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Stones Near Decision on 50th Anniversary Shows

Tour could be the biggest of all time – but do Mick and Keith want to do it?

November 23, 2011 11:30 AM ET
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger perform during the 'A Bigger Bang' world tour.
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger perform during the 'A Bigger Bang' world tour.
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards will meet in December to decide how the Rolling Stones will celebrate next year's 50th anniversary, according to a top tour-industry source. "I don't see why in the world the Stones can't put together some kind of show next year," says Richards. "I'd almost count on it. It doesn't have to be the whole spectacle bullshit again, but we've got to find our own way through this."

"It is quite amazing when you think about it," Jagger adds. "Anything's possible."

A top source tells Rolling Stone that AEG Live, Live Nation and veteran Stones promoter Michael Cohl have already reached out about acquiring the band's anniversary tour, which has the potential to be the biggest of all time. "It would be a total home run," says the source.

The rock world is paying attention: "The Stones are iconic figures in Western society," says Sting. "I hope they'll stop bickering. I'd like to see them doing what they do." Adds Joe Perry, "I would love to see them just go and do arenas and have it be as stripped-down as possible, the way they did on the Exile tour – where they had the horn section and Ian Stewart playing keyboards. As close as they could get to that would be great."

Following a band meeting in September at the Stones' London office, Richards, guitarist Ronnie Wood and drummer Charlie Watts were set to convene in November to jam in London. "I would suggest a lot of blues in the beginning," says Richards. "That's where the band's roots are. We'll start playing some Jimmy Reed stuff and some Muddy Waters stuff and then things will blossom from there. It might bore Mick to death – and that's the idea. We're just going to go, and you start from Day One. You've got the drums and a couple of guitars and you start hammering away.

"Mick is welcome," Richards adds. "I'm sure he'll turn up."

Richards' nasty, gossip-packed 2010 memoir, Life, painted an unrelentingly negative portrait of Jagger and his contributions to the Stones – straining the duo's relationship. "I think there's a healing process waiting to take place," Wood says. "I think it's happening now as we speak, but it has to be resolved. Something has to be resolved there. They have to come to terms with going on a working basis, which Charlie and I will help make happen. Wish me luck."

"That old healing process," says Stones saxophone player Bobby Keys with a laugh. "Boy, that is an ongoing process. But last time I was onstage with them, there was no blood lost. They always seem to work it out." Adds longtime friend Peter Wolf, "If one looks at the history of great collaborations, Gilbert and Sullivan didn't always have a good time at it, either. But once they choose to get together to work, that is usually the great healer."

Richards says he's up for another massive world stadium and arena run like 2005's Bigger Bang tour, but isn't sure Jagger wants to make such a large commitment. "I don't know about that," Richards says. "I don't think Mick would. We'd like to be ready to be able to do it if the idea starts to happen. I'd even invite Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor back in. Why not? It's 50 years. Everyone deserves a party."

Adds Jagger, "That'd be very complete if it all happened." Taylor and Wyman have both worked with the Stones recently: Taylor, who left the band in 1974 to pursue a solo career, contributed new guitar work on last year's Exile on Main St. box set, and Wyman, who departed in 1992, plays bass on a cover of Bob Dylan's "Watching the River Flow" that the band recorded for a 2011 tribute album to late keyboard player Ian Stewart. "I've been reading about the possibilities in the press, but Keith hasn't turned his lips in my direction yet," says Wyman. "Let's see what transpires over the next few weeks, and I can then make a serious decision. I've got my chops together, and I know that my mate Charlie has – so let's see if it ever happens."

One option some insiders floated has the band camping out for multinight runs in major cities. "I think the idea of doing multiple shows in certain cities – New York, L.A., maybe Chicago, maybe Atlanta – would be wonderful," says longtime keyboardist Chuck Leavell. Bobby Keys agrees: "In my fantasy of Rolling Stones gigs, I would like to see a gig that's centralized in one place: Let the people come to us instead of making all that traveling. That's always the main thing that bothers me about going on the road. It didn't used to, but hell, now we're all in our late sixties and shit, and it's just kind of a pain in the ass."

For its 40th anniversary in 2002, the band launched the massive Licks Tour, playing stadiums, arenas and small venues (sometimes all in the same city) and releasing a career retrospective with new songs. But this time around, there is no sign of new material. "I'm not writing for them right now," says Richards, who has been working on a solo project "reminiscent of early Chess records." "I'm cutting my own stuff with [producer and drummer] Steve Jordan," he says. "There's no point in writing for the Stones until I know that Mick Jagger's in. He could have every song I've ever written. They're all for him. If he doesn't like them – or if he poo-poos them – I take them somewhere else." Adds Wood, "I think we have so much back catalog that we would go out without new material, but then again one of the boys might go, 'No, I wouldn't dream of going out unless we have new material. I don't mind, really.'"

The band last played live together in August 2007 at London's O2 Arena, wrapping the two-year, $558 million Bigger Bang tour. "We were riding the top of the wave," says Wood. "I didn't want it to end." Since then, the Stones have been unusually busy: Jagger released an album with reggae-soul supergroup SuperHeavy; Richards published the bestselling Life; Watts toured with his longtime jazz group; and Wood released a solo album, exhibited paintings and hosted a U.K. classic-rock radio show. In between, the group went back into the studio to add new parts to outtakes included with the stellar Exile and Some Girls reissues.

For Jagger, probably the least-nostalgic Stone, the looming anniversary has him reflecting on just how far the band has come. "It's a very different group than the one that played 50 years ago," he says. "When I think about it, one part of me goes, 'We're slightly cheating,' because it's not the same band – still the same name, but it's only Keith and myself that are the same people, I think. I've tried to find out when Charlie's first gig was [but can't]. But it's an amazing achievement. It's fantastic and I'm very proud of it."

Related
Rolling Stones Fuel Tour Rumors with London Meeting
Lawsuit Reveals Plans for Rolling Stones' 50th Anniversary Tour
Photos From the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour and the Making of 'Exile on Main Street'

This story is from the December 8, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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