World's greatest performing band bewilders the south
Goddammit," Bill Carter growled as he raced through the lobby of San Antonio's Hilton Palacio Del Rio. "Did you see this headline?" The former Secret-Service-agent-turned-Rolling-Stones-security-chief-and-visa-lawyer was waving the front page of the San Antonio News for June 4th, 1975. Splashed across the top, in bold black capital letters encased by a delicate pink box, the headline read "Stones Vice Raid Urged."
"That's all we need," he spat out the words angrily, "to have Mick arrested onstage. There'll be a goddamn riot like you never saw before. The kids'll burn that damned building to the ground." Spouting further visions of apocalypse, Carter stomped off to telephone the chief of police and anybody else who might be in on the gathering storm.
Only two cities into the Rolling Stones' massive Tour of the Americas, '75, Carter was earning his keep as the tour's straight man, the tough-talking lawyer who could deal with local authorities on their own level. What he had not counted on so early in the tour was Rupert Murdoch, the San Antonio News' Australian publisher, and his daily serving of dope, sex and violence. The Stones had not played this South Texas city since June 7th, 1964, when they performed before 65 persons at a disastrous affair called "Teen Fair." This time around, the city, especially Murdoch's News, was treating the two-concert appearance by the band as a major event. When the group touched down at the airport in the Boeing 720 Starship (which still bore Elton John's red, white and blue paint job, in addition to two Stones eagle logos, one already peeling), a splotchy, mildly hysterical special edition of the News, headlined "Stones Roll into San Antonio," was waiting for them.
The next day, after the first San Antonio show and after the city's first glimpse of the giant inflated phallus white balloon that rises out of the stage during "Star Star," the News pulled a classic strategem of yellow journalism. An unnamed cityside reporter called Municipal Court Judge Michael O'Quinn and informed him that dope smoking was going on in the Hemisfair Arena, and that this rock band there was using an obscenity as a stage prop, and what did the good judge have to say about that? The good judge immediately said that it seemed truly illegal and that, if it was indeed true, police should do something about it forthwith. That was all the News needed for a scoop.
Carter, meanwhile, after hurried conversations with local authorities, huddled with Stones manager Peter Rudge and tour press representative Paul Wasserman. Grimfaced, they confronted the awful possibilities: Jagger & Co. being led off the star-shaped stage in handcuffs, vice squad officers deflating the 15-foot penile structure and tugging it along for evidence ("Your honor, I present Exhibit A: the world's largest condom"), and meanwhile in the arena, seats already being wrenched from their fastenings and hurled at the stage, the four-foot plywood fence around that stage rapidly being rendered into splinters, wine bottles raining from the cheap seats, flames licking at the marvelous lotus-petal stage, blood running ankle deep in the aisles. Their worst fear, though, was the eternal nightmare of those who earn their livings from such tours: bad press. Police would be waiting at every airport on their itinerary of 28 cities to search each suitcase until the offending member, the billowy lingam, was found. Injunctions would be served at every turn, lawsuits would freeze tour monies for endless years, and the estimated $12-14 million gross from this tour would be pissed away into the wind. We'll play it by ear, Carter and Rudge decided. If the vice squad shows up we'll put the question to Mick: Will the cock rise tonight?
"Goddammit," Carter exploded. "What's the difference between Baton Rouge and San Antonio? Baton Rouge saw the cock twice in the same day!"
True enough. I began wondering about the difference and why the Stones opened in Baton Rouge. They said it was to escape the pressures of big cities, but it was more than that. Except for a mild traffic jam, Baton Rouge did not at all acknowledge the presence of a major rock & roll band. The audience was well behaved and receptive enough, but far from committing itself. That was why they'd picked a town like Baton Rouge: no physical or musical risk whatsoever. There were only two policemen on duty at Louisiana State University's Assembly Center on the night of May 31st, when the Stones pulled in for their last rehearsal before the tour opened the next day with two performances in that same hall.
And, as Charlie Watts said as he waited for the rehearsal to start, most earlier rehearsals had been just jamming and this was the last chance to put the show together. Watts, who appeared thinner than ever and sported a slowly growing skinhead haircut ("I cut it off because I was going bald"), was sitting with bassist Bill Wyman and trading stories with journalists. Ben E. King and Bianca Jagger were over in one corner with the upper crust of Atlantic Records; Keith Richards, with a sunburned belly and a massive turquoise belt, was picking out Charlie Rich tunes on a piano, and Mick Jagger and keyboard journeyman Billy Preston were off in a corner listening to tapes of rough cuts recorded by the Stones in Munich earlier this year for fall release.
This cut," said Wyman, "is Mick and Billy singing lead. It's very jazzy. The working title for this one is 'Vagina.' Why? Someone called it 'Cunt' in the studio and we couldn't write that." Wyman, long identified as the "silent Stone" ("Only because no one ever asks me anything"), identified the next song as "Melody." "It's a very nice song," he said. Tour percussionist Ollie Brown (whom the Stones met in 1972 when Brown filled in with Stevie Wonder) spoke up: "Is that blues?" Wyman laughed: "That's Twenties blues. Come on, Ollie, do I have to play your roots for you?"
Ron Wood, rooster hairdo aflop, finally dragged in three hours late and the group straggled out into the hall. From the floor, their much heralded star stage was disappointing: just pointed runways for Jagger. "Go upstairs," said Watts, who was instrumental in the design. "You really can't see the star till you get up higher because the line of amps cuts it in two. But it's marvelous, it's the biggest stage we've ever had." He was right. From the upper reaches, the stage resembled a deep porcelain dish with six gently curving star points, each outlined with a foot-wide strip of metal mirroring that formed a circle in the middle of the figure. Watts was directly at the center on a raised platform that had both air vents and spotlights under it. Ollie Brown stood directly behind him. To their right were Preston and Ron Wood; to their left, Richards and Wyman; and in front was Jagger's mike stand. Jagger would stand just in front of the circular trap door that would emit the giant phallus, a confetti-spouting dragon (not used early in the tour) and Jagger himself via a hidden elevator. The stage itself, 71 feet in diameter, is raked so that the back is ten feet high and the front only five.
The 42-foot lighting ring with 300 lights was just beginning to be tested as Richards kicked off the rehearsal with a few bone-rattling licks from "Little Queenie." Jagger, solemn faced, popped a Budweiser and pranced out onto each of the star tips to test the distances. He minced backwards down the front tip to see how far he could go before toppling over into the crowd. As soon as he spotted the mirror strip, he slowed down, just as an outfielder knows that once he hits the cinder track he has only microseconds to stop before hitting the wall.
Then, after noodling for a while, Richards started "Honky Tonk Women," and Wood could not keep up with his speed runs. After two minutes, it was obvious that Richards has not played better on an American stage and that, again, his image — the wasted pirate in dirty, drooping Levi's and black shirt — and his musicianship and leadership are the very essence of the Rolling Stones. He ignored Jagger's singing and practiced on coaching Ron Wood until they could easily defer leads to each other.
Richards was virtually carrying the band. "If everything's working well," he said later, "the general idea is that you should be able to hear what you want to onstage. Charlie wants to hear me; Mick needs to hear me, drums and himself, and the bass wants to hear the drums. The amps are so directional I basically just hear myself. I don't care what I hear as long as I hear something.
"Over the years, you know, we've virtually lost control over our sound — now it's some guy at a mixing board who we may never have met and has maybe never heard us play. Is there a way to beat that system? Sure, to beat that guy."
He moved into "You Can't Always Get What You Want," Jagger singing a falsetto lead, and Wood began to be more sure of himself. He took the guitar break and it sounded good enough until Richards came in under him to remind him just how hard the Stones' sound should be. The difference was breathtaking. By three in the morning, on "Tumbling Dice," Wood knew what was expected of him and was able to handle the guitar break.
By then, only a dozen hangers-on were left and Jagger picked up Wood's silver Les Paul Gibson to play rhythm on "Fingerprint File," Wood switching to bass and Wyman to keyboards. It was not entirely satisfactory. Shortly after 6:00 a.m. the rehearsal began to fall apart. The show was not totally ready but it still had to go on that day.
Less than 12 hours later, the Stones were back in Baton Rouge after a few hours' sleep in New Orleans's Royal Orleans Hotel. The Meters opened, finished and raced back for an unrequested encore in the face of raucous cries for the "fucking Rolling Stones." Finally, at 5:20 p.m., the houselights went down to great applause and Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" floated through the PA for two minutes and 15 seconds. Then the Stones walked onstage to a hoarse scream from the crowd: "Hooray for the Rolling Stones!" When the lights came up, Jagger was lying on his back on the top point of the star and slowly dancing his way downstage during "Honky Tonk Women." He was wearing grotesque black eye makeup and a short black jacket over a loose, striped outfit that resembled a baseball uniform, with red ankle ties and white shoes.
He was already playing the audience to the hilt, waving and dancing and jumping and racing to the star points. But, curiously, only those in the first 15 or so rows were physically responding. The message from that Baton Rouge audience was clear: The Stones may be the best rock & roll band in the world but that in itself may not be such a big deal anymore.
Hey," Jagger called after a not entirely successful version of "You Got to Move," "this is the first show of our tour. We want to find out what we do good and what we're doing terrible, so we'll do a whole lot more." The announcement was met with cheers and it was not at all a bad show; merely a show where the band was still finding its way. And after the second Baton Rouge set ended, Richards triumphantly holding his Fender overhead, the Stones were virtually whole again. Not since 1969 had they been such a metallic guitar band with such a forceful, if erratic, sound. In the space of 24 hours in Baton Rouge, they'd rehearsed for six hours, played two two-hour-plus sets and left the stage sounding stronger than when they first walked on to it. No matter that they have been around for a dozen years. No matter that Charlie Watts looks like an old man — he doesn't play like it. No matter that Bill Wyman may still tap his foot only once during a show. No matter that they do not have a hit single every month: They are, after all, the Rolling Stones and that stands for a great deal.
Except, certainly, in the eyes of the San Antonio police, who started dispatching patrolmen to the Hemisfair before the scalpers even showed up. At the San Antonio Hilton, tour proceedings had gone on as usual. Groupies of various sexes paraded back and forth from the Hilton to the arena, only about 200 yards away. Groupiedom may be on the wane elsewhere, but in San Antonio it's still an honorable and very competitive pastime. The girl in the taut "Teenage Lust" T-shirt could only look on enviously as a blond amazon in just a scanty loincloth and two tiny scraps of cloth topside was quickly assimilated into the Stones entourage.
The few ticket scalpers who showed up had less luck. There were few customers and the price was driven down to $3, then $1. Finally, many tickets were given away.
Backstage at the arena, Newman Jones, whose job it is to take care of Keith Richards's guitars, was rebuilding every one of them and looking for valium. "I haven't been able to eat for a goddamn week," he said. "Keith's so damned hard on these guitars. The damned things won't stay in tune. I just spent a hundred bucks on new bridges. Keith just beats the shit out of them, he plays the strings so hard."
Shortly thereafter, the man himself, the reclusive backbone of the Stones, held an audience in his cluttered room in the Hilton. He was reclining on one bed with his skull rings and necklaces and a bottle of José Cuervo; Ron Wood was perched on the other bed. How, I wondered, did Wood and Richards work out their system of trading off on lead and rhythm?
"Basically," Richards said, "I just keep on playing my bits and Ron works in."
"It's terrible, see," Wood cut in, "to get a plan for two guitarists. I just play rhythm when he plays the lead and he does the same."
"Yeah," Richards said, "I mean, rhythm and lead are blurred because it gets past that. Someone strumming away in the background and someone else doing all the playing, it's way past that. We're just playing with each other. And we just click in together."
So, the Stones are a guitar band again.
Richards smiled for the first time: "Really."
"We planned it that way," Wood said. "I mean, I feel a lot in common with Mick Taylor and Brian Jones. Sometimes I'll play a Mick Taylor line here and sometimes I'll just play one of me own and other times I have to play what Brian played. I never really know until we're onstage."
"For this tour," Richards added, "we tried to use as many new songs as we could so we wouldn't do the same old show. You can never tell, of course, how well something will actually work onstage. 'Honky Tonk Women' was like that for a long time and 'Wild Horses,' we must've fiddled around with that four or five years before putting it into a show."
In writing a Jagger/Richards collaboration like that, does Jagger always write the words and Richards the music?
Richards seemed vaguely disquieted by the question and reached for the tequila. "There's no procedure, really, or formulas. It can work in a wide variety of ways. Some songs are completely written by one person. Others, the music is written by me and maybe the words to the chorus, which would probably include the title. Mick would write the verses to fit in with the general thing I've got already. Other songs are two completely different songs stuck together. You put them together and you've got a whole."
Is there, then, a favorite Richards composition? "No, not really. That's not what it's about." Similarly, he said, he has no plans for a solo album: "I don't really see that I could do anything on my own that would add anything. Anything that I want to do, I can do with the band I've got."
Outside the Hilton it was a perfect, balmy evening for rock & roll and the plaza around the arena was full of beer and wine drinkers who lingered during the Meters' opening set.
The Stones were just pulling up to the arena in a beer truck they were using to beat the crush of the crowd when Bill Carter had his run-in with the San Antonio vice squad. Sergeant Harold Hoff and two detectives located Carter and told him they wanted to "examine the show and determine if it was pornographic, since the mayor and the city council have received several hundred calls about it." "Bullshit," Carter thought and he asked Hoff if he had already made up his mind about the phallus being obscene. Hoff said yes, and added that he was prepared to seek a warrant and file charges should the phallus rear its ugly head. Carter fumed and went to Jagger's dressing room with Rudge. Jagger laughed about it, but told Carter: "We're in San Antonio, we're San Antonio's guests and if they're gonna take this that seriously then I won't do it." Carter then shuttled back to Sergeant Hoff. "We could beat your ass on this case if you filed charges," he said, "but we don't need the hassle. You win."
Carter was fairly bitter: "Blame it on the Stones, goddamnit, they always blame it on the Stones. If the audience died of natural causes, they'd find a way to blame it on the Stones."
It was a rowdy crowd, perfect for the Stones and, if there is still magic in rock & roll, it was there the night of June 4th as the lights went down and "Fanfare" came up and the people in the first 20 rows surged against the plywood fence. The cry was deafening when the ten Super Trouper arc lights around the hall stabbed through the darkness to pinion Jagger and Richards in a blinding white circle at a tip of the star. In the lighting box, Jules Fisher, who was imported from Broadway to do the Stones' lights, pointed proudly at his work. Seen from on high, the stage was spectacular — a delicately lit flower that seemed to be suspended and surrounded by what resembled a sea of waving eels which were, of course, arms held overhead and clapping. Fisher's color mixes threw purple, red, yellow and blue simultaneously around the star.
"Wait till you see the Madison Square Garden show," he said. "It'll be decorated like a garden: hundreds of leaves on cables leading to the stage and the petals of the stage will be closed to resemble a tree trunk. The petals will open to show the band and Mick will rise on an elevator and we'll project flying eagles all over the audience. The leaves, ten-foot leaves, will rise on hydraulic pistons and there'll be neon rimming on the stage. It'll be beautiful."
The houselights came up as Richards led the group into a slashing, brutal "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and even a few of the cops could not resist moving in time to that savage syncopation. Jagger finished it off grandly by dumping buckets of ice into the crowd and then standing stock-still, one fist raised high.
As one of the finer moments in rock history, it was unmatched — until two nights later in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium when "Jumpin' Jack Flash" became an awesome guitar duel between Wood and Richards before 53,231 paying customers. The crowd booed for a full two minutes when they realized there would be no encore.
There was no encore in San Antonio either and the crowd finally straggled out, many persons heading for the Hilton lobby where they were stopped at the elevators by the Stones' muscle squad. Two adamant female fans, who were sure Mick wanted to see them, were not at all happy. One wore a black leather bikini; the other, in full biker regalia, had stood at the very tip of the star and thrown her heavy, studded belt at Jagger to celebrate the start of "Honky Tonk Women." Now she maintained she had thrown it to him and had fastened her card to it with the inscription, "L&L to Mick from Tiger and Claire, Slave." They wanted very badly to see Jagger. "He is," the one with eyepatch said, "obviously very into sex and violence. Look at when he does 'Midnight Rambler' and plays harmonica with no hands. That's a very S&M slave thing." Astonishing, just astonishing. I could hardly wait to quiz Jagger on that.
"Ah, yeah," he said the next day when I finally collared him in his room, where he was sitting in a blue and white polka-dotted bathrobe and eating from a plate of eggs by the window, "I saw that belt. So?" Didn't that sex/violence/belt thing cause any apprehension, especially playing that close to the audience? "No. No, you shouldn't be afraid of it, but it is pretty scary sometimes. Want some coffee?"
Jagger began to radiate the old charm, flashing his diamond smile and twinkling his eyes, which are beginning to show crow's-feet which are also known as laugh lines. He was thinking of going out for a walk, he said, but the fans were closing in on the hotel. "It eventually affects you so that you don't feel like having to face anything."
What about the disappearing band member that the authorities had almost confiscated? What will the fans of old think of the Stones giving in to the police?
"Well, yeah, I just thought that practically it'd be better if we didn't use it because if we were arrested we wouldn't be able to use the fucking thing at all anymore. They'd be waiting for us everywhere. The cock has now reached minimal proportions, rather than if we'd said, 'Oh fuck 'em.' I thought of that, of course I did. You just have to realize where you are and whether it's really worth it. It's not compromising so much as being a bit more far-sighted."
Well, what does Jagger make of the Stones' image this time around?
Jagger grimaced: "Image, that's just, that's just people who don't know you, so how can they get that opinion of you? Oh — I guess just by reading about you and listening to the records. So they get their image of you that way."
And the old Prince of Darkness/Sympathy for the Devil image?
"Yeah, yeah, that was an unintentional role. We may put that song back into the show, though it needs rehearsing. So it'll be part of one's makeup again. We prefer to play the newer songs. I would prefer not to do any of the old ones at all. We have a lot of new ones that we don't do, that I'd like to do, like 'Time Waits for No One.'"
Has Jagger thought all that much about his future and the future of the band?
"I think," he said, "that we would like to do some gigs next year. I don't really know how long the band's gonna last. Lots of bands of other kinds, not rock bands, have stayed together. Not always with great results."
Yes, but here you're all getting up in your 30s. How will you deal with becoming an aging rock star? Pete Townshend is probably the only one who's talked about that and he's said that he's stopped doing teenage songs.
"Ah," Jagger winked. "But, see, I never was a teenager. I don't remember doing any teenage songs. But I do know what he means. Pete, though, has got 'My Generational' to cope with. We don't have anything like that. I mean, we stopped doing 'Satisfaction' quite a long while ago."
But then maybe it's easier for someone like Dylan, who can always be an acoustic troubadour.
"Maybe I can do that. It's not difficult to go onstage and just sing. As long as you can hold people, you don't have to dress up, really — it's not necessary."
Maybe you're right, I said. Elvis may have proved that.
"Proved what? I saw him on the TV last night. I thought it was awful. I'd never seen Elvis before. But, I mean, it was just the crowd, where he was, and all that. I'd never seen him and I don't know. He's still going on. He's an example. But a lot of people think he's stupid, you know."
He doesn't give interviews and you still do.
Jagger laughed heartily. "Yeah. You'd say to him, 'Hey Elvis, how come at the age of' — however old he is, he's quite old — 'how come you still want to dress up in a silly suit and get onstage? At the funckin' International Schlock Hotel in Las Vegas?'" Jagger slipped into what he considers to be a southern drawl: "'Wal.' drawled Elvis, 'it's the money and the fame. Damn straight.' That's what the guy does. He'd be lost if he couldn't do that."
Does it, I asked, cost you more now than then years ago to keep yourself reasonably content? "It probably costs me far more," Jagger said. "I spend more on travel mainly than I used to since I don't live so much in one place anymore. I'm not as domesticated as I used to be. By domesticated, I mean — what I mean is living in a house and being with a woman and all that; permanently settled in one place, that's domestication. I just keep going."
What, then, is important to you? Your work? He smothered a giggle. Well then, is, say, a candy bar important to you? He laughed. "I don't think anything is really important to me, you know? Not really. I mean, not overwhelmingly." What about the adulation of the masses out there?
"That," he said seriously, "that's a difficult thing, you know. Because, because I've been living like this for so long that if I stop — if I stop doing it, it's bound to affect me, you know. It's an overwhelming feeling, the audience. That must be why most of these people never give up performing. Because they just can't go without that sort of rush. It's a bit like having an orgasm. Sometimes an orgasm is better than being onstage; sometimes being onstage is better than an orgasm."
What about acting: Do you want to move into that more? "I'd like to try some more. I've never gone to see myself in a movie, kind of nervous about it. I'm not sure if I've got that relentless, ruthless ambition anymore. To want to be a star, because I mean it's hard, it's ruthless. I don't know if I want to do that."
And after this tour? "I don't know. I guess I'll just either continue to do music or try movies or maybe just stop completely." But could you stop completely? "For a while." Maybe take some time and write the history of the Stones? Jagger stood up and delivered the full Super Trouper smile: "I'll never do that."
This story is from the July 17, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone.