miller on percussion. Keith Richards would play in “open tuning” for the first time on these sessions. Open tuning is common in Blues and Folk music. Arguably, the most interesting performer on this track is Merry Clayton. The song was first recorded in London at Olympic Studios in early 1969.  The version in which Merry Clayton sang on was recorded at Sunset Sound & Elektra Studios, Los Angeles in October and November of the same year. She was brought in at the last minute, during a late night session, by her friend and record producer Jack Nitzsche. Clayton was pregnant, in her night clothes with curlers in her hair and so on. After two versus of hitting the notes, Clayton decided to “blow them out” with a third verse, she takes it up another octave and you can hear her voice crack on the words “shot” and “murder”. Jagger was so impressed by the power of her voice that a discerning ear can pick him up exclaiming “whoo” at about the 3:02 mark in the song. The song was never released as a single, therefore it didn’t chart. Some other notes of interest; the Stones recorded the album on, old worn out Triumph amplifiers, to create a distinctive sound. Clayton would record this song on the album Gimme Shelter.  It would chart, on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at 73. Check it out here:


Tragedy would beset Clayton over the years. Soon after the recording of Gimmie Shelter with the Stones, she miscarried. (L.A. Times) her husband Jazz artist Curtis Amy died in 2002 (they married in 1970) and on June 6th, 2014 she was severely injured in a car accident that resulted in both of her legs being amputated.

Keith Richards stated in his memoir Life (2010): “I wrote ‘Gimmie Shelter’ on a stormy day, sitting in Robert Fraser’s apartment in Mount Street. Anita (Pallenberg) was shooting Performance at the time, not far away… It was just a terrible f–king day and it was storming out there. I was sitting there in Mount Street and there was this incredible storm over London, so I got into that mode, just looking out of Robert’s window and looking at all these people with their umbrellas being blown out of their grasp and running like hell. And the idea came to me… My thought was storms on other people’s minds, not mine. It just happened to hit the moment.”

Let it Bleed and Gimmie Shelter have gone down in music history as iconic recordings and have that rare quality of being able to listen to every track, over and over again, with a big smile on your face. At least it works that way for me. “Nuff Said”

Been a lover of Blues music since picking up on it from the British bands I adored. Cream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Eric Burden and so many others.

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