Rolling Stones Gather Momentum

The band works through its hastily-compiled tour of the States

Rolling Stones Mick Jagger Ron Wood
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Ron Wood and Mick Jagger performing on stage circa 1978.
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It may have been the most patchwork tour they ever threw together — Stones insiders still insist that Mick Jagger was opposed to it till the last moment — but one week into the Stones' first United States tour since 1975, the band was clearly established again as the biggest draw on the road.

And their current album, Some Girls, was on its way to becoming the Stones' biggest seller in a long time, despite — or perhaps because of — controversy swirling around the title cut. A week after the album's release, Jagger said the group was resisting heavy pressure from Atlantic Records to drop that cut or at least alter the touchiest line: "Black girls just like to fuck all night." After WBLS, New York City's biggest black station, dropped "Miss You," the group's current single, because of the LP's racial attitudes, Atlantic Chairman Ahmet Ertegun was on the phone to WBLS, trying, to no avail, to placate the station.

The widespread rumor that the album might be altered, plus the accompanying rumors that several celebrities pictured on the album cover were seeking an injunction to get the album removed from release (as of press time, there was no such injunction, although Raquel Welch had sent an angry telegram to Rolling Stones Records), led to collectors making runs on record stores. Korvette's in New York sold 900 copies of the album to one collector alone.

Meanwhile, the Stones went blithely about their business, throwing the tour together at the last minute, adding and dropping cities faster than their entourage could count them. As late as the day before an unannounced Stones date at New York City's 4000-seat Palladium theater, only Mick Jagger knew whether or not there would be such a show. The other members of the entourage were not given details of the concert until later that night.

In their first week on the road, the Stones played to about 113,000 people in six cities. But only one of those dates, the 90,000-plus show at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, had been on the original itinerary. The tour opened June 10th at the Lakeland, Florida, Civic Center before about 10,000 people, who had bought tickets to see what had been billed as "The Great Southeast Stoned-Out Wrestling Champions." On June 12th, the Stones played a surprise date before about 4000 people at Atlanta's Fox Theater. On June 14th, the dingy 3265-seat Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey, had a "Closed for Repairs" sign on the marquee, but the Stones were inside. The next night the group hit the 2000-seat Warner Theater in Washington D.C. Jagger was literally too sick to go on, but had himself shot full of antibiotics and led the group through one of its better shows so far.

The Washington show took a certain toll on Jagger's voice, though, and two days later, at the JFK concert, the Stones turned in their least-satisfying performance of the tour. After an hour and a half, Jagger's voice was weakening, and the band refused to do an encore. While the Stones were spirited out of the stadium in three police vans to waiting helicopters that took them back to New York City, the 90,000 fans were booing.

The tour was being planned around a "three-phase" schedule developed by Jagger after he had finally committed himself to do the tour at all. Besides the eight scheduled outdoor and arena shows, Jagger decided to play a few 10,000 — 15,000-seat venues and a select number of the surprise small-hall shows.

The small dates, according to Stones insiders, were set up despite the initial opposition of Peter Rudge (the Stones' American tour manager), Bill Carter (their security chief) and virtually everyone else in the group's organization. And, as had been expected, ticket sales for the small-hall dates caused more than a few problems. In Atlanta and Washington, a Ticketron system was used, with the Stones being billed as the Cockroaches, among other aliases. In Passaic, a different system was used: tickets were sold, unannounced, at bars, head shops and record stores. But by the time the tour reached New York, rumors were rampant about a Stones date, and kids were camping out at local Ticketron agencies. The Stones, however, bypassed Ticketron and used a lottery system. Two radio stations told listeners to send in postcards with their phone numbers. The day before the show, listeners were called after a random drawing of their names. They were given ID numbers and instructed to pick up tickets at one of three locations the next day, when they found out when and where the concert was being held.

After the New York date, the band took time to rest, regroup and plan the rest of the tour, scheduled to end July 23rd in Anaheim. Up through the Philadelphia show, the band had been traveling by commercial air; there had not been time to charter a plane.

The day after the JFK show, Jagger sat in his New York hotel suite, where he was registered as "Sam Spade," and talked about the first week. "I have the flu," he said. "I feel terrible. I'll be all right tomorrow. Other than that, I feel great. The tour's going well, everyone's playing well, the audiences have been excellent. I'm very happy with the tour. Once I get rid of this cold, it'll get better."

I reminded him that some of the fans in Philly had not been too happy when there was no encore.

"We never do encores," he said with a touch of scorn. "Just because every American band runs back and forth offstage and does five encores — the only time we did was at the Garden."

But, I said, the Stones did an encore in Passaic.

"Did we? Wal, it was already written down. We never play encores. We play the show and go home. I hate planned encores. We just play to the end and that's it."

What about the blocking of the set? The older songs first, like "Little Queenie" and "Honky Tonk Women," and then six songs from the new album ("When the Whip Comes Down," "Miss You," "Imagination," "Respectable," "Beast of Burden" and "Far Away Eyes") and then more older songs. At the JFK show, the newer songs really slowed the audience down, the momentum was lost.

"Wal, yesterday was the first big outdoor gig. At the smaller gigs, the new songs fly right through. But you have to do new songs, don't you? I mean if you just play old numbers, you don't get anywhere. You can't stand still. The new songs are going over okay, especially 'Whip' and 'Respectable.' You can't expect us to play old songs forever. We won't become a dinosaur. We won't compromise."

What about the tour planning? Obviously, this one was thrown together pretty quickly, dates being dropped and added, traveling by commercial air.

He laughed at that. "Yeah, obviously it was put together quickly. We added Mac [organist Ian McLagan, formerly of the Small Faces] three days before Florida. The smaller dates were added quickly, because we just wanted to get away from playing only the big places. We will do several New York City dates but I don't know yet which ones we'll do. I may leave town for a while, I don't know. I don't have a schedule in front of me."

What about security on the small dates? The fans almost nabbed the Stones when they arrived at Passaic. Wouldn't New York City be worse than that?

"I'm not worried. It's no different from the '65 tour, not as bad as that one, actually. No worries, no problems."

What about adding "Satisfaction" to the lineup? I was surprised to hear that at JFK. It's been a long time since the Stones did that.

"Wal, what can I say? We did 'Satisfaction' at Knebworth, you know. We can do it. It seemed to be nice to do, so we threw it in. No special reason. The crowd liked it. Anything else?"

Yes, is it true that Atlantic is trying to get you to delete or change the song "Some Girls"?

"Yeah, Atlantic tried to get us to drop it, but I refused. Said no. I've always been opposed to censorship of any kind, especially by conglomerates. I've always said, if you can't take a joke, it's too fucking bad."

This is a story from the July 27, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 270: July 27, 1978
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