The Rolling Stones' fall tour of North America has slipped through the fingers of superpromoter Bill Graham. Instead, the self-styled World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band signed a lucrative contract in mid-March with Toronto promoter Michael Cohl, who heads Concert Productions International (CPI).
Cohl has guaranteed the Stones an unprecedented $65 million to $70 million. His deal allows him not only to promote the tour – an estimated fifty to sixty dates in the United States and Canada – but also to handle tour merchandising and oversee both a megabucks sponsorship deal and a pay-per-view television special.
The tour is expected to begin around Labor Day, following the release of a new Stones album currently being recorded at Air Studios, on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. To ensure the interest of the MTV generation, the Stones are considering Guns n' Roses, INXS and Living Colour as opening acts.
As this issue went to press, Cohl would not comment on the tour – or even confirm that there will be one. When asked what promoting the tour would mean to him, however, he said without hesitation, "If we were involved in a Rolling Stones tour, I would think it was the greatest thing ever."
Although everything surrounding the tour is currently veiled in secrecy, Rolling Stone has learned that Cohl had been aggressively pursuing the band since last fall. A shaggy-haired, bearded forty-one-year-old, he has quietly become a major player in the international concert business. Not only does he promote some 1,400 concerts each year, but he also controls Brockum, one of the biggest rock-merchandising companies in the world.
Until Cohl pushed his way into the picture, it was assumed in the Stones camp that the tour would go to Graham, who would not comment about the tour or his attempts to be a part of it. In addition to handling the Stones' highly successful 1981-82 tour of the United States, the high-profile San Francisco promoter took Mick Jagger to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia last year.
Cohl and Graham presented the group with two very different approaches. Cohl offered to act as a national promoter, risking a huge multimillion-dollar guarantee for the opportunity to make big money. In contrast, Graham wanted to serve as a salaried "tour director," the position he held during the Stones' 1981-82 tour, which allowed him to book the tour without cutting the local promoters who dominate each city out of the action.
That a Stones tour was anything more than a concert promoter's pipe dream became apparent last fall when Keith Richards told Rolling Stone he thought there would be a Stones album and tour in '89. But planning didn't begin in earnest until after Richards and Jagger's public reconciliation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner this January.
Early this year both Cohl and Graham sent written offers to the Stones' brain trust – their London financial adviser, Prince Rupert Loewenstein; their American attorney, John Branca; and their American business manager, Joseph Rascoff. In mid-February the Stones' business advisers joined Jagger and Richards in Barbados, where the two chief Stones were working up material for the album.
Both Graham and Cohl made their way to Barbados to meet with the group in person over Presidents Day weekend. Graham spent two fruitless days attempting to convince the Stones and their advisers that what had worked the last time would work again. "Bill Graham was told that the difference between his offer and Cohl's was 'tens of millions,' " said a source familiar with the Barbados meetings. "Over and over he was told, 'No matter what you offer, you can't match Cohl.' "
Ultimately, a contract between Cohl and the Stones was signed in Barbados in mid-March. As a consolation, Graham was offered a high-paying position as "creative consultant," which would have put him in charge of such concerns as public relations and stage set designs. He turned that down. Losing the tour has apparently devastated him; although the promoter still isn't talking, he seemed uncharacteristically low-key and distracted during the press conference for an AIDS benefit concert a week after the deal with Cohl was concluded.
While tour details are being worked out, the Stones themselves are apparently on a roll in the studio. After several successful weeks of writing in Barbados, during which more than a dozen songs were written, Jagger and Richards were joined by Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Ron Wood for preliminary sessions before the group moved on to Montserrat. To be released in early August, the album will have to be completed by June. "It must be going well," says a source close to the group. "Otherwise, it wouldn't have lasted an hour."
This story is from the May 4th, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.