In Newcastle, we all went to the very modern hotel with a view of the city where everyone on the tour was staying. In the lobby, someone put a room key in my hand. I remember putting the key in the lock, shutting the door behind me and leaping around with a kind of happiness I have known only a few times since. I felt as though I were on my way somewhere fast. I was twenty-five years old. It was the first time in my life I was staying in a hotel room by myself.
After the second show of the night, perhaps the best one of the entire tour, everyone repaired to a hotel banquet room for a midnight meal. I happened to be sitting next to Charlie Watts. The conversation turned to jazz, Skinnay Ennis and "the cat" who played the solo on "And the Angels Sing." Only no one could remember his name. Anyone coming up with the answer would score bonus points.
The song had been one of my mother's favorites, always playing on the radio in the kitchen as I ate breakfast before going off to school. "Ziggy Elman," I said. Charlie Watts shot me a significant look. As the English liked to say back then, "Nice one." At least some of my credentials were in order.
The Stones played in Manchester, Coventry, Leeds and Glasgow. Just the way the Stones ordered food in even the most ordinary places knocked me out. They always knew exactly what they wanted to eat and just how it should be cooked. In their hands, any menu became a work of art.
"Bitch" and "Brown Sugar," two songs the Stones performed for the first time on that tour, played constantly in my mind. I heard them as I rode with Jo Bergman in a car driven by the late Ian Stewart through the Pennines, a range of hills in the north of England. From behind the wheel, Stew kept looking up suspiciously in the rearview mirror at me. I had a beard. My hair was long. Was I not a bloody hippie after all?
Steadfastly, in his most stubborn and infuriatingly lantern-jawed, tight-lipped Scots manner, he refused to stop the car to let me go to the bathroom until I finally made it very plain that this was a real emergency that could in fact result in something very dire happening in the back seat of the car. Right now. That, Stew liked. I had just threatened him, as no true hippie would have ever done. He said I reminded him of Brian Jones, another traveler who could never hold his water for very long.
I remember laughing like crazy while riding in limousines with Marshall Chess, then just beginning his time of service with the band. In time, I got to talk and hang out with Nicky Hopkins, Bobby Keys, Jim Price and even Chip Monck, the onstage "Voice of Woodstock" (or V.O.W., as he was sometimes referred to by those jealous of his position behind the piano, stage left, where in full view of the audience, he would dance throughout the entire set each night while calling light cues for the band).
The only person I never got to meet was Keith Richards. Little wonder. Along with Anita Pallenberg – a woman for whom back then the term sex bomb could have been personally created – their infant son Marlon and the late Gram Parsons, they formed a little subtour of their own, never arriving anywhere on time. Although I did not know it then, Keith's long and very difficult bout with heroin had only just begun.
I finally made contact with him near the very end of the tour in Brighton, where the Stones had been booked to play an oversold, smoky, hellish disco called the Big Apple. For some reason, probably a mistake on their part, Keith and Anita actually arrived at that gig on time, only to find the dressing-room door locked. The corridor was deadly cold. Cold as only a corridor in England could be.
Keith began to curse. As only Keith Richards could. The bloody nerve. Who did these people think they were, after all? Here in his arms lay poor Marlon. A poor and pitiful orphan of the storm. A tiny, suffering child whose cough at any moment might become the croup. Who, just like Tiny Tim on Christmas Eve, might soon be praying for the Lord above to God bless us every one. Sod the bloody promoter. The filthy lout. How dare he? Who did these people think they were, after all?
Keith worked the scene for all it was worth. He squeezed every possible drop of blood from every last line of dialogue that left his then still-unreconstructed mouth. Then he decided the time had come. The time for action. The time for Keith to take matters into his own hands.
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