The Rolling Stones had a night off in Chicago during their 1981 tour of the United States so it was only natural that they'd kill their time in a blues club.
Fortunately for blues fans, Stones aficionados and music dweebs, their night out was captured on film and finally released more than 30 years after the great summit featuring Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Ian Stewart.
The gist of the gig featured on the DVD from Eagle Rock Entertainment -- Live at the Checkerboard Lounge Chicago 1981 ($19.98)-- is pretty simple. The three Stones and Stewart, their longtime piano-playing sideman, dropped in on Waters' and his band's date at the Checkerboard Lounge.
Why there were cameras at the club is never really explained, but it's assumed they were following the Stones on tour. The disc starts off with Waters and his band running through a few songs before the rock stars and their entourage sidle into the crowded bar.
They look like aliens from some far-off planet -- especially Jagger, who's wearing a strange red outfit that makes it appear as if he just stepped off the set of a Richard Simmons' workout video -- with their super-model girlfriends in tow. The first thing the boys do is start breaking open bottles of whiskey before Waters beckons Jagger on stage, followed by Richards and Wood.
Beginning with "Baby Please Don't Go" and working through standards such as "Hoochie Koochie Man," "Mannish Boy," and "Got My Mojo Workin' " the Stones remind everyone why they're the most famous musicians on the planet: as interpreters of the blues they are exceptionally good.
Jagger might look fey and a bit self-conscious standing next to Waters, but the man has always possessed a remarkable voice and he more than holds his own with the great blues man. Richards and Wood slip into the guitar grooves at the heart of these songs and play the trademark riffs with a nod to tradition accented with their own styles.
One of the most interesting parts of the DVD is when a cat named Lefty Dizz (yeah, I had never heard of him, either) comes on stage. A lanky man playing a right-handed guitar flipped upside down with more flash and aggression than seems possible for the tiny stage, he seems to relish playing louder and harder than the English lads. Richards and Wood look quizzical as they study his hands and keep up with the music.
It's intriguing seeing them so far outside their comfort zone, reduced to being just a couple of guys on stage, jamming, probably learning something new, and having a good time in a little bar far away from the machinery that by then had turned the Stones into icons.
Live at the Checkerboard Lounge captures a fleeting but important moment where rock and blues intersected on a November night in Chicago. Waters would die two years later and the Stones would continue on for decades, never straying too far from the roots they displayed on this cold November night in a hot bar.