Rolling Stones Push Back the Clock With 'Voodoo Lounge' Album and Tour

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Was went through an audition of sorts himself. On Jagger's invitation, he went to a band meeting to discuss production possibilities and was greeted with an extended monologue from Richards on why the Stones didn't need a producer. Was says he walked out thinking, "At least I've got something to tell my grandchildren."

By the time he was on the case at Windmill Lane Studios, in Dublin, Ireland, where the basic tracks for the album were recorded (mostly live), Was had set his own agenda. Jagger complains, half-jokingly, that Was is "definitely anti-groove. Charlie and I worked on a lot of groove tunes that never made it onto the record. That was the one thing I was slightly disappointed by."

Was mounts a convincing defense. "I'm certainly not anti-groove, just anti-groove without substance," he insists, adding pointedly, "in the context of this album. They had a number of great grooves. But it was like 'OK, what goes on top of it? Where does it go?'

"I just felt that it's not what people were looking for from the Stones. I was looking for a sign that they can get real serious about this, still play better than anybody and write better than anybody."

Richards never had any doubt. "Innovations. A willingness to experiment. That's what feels like the Stones," he says. "It wasn't like the other periods where — like everybody else — we were trying to sound like the Stones. We had to get over that. We already are the Stones."

Just in case, Richards also had a good-luck charm. One night during the writing sessions in Barbados, he was cutting through an evening rainstorm on his way to the studio when he spotted out of the corner of his eye what looked at first like a rather large toad. Except that toads don't say meow.

"It's this little cat, maybe three weeks old," Richards recounts with a surprisingly paternalistic gleam in his eye, "and it's drowning. He's the runt of the litter, and his mom obviously doesn't want him. So I put him under my coat and took him to the studio.

"It looked like eyedropper time. He looked too young to feed. But we got a saucer of milk, dunked his head in it, and he licked it all up. At that point, I turned to Pierre [Beauport, Richards' guitar tech] and said, 'How goes this cat is how goes this album. It's our job. If we nurture this fella, it's gonna be a good album.'"

A year later, the cat is living large in Connecticut, the pride and joy of the Richards household. Meanwhile, Voodoo Lounge is ready for release, and the Stones are primed to run themselves ragged around the world behind it.

Don't get too excited, though, about the gris-gris and booze-noir flavor of the album's title. The first half of it comes from the cat; Richards named him Voodoo ("He was one lucky cat"). The other half comes from Richards' habit of personalizing the recording studios where he works, usually with incense, a couple of scarves thrown over the lights and a handwritten sign that says Dox Office. "I'm the doc," he explains. "It's like a ritual, a fetish." This time, in honor of the cat, he amended the sign to Dox Office — and Voodoo Lounge, complete with little drawings of musical notes and champagne bottles "like some cheapo bar."

The real punch line, Richards goes on, is that until about three months ago, the record still had no title. "We agonized over it," he says. "And it was staring us in the face. Finally, it was Mick who said, 'What about Voodoo Lounge? Why not? Kind of like Beggars Banquet. Right number of syllables.'

"I was really pissed with myself, though, after painting the sign and all. I'm usually the one with the cheap ideas, not Mick. His are usually real expensive."

Jagger purses his lips tightly and fidgets impatiently in his chair while his eyes roll skyward with undisguised exasperation. He's ready for it. He knows it's coming. But that doesn't make it any less annoying. You wonder if he even wishes that he and Richards had never written the song that inspired it — the question that dogs the latter-day Stones every time they start their engines. Could this be the last time?

It's kind of cruel, really, to ask it again. But you can't resist it, just to see if he's changed his tune since, well, the last time. No such luck.

"I just say no — because I don't know the answer," Jagger announces with a bored finality. Not that he believes anyone will really take the hint. "My thing about it is, I hate trading off it. I see a lot of bands do that. It's not a new thing, either, it's ancient. Like an old actor: 'This is my last tour. I'm not doing Hamlet anymore. You'll never see it again.' It's just something to sell tickets with.

"My personal thing is always 1 will do the next Rolling Stones record and tour. I am very happy. But I will not promise any more.' Because I don't want to promise something I don't know I can really deliver."

That's pretty much how the Stones' Virgin Records contract reads, too. The deal calls for three new albums but includes a money-back guarantee for only one; Virgin also gets the Stones catalog going back to Sticky Fingers as a nice, fat consolation prize. "If we make this one," Jagger explains, "and then say, 'Well, we're too old now,' we don't have to do anything. You're not on a hook.

"I know people might think I'm splitting hairs, but it's so easy to use it as a selling point," Jagger continues, drifting back to that question, "and I don't want to.

"Of course," he exclaims with a devilish glint in his eye, "whenever we play, it's always the last time someone will see us. They might get run over by a bus the next day. For them, it was the last time."

This is a story from the July 14, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.

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