Stones Visit Memphis

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The set was the same two-hours-plus the band has been doing throughout the tour, but there were some surprises. Jagger's voice has gained depth and resonance; a few years ago he wouldn't have been able to sustain two slow numbers, "Angie" and "Wild Horses," in a row. He was using the carrying power of his cordless microphone to improvise subtle changes in the vocal lines of several songs, rushing or delaying a phrase here, speaking instead of singing there. All the while he jumped and twirled with the grace of an acrobat. Richards, whose rhythm guitar parts are the backbone of every Stones rocker, had turned virtually all the lead work over to Wood. "Get Off My Cloud," "Heartbreaker" and a few other tunes had taken on an 8/8 rhythm feel with salsa flavoring. "You Got to Move," the somber spiritual written by the late Memphis bluesman Fred McDowell, had become a showstopper. Earlier in the tour, the group vocals by Jagger, Richards, Wood, Preston and Brown had been flippant, as if the black musicians weren't sure how to treat a piece so deeply imbedded in their past, and the Englishmen thought the whole thing a bit silly. In Memphis, Richards twanged out the introduction on his treble strings, giving an all-too-brief sampling of his distinctive, biting tone, and the unison vocals at least approached the compact power of a backwoods church chorus.

The Stones exited after "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" came over the PA. Ollie Brown followed it with a reading from political texts selected by Jagger to celebrate the anniversary of American independence. "Revolutions never go backward," he said, "revolutions must go forward." (That was from Lenin.) "President Ford has said, 'For the next hundred years we must pursue liberty and happiness.'" — but, "The rich is getting richer, and the poor is getting poorer." (The O'Jays' "Rich Get Richer.") Mao's words were the last: "Is one revolution enough?"

Back at the hotel, Wyman commented that he liked the audience and Furry Lewis, then left with Memphis R&B bassist "Duck" Dunn. Charlie Watts sat down and, asked how he liked playing with Ollie Brown, replied, "Oh, he's a great player. Great. We used a percussionist from Billy's band before, on a European tour, but that was more spontaneous. This time we decided to do it right and rehearsed intensively." Did Ollie free him to experiment more? "I don't know, I just play."

But Watts really wanted to talk about jazz. In New York he'd been impressed by avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor, swing-era musicians Roy Eldridge and Paul Quinichette and drummer Roy Haynes. "Every time people tell me I'm good," he said, "I . . . like it at first — anybody does — but then I think about people like Roy [Haynes], who played with Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and is still playing in clubs. You know, when I started I played Dixieland, and then I went on to bands that were trying to re-create the Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington small-band sound from the Thirties. I worked up to playing Fifties-period Thelonious Monk. All the time I thought that what I'd eventually be doing, what I wanted to be doing, was playing with a trio in a cellar for a few junkies." A reporter who'd been looking for an opening blurted, "What do you think of American music?" Watts stared with his huge, liquid eyes and snorted softly, "I don't know about anything but American music," he said. "None of us do, really. And what I like about American music is basically black music. That's not to say white people can't play it, but to me, American music is black music."

Keith Richards wandered up. "Woody and me, we're driving to Dallas," he stage whispered to Watts. "See the country, get off the plane for a bit. Come on with us." Watts looked at him incredulously, as if he knew what was coming. "Now? Think I'll take the plane." Twelve hours later, 4:00 p.m. Arkansas time, Richards, Wood, security man James Callaghan and one Fred Sessler ("just a fan," according to Bill Carter; something more, according to rock gossips) were pulled over by city police in Fordyce, pop. 5000.

They'd been driving through the state sightseeing in a rented Chevrolet, determinedly avoiding the interstate, and had stopped at the Fordyce Restaurant and Station for a late lunch around three. Richards had obligingly signed autographs for waitress Wanda Parnell, a senior at Fordyce High. A few minutes after the group resumed its journey, he bent over to change radio stations. The car swerved and the police arrived.

The four were detained at city hall, where a search of their car allegedly turned up a "controlled substance," thought to be cocaine, in Sessler's luggage. While several hundred local teenagers waited outside the building, Richards paid $163.50 in bail for two misdemeanor charges — carrying a concealed weapon (a leather-sheathed hunting knife) and reckless driving. Sessler posted $5000 bond and the party left town in a chartered plane. Fordyce Municipal Court Judge T. D. Wynne Jr. was philosophical about the incident. He told Memphis's Commercial Appeal that Fordyce was "already famous" because Paul W. Bear Bryant, University of Alabama football coach, was from the area, and that the town did not need the kind of publicity a Rolling Stones bust was likely to incur. Arresting officer Eddie Childers, 26, allowed that he had heard the Stones' music but prefered C&W. "I've never had a case like that before," he said. "But it's all in the job."

This is a story from the August 14, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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