It looks like we're covered in dark makeup," Mick Jagger says wryly of this classic Glimmer Twins cover, shot by Annie Leibovitz on the eve of the Rolling Stones' 1975 summer tour. "Or we'd been in the sun a lot" — which is closer to the truth. Leibovitz photographed the singer, and guitarist Keith Richards, in Montauk, at the far end of Long Island, New York, where the band was rehearsing at the home of film director Paul Morrissey.
Richards considers the wild-animal suspicion on his face, next to Jagger's guarded cool. "I'd say the animal is barely out of hibernation," he says in his trademark cackle. "Or I was having too much fun. It may be the angle – I seem to be looking down. She might have been shooting from slightly lower." There's another gravelly chuckle. "Maybe it was just the way I felt that day."
Leibovitz recalls Jagger and Richards' reaction when they first saw the result: "I remember Mick and Keith both saying, 'Hmmm, we actually like that photo' – like they were almost surprised."
The Rolling Stones had been Rolling Stone cover subjects since the magazine's first year; Jagger debuted on the front page in 1968. But this 1975 image was the first time Jagger and Richards were photographed together for the cover. They were in their matured prime as performers, tighter than ever as songwriters and collaborators, and about to go into their natural element: touring.
There was turmoil, too. At the end of 1974, as the Stones began work in Munich on their next studio album, Black and Blue, and started planning the '75 tour, guitarist Mick Taylor quit. Ron Wood, then in the Faces, agreed to step in. Then two weeks before opening night, Jagger fell through a glass window in a Montauk restaurant, cutting his right arm. He was rushed to a local hospital, where he got twenty stitches.
Wood recalls the practices in Montauk as "grueling. I had about 160 songs to master. We were working almost twenty-four hours a day, only stopping for lunch and dinner." Richards only remembers the anticipation "of seeing how we could make it happen together. I understand people from outside saying, 'It's a shakedown for Ronnie.' Nobody in the band thought like that. It was just, 'You're in, mate. Now dig in.'"
Leibovitz had unprecedented access to the Stones, in Montauk and on tour, for a simple reason: "She was a casual, good-humored photographer," Jagger says. "She could go anywhere she wanted." And she had permission to shoot everything, with one caveat. "With Annie, if I really didn't like it, she would say, 'OK, we won't use it.' That gives you a confidence." Jagger didn't object when Leibovitz photographed the stitches on his arm; that shot ran on the first page of Chet Flippo's account of the first shows, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in San Antonio.
"Annie would become part of the tour," Richards concurs. "It was like, There's Charlie [Watts], there's the cook and there's Annie.' She was invisible to us. That's how she got a lot of good stuff. Sometimes, she'd say, 'Stand there for a minute.' 'OK, Annie, if it's important.'"
"Keith is more comfortable being photographed than Mick," Leibovitz says. "Mick is always feeling like he has to do something.Keith is very secure within himself. If you get to be the guitarist in the Rolling Stones, you're a foundation piece."
Actually, Jagger points out, "I look very calm in this picture, taking it all easy. Keith looks like he's had enough photos done. I can be quite patient. But if I don't think it's going anywhere, I just call it. With Annie, I had a lot of patience, because I knew we would get somewhere in the end."
Jagger declines to read anything about his tumultuous, enduring relationship with Richards in the yin and yang of their respective gazes and posture in Leibovitz's 1975 cover: "It's more graphic to shoot less people. Four or five Stones on the cover is too many."
Richards prefers to let speculation run riot. "It's like conspiracy theory," he says. "If you get a picture of me and Mick, people read this into it and that. But that's the beauty. It's the mystery of it all." There's another cackle. "It's a mystery to me."
This story is from the May 18th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.