Some Guys: Report From the Coast

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In Los Angeles, the shows were opened by the J. Geils Band and George Thorogood and the Destroyers — both of whom were well received — and by the less fortunate Prince. The day's most adventurous performer and the one closest to the Stones' early aura of sexual outrageousness, Prince was pelted with soft-drink cups and an occasional shoe from the moment he walked onstage, the crowd at the front apparently paying more attention to his trench coat and black bikini than his music, a five-song set of the hardest rock of the day. While pockets of the crowd clapped along, and most at least paid attention, the vocal minority was persistent enough for Graham to take the stage after the second L.A. show and berate the audience for throwing debris. When one fan threw something at Graham, the promoter barked, "I see you, asshole!" and had the kid dragged onstage and thrown out.

By Seattle, Prince's stint with the tour had ended, and the shows slimmed down to the Stones-J. Geils-Thorogood lineup. That was the slate through San Francisco, where the two Candlestick Park shows – before curiously quiet crowds – drew the largest paid audiences in Bay Area rock history. (One local rock audience had been bigger, but it was for a free concert: the Stones' disastrous 1969 show at the Altamont Speedway, which drew about 350,000 people, four of whom died.)

In both San Francisco and Los Angeles, rumors of possible club appearances were rampant, and every time the band had a night off, every conceivable club drew hordes of fans. In Los Angeles, Stones followers descended on Thorogood's show at the Country Club, where Stones backup keyboardist Ian Stewart played but nobody else showed; in San Francisco, a band called Tattoo caused a stampede for tickets when it decided to play the Mabuhay Gardens just before the Stones came to town. In every city, club owners found themselves beneficiaries of reports that the Stones had, after all, said they wanted to play small clubs.

But with all the attention focused their way, can the band really do any small shows? "When we started, we really thought we could do a bunch of clubs," said Wyman. "Our idea was to just go into a town, go to a club and watch the blues band that was onstage – Muddy Waters or Junior Wells or Buddy Guy or whoever – and then get onstage for twenty minutes. But when we got to Chicago, they told us, 'You can't go to the Checkerboard tonight and do that – there are three TV stations there, two radio stations and about a thousand kids.'

"The second problem is that you can't just go onstage and jam for fun for twenty minutes. If we'd done the show tonight, for instance [a widely rumored date at Bill Graham's Old Waldorf club, in San Francisco], there would have been 600 people there expecting a Rolling Stones show. They don't want to hear us play old blues songs for fun — they want 'Honky Tonk Women' and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and 'All Down the Line' and on and on and on. So realizing we'd have to do that, Mick said, 'Well, I just did two shows, my voice is bad, I'm tired, I could really do with the day off. I don't want to fuck my voice up tonight and then not have a voice in Orlando. How do you feel?' I don't damage my fingers playing bass, so I wouldn't mind doing it. But after the show, Keith felt really bad; he had a massage. Woody? Gone asleep. Charlie? He was probably bashing around on his drums somewhere. We ended up saying, 'Well, let's have a day off.' And it wasn't like being lazy — it's just thinking about the next important gig."

After a swing through the South, the Stones were scheduled to hit the New York City area for three shows at New Jersey's Brendan Byrne Arena (November 5th, 6th and 7th) and two at Madison Square Garden (November 12th and 13th). The band spent half a million dollars to hire an independent auditing firm to help with the distribution of tickets. Employing a sophisticated process not unlike the kind used for direct mailings by firms like Time Inc. and the American Express Company, the auditors determined how many potential Stones fans inhabited each ZIP-code area, and the tickets were allocated accordingly.

Though the five shows could accommodate only about 100,000 fans, more than 4 million pieces of mail were received within fifty-six hours of the announcement of the concerts. The U.S. Postal Service was forced to hire 125 part-time employees to deal with the barrage.

This story is from the November 26th, 1981 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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