Rolling Stones Backing Singer Recalls Tension Between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

The legendary Rolling Stones are touring soon, and one backup singer looked back at the tension between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Backing singer Bernard Fowler has been around a long time, and it seems he’s got a great memory. The 62-year-old performer spoke with Rolling Stone magazine about how the frontman and guitarist clashed. The New York City native also talked about how he helped mend things between the two.

Backing Singer Remembers Mick Jagger, Keith Richards Tension

The 1980s were a tumultuous time for the Rolling Stones. After years together, Mick Jagger did a solo album called “She’s the Boss,” and Fowler worked on it.

Fowler went on to play on Jagger’s solo band tour two years later. When the band got back together in 1987 for “Steel Wheels,” Jagger pulled Fowler again into the mix. The singer got to see first hand the “World War III” atmosphere between Jagger and Richards.

Fowler said the other bandmates thought of him as “Mick’s guy.” That fact didn’t help. One studio session turned disastrous.

The singer said he worked with Jagger before the band came in. Fowler said he stopped it when one song started despite Jagger’s liking it. The New York native knew something would happen when the whole band started playing.

After two disappointing albums, the pressure was on. The album had classic Rolling Stone songs “Mixed Emotions” and “Rock and a Hard Place.” Fowler worked on the first of these two songs and seven others for the album.

“I said, ‘Mick, I’m happy to do this for you,” Fowler told Rolling Stone magazine. “But if I do this, it’s going to sound like me. Maybe you and some of the guys can come in and sing with me.’ Radio silence. I guess they were talking about it. But then Ronnie [Wood] and Keith came in.”

Fowler gave Jagger and Richards the vocal parts. Then, afterward, they listened to the playback.

The tension in the room was intense.

Richards Not Keen On Backup Singer At First, But They Jelled

Fowler remembered getting a look from Richards. He felt intimidated as the legendary guitarist looked at him. The singer said he didn’t know what would happen right then and there. Maybe that’s how Steve Jordan does it. If he shows everyone he’s working for the band, maybe all the guys feel good playing together.

But everything worked out. The backup singer complimented Richards’ sharpness as the man saw Fowler for doing something unselfishly for the band. Eventually, the album went multi-platinum, too. 

The singer had his moments with the Rolling Stones frontman, too. Imagine Mick Jagger giving you that sneered look in person. Fowler probably got it a time or two. Along with “The Eye.”

The band had backing singers for the first time on tour.

“Believe me, if it didn’t feel good, Mick would give us the eye,” Fower told Rolling Stone magazine. “If he didn’t say it, all you had to do was look at his face. It said, ‘Uh-uh. Oops. Let’s go back and rethink that.’…” 

Fowler reflected on Jagger’s voice for “Steel Wheels” and how his voice is “doubled” at times. That synergy was where the backup singer said he needed “to be.”