Keith Richards Meets the Mounties and Faces the Music

In Canada, the Rolling Stones attract the prime minister's wife, a pack of Mounties and a mess of trouble.

Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg
Frank Barratt/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
May 5, 1977

My cab is cruising through the winding entrance of the Harbour Castle Hilton in Toronto, temporary home for the Rolling Stones, and I have no idea what to expect. All I know is what I've read (and written myself): Keith Richards has been busted again; his bust -- right here at the Harbour Castle -- happened just days after his common-law wife, Anita Pallenberg, was arrested by Mounties at the airport; and there is serious talk that the Stones have had it.

I know the Stones are here to record two nights of live shows at El Mocambo Tavern to complete a live album. But now with the busts, the Stones are once again in chaos. I'd been with them before, in 1975 on their Tour of the Americas, and there had been speculation then that the end was near. I know I'll have to face Mick Jagger with what has become a tired question: could this be the last time? Perhaps for the first time, he'll have to give the question serious thought, and an answer.

But first there was the Stones hierarchy: aides, attorneys, security, and the two men I would run up against most frequently in Toronto: Paul Wasserman, number one among rock & roll press agents (the Who, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Linda Ronstadt, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Diamond), who is often paid to keep his clients out of the press. And manager Peter Rudge, formerly American manager of the Who, currently manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd, a dapper but hyper Briton, well-known for pulling the unexpected. Rudge has been trying to keep the activities of the Rolling Stones in Toronto a secret. God only knows what will happen when he learns that I'm here.

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After I check in to the Harbour Castle, I slip into the lobby -- which is packed with local journalists and patrolled by Mounties -- and run into Bill Carter. He is a tough lawyer out of Little Rock, Arkansas, who was a U.S. Secret Service agent under Kennedy and Johnson, and who is now the Stones' very efficient American attorney and chief of tour security. I know him from the '75 tour. We retire to a corner of the Quayside bar to talk.

Not ten minutes later, Peter Rudge walks by, sees me, and turns pale. Another half-hour later, he finally comes over to shake hands -- gingerly. "I forbade American press, you know," he says. "Also, we knew you were coming. Why do you think you couldn't get a room on our floor?"

I am, in fact, stuck on the seventh floor, while the Stones entourage is scattered between 29 and 34.

"I already have the rooming list," I tell him.

"I'll bet you do," he says, and walks away. (I had acquired a list of the most important rooms, thanks to the worldwide tendency of hotel chambermaids to trade information for cash.)

There were two stories to get here. One had to do with the Stones' first club concerts since Bristol, England, November 13th, 1964 -- your basic "The-Stones-do-a-concert-and-make-a-record" piece.

The other story started February 24th, when Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg were stopped at the Toronto airport. Customs agents and Mounties from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police narcotics office at the airport searched Pallenberg's 28 pieces of luggage and allegedly found hashish and traces of heroin. While she was being booked and released -- in Brampton, which has jurisdiction over the airport area -- Keith and their seven-year-old son Marlon went to the Harbour Castle Hilton. Keith registered in six different rooms, using the name "Redlings." These rooms are called "floaters" in the rock & roll world, and they can be very useful to major rock stars. When you have no name and many rooms, then you are not there.

Three days after Anita's bust, Mounties and Ontario provincial police swarmed through the hotel, armed with a search warrant with Pallenberg's name on it. She was not registered, and it took the police 45 minutes before they located one of Keith's floaters, where they allegedly found an ounce of heroin.

Then the Mounties made a mistake. Presumably since they work out of the airport and since the warrant had Anita's name on it, they took Keith back out to Brampton to book him, rather than remaining in Toronto proper where the authorities might have been more concerned. The justice of the peace in Brampton released Keith on a $1000 no-deposit bail. He didn't have to post a cent.

That did not please the Mounties. They had charged him with possession with intent to traffic -- a serious charge that can draw seven years to life in prison. High vs. low bail for Keith Richards, Rolling Stone, became an issue.

While the band went on with all-night rehearsals at rented studios, action picked up at the Harbour Castle. The lobby was suddenly populated with plain-clothes Mounties, groupies and reporters. The Stones' own beefy security force flew in. (They would have been outside Keith's floaters at the time of the bust, I was told later, but had been caught off-guard by a change in Keith and Anita's flight schedule from London.)

I leave Bill Carter at the Quayside and go off in search of Paul Wasserman, the press agent, to see what he is not allowed to tell me. When he opens the door to 3016 he sighs: "Why didn't you call me from New York? I could have told you that you weren't allowed to come." He ushers me in and opens a bottle of wine.

"I'd rather hear it in person," I say. "Are the Stones going to be recording at El Mocambo tonight? I know that April Wine has booked tonight through Saturday night for a recording session there, and I know that CHUM [radio] has been running a contest for tickets to a party with the Stones, and I know that April Wine's manager is a friend of Skippy Snair, who saved Peter Rudge's life in Montreal in 1975 when someone blew up the Stones' equipment and Skippy was the only person in Canada who was able to round up enough equipment in time to get the Stones onstage, and I know Skippy's been spotted here in the hotel. So -- the Stones will play El Mocambo. Now, is it tonight?"

He sighs heavily. "You know more than I do. It doesn't matter. You can't get in anyway. No press. And you can't talk to the Stones either."

"Thanks a lot," I say on my way out. "I'll keep you posted on what's happening."

"Thanks. By the way, they won't be there tonight. There's a party here which you are not invited to. If you mention any of this to Peter, I'll deny having said it."

Since trying to crash a closed Stones party the first night would likely queer the whole deal, I decide to check out El Mocambo with a local reporter. There is a small crowd gathered outside the front door, which is locked. We knock at the window and an enormous bouncer scowls: "Closed session."

"Skippy sent us," we say, and the portals suddenly open. We go upstairs and watch April Wine play. It looks like a perfect place for the Stones: small, dark, sleazy and crowded, with a big orange moon and black palm trees as backdrop.

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