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."
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
POLITICS No Price Big Banks Can't Fix
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus