Rolling Stones Wrap Up U.S. Tour With Eric Clapton, Axl Rose, John Lee Hooker

Clapton, other guests join band for cable-TV broadcast from Atlantic City

Rolling Stones Charlie Watts Mick Jagger Keith Richards Ron Wood Bill Wyman Steel Wheels
Paul Natkin/WireImage
The Rolling Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour in 1989.
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The Rolling Stones closed the first leg of their tumultuously successful Steel Wheels tour with three shows at the 16,000-seat Convention Center, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the smallest venue the band played in its three-and-a-half-month jaunt across the United States and Canada. The highlight of the three nights was the December 19th date, which featured guest appearances by Eric Clapton, legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker and singer Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin of Guns n' Roses. The show was broadcast live on cable television on a pay-per-view basis. At a suggested retail price of $24.95, the concert is being called the most successful pay-per-view music show so far.

With a kind of crazed appropriateness, the Convention Center shows were presented by Trump Plaza, owned by Donald Trump, the perfect person to place the cherry on the cake of a tour as distinguished for its marketing as for its music. It was an odd experience indeed to wander the plush corridors of the casino hotel as gamblers caroused to the apocalyptic strains of "Gimme Shelter" wafting over a sound system more accustomed to Muzak. However successful the pay-per-view sales are — and that success must be seen in relation to a medium that has yet to fully establish its viability — tickets for the concert could still be had at show time, and scalpers were offering $40 ducats for $30. Ticket prices for the three Atlantic City shows ranged from $40 to $250.

After the crowd counted down the seconds to show time on the 19th, the Stones took the stage at full power, opening with "Start Me Up" and leaning immediately into "Bitch" and "Sad Sad Sad," as they have throughout the tour. A trio of background singers, the Uptown Horns, saxophonist Bobby Keys and keyboardists Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford were on hand, as usual, to provide musical support. The evening shifted direction for the first time when, after nine songs, Jagger announced, "They've come all the way East to get their tattoos touched up," by way of introducing Rose and Stradlin. The duo joined the Stones for a ragged but strong rendition of "Salt of the Earth," from Beggars Banquet. It was the first time the Stones had ever performed the song live.

The Stones then resumed their standard set, ripping through "Rock and a Hard Place," "Mixed Emotions," "Honky Tonk Women" and "Midnight Rambler." After a lovely, lyrical reading of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," Jagger declared, "We're gonna play the blues for you now," and brought out Eric Clapton, who contributed a blazing guitar solo to the Stone's sensual rendition of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster." Clapton remained onstage to help Keith Richards and Ron Wood fire up an insistent groove underneath John Lee Hooker's moaning vocal on the classic "Boogie Chillun." The Stones took advantage of the large television audience to include five songs from the album Steel Wheels in their twenty-seven song set.

In what must be considered the quotidian miracles of their tour, the Stones once again in their incomparable finale blew away all the distractions of their innumerable business deals, dubious partnerships and obsession with spectacle. Their performances of "Sympathy for the Devil," "Gimme Shelter," "It's Only Rock 'n Roll," "Brown Sugar" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" — with a fierce "Jumpin' Jack Flash" for the encore — simply could not have been more compelling. Cameras rolling or not, no one onstage was smiling or mugging; the band was far too busy unleashing a formidable display of sheer rock & roll might.

On the next night, the tour ended, after thirty-two cities, sixty shows, 3.2 million concertgoers, about $140 million in revenues and consistently ecstatic review. It appears likely that the Steel Wheels juggernaut will roll into Japan and Australia early this year and then to Europe in the summer, though no spokespeople for the Stones will confirm those reports.

This is a story from the February 8, 1990 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 571: February 8, 1990
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