The Rolling Stones and the Gathering Madness

Mick & co. start their U.S. tour with flak from the public about ticket prices and a decadent stay in Los Angeles

Rolling Stones Charlie Watts Mick Jagger Keith Richards Bill Wyman Brian Jones
GAB Archive/Redferns
The Rolling Stones circa 1969.
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LOS ANGELES — It was a hell of a way to welcome the Rolling Stones to America. First, everybody criticized them for permitting, or causing, concert ticket prices to go as high at $12.50. Then, the musicians union rode in and started talking about kicking the Stones out of the country.

"Deportation" became a real possibility when the American Federation of Musicians (Local 47 in Los Angeles) heard the Stones were planning to record while here. Mick Jagger had even confirmed this during a press conference. Trouble was, the Stones' work permits from the Department of Immigration said nothing about recording while in the U.S.

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The time in the studio was spent completing the last details on their new album, Let It Bleed, scheduled for release on November 10. The new album is in the bluesy, Beggar's Banquet style. Tracks include:

"Midnight Rambler," a long bluesy bit with a long instrumental passage; "Love In Vain," a Robert Johnson ballad, the only number the Stones didn't write; "Gimme Some Shelter" and "You've Got The Silver Now," on which Keith sings lead; a long, nine-minute version of the already-released "You Can't Always Get What You Want," featuring the big female choir much more heavily than on the single, and is a great number; "Country Hunk," a country version of "Honky Tonk Women," featuring a fiddle and all that; there's also "Live With Me," the title tune, "Let It Bleed," and "Monkey Man" which contains these lyrics: "I'm a cold Italians Pizza/I could use a lemon squeezah;/I hope we're not too messianic/or a trifle too satanic/we just love to play the blues."

As soon as the Stones settled into their sumptuous mountain-top homes here (11 people in one house, Mick, Keith, Mick Taylor and several others in the other) the madness began to form. Much of this came in talk and activity surrounding the price and availability of tickets to the two Forum concerts November 8.

At first the Stones were criticized for asking so much money that the concert promoters apparently felt it was necessary to charge as much as $7.50 a ticket. Then it was discovered $7.50 wasn't even the top price–that the promoters, radio station KRLA and Concert Associates, had held back the first twenty rows of seats for "friends" in the industry, from whom they were asking $12.50 a ticket.

This meant that so long as the concerts' top price was being advertised as $7.50, kids who bought the expensive tickets assumed they were buying seats fairly close to the stage. November 8, they wouldn't even be within screaming distance.

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At the same time, KRLA and Concert Associates had broken all records for money charged for a single rock concert in Los Angeles.

"It's like a status thing, in a prize fight, with ringside seats," explained Jim Rissmiller, one of the Concert Associates' promoters. "We've had people calling offering $40 for these seats. We would never use a concert with so much prestige to bilk the public. Presenting the Rolling Stones is good for us, business-wise. It gets us other acts. We're making money, sure, but we make a lot more with the Iron Butterfly in Anaheim.

"But the cost of the tickets. That's the Stones' responsibility. They set the prices, not us."

Tickets in Los Angeles sold cut in eight hours, a total of 36,000 seats for two shows. About three hundred people waited overnight in front of the box office to get the first seats. Los Angeles opens the 13-city, 18-show tour, the Stones' first in three years. Here is their schedule:

November 8—The Forum, Los Angeles, California.
November 9—The Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California.
November 10—The Sports Arena, San Diego, California.
November 11—The Coliseum, Phoenix, Arizona.
November 13—Moddy Coliseum, Dallas, Texas.
November 14—The Coliseum, Auburn University, Auburn, Ala.
November 15—The University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois.
November 16—Chicago International Amphitheater, Chicago, Illinois.
November 24—Olympia Stadium, Detroit, Michigan.
November 25—The Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pa.
November 26—Baltimore Civic Center, Baltimore, Maryland.
November 27 and 28—Madison Square Garden, New York.
November 29—The Boston, Gardens, Boston, Mass.
November 30—West Palm Beach Pop Festival, West Palm Beach, Florida.

As for the Stones themselves, they, too, were being hassled for tickets. "They're only givin' us 25 of them," Jagger told the callers – most of whom could afford tickets, no matter what the cost, but apparently wanted to say they got them from the Stones instead. "Our contract says we get 25, that's all – to be divided between the five of us. We must have 100 friends in Los Angeles at least. S'not enough, is it?"

Wherever they go, though, the Stones remained the Stones – somewhat larger than life – and they drew crowds. Not large crowds. At the Ash Grove, where Taj Mahal was playing, at the Brass Ring, where Delaney and Bonnie and Friends were playing, at several other night clubs, the audiences were too cool for much public demonstration. But attention was paid. And business was always good when the Stones arrived; news of their presence traveled fast.

Even if you weren't on the club circuit, constantly running into or just missing Jagger, it didn't take much to keep track of them. All you had to do was read Joyce Haber's gossip column in the morning Times or watch Rona Barrett on Channel 11 at night. They even told you what the Stones ate.

Meantime, the activities of the Stones were reaching an almost insane pitch, fed by the feeling of it in the air: The Stones Are In Town!

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KRLA was hawking tickets to the concerts in contests, all the young members of the music biz in Los Angeles, and certainly all the groupies, male and female alike, were all hanging around the Stones official headquarters on Oriole Drive in the Hollywood Hills. (The house boasts a tennis court, swimming pool, a spectacular view of Los Angeles, and five newly-installed phone lines.)

In a more secluded location, another huge house buried on the other side of the Hollywood Hills, Mick, Keith and Mick Taylor were living with cooks, chauffeurs, bodyguards, etc., and holding daily closed rehearsals.

Needless to say, the rehearsals were incredible. In a makeshift sound studio at the back of the house, the five Stones were jamming and arranging. Running through old hits ("I'm Free") and a wailing on the new ones.

Our man at the scene who sat in on one night of the rehearsals said this: "They are the best rock and roll group in the world. Mick Taylor will settle down and follow Keith's lead instead of busying up the sound; Mick sings beautifully, and the rhythm section – well, there's no contest. Hopefully the concert situations won't muddy up the sound, but just seeing them sit around and play live and loud – well, that's it, isn't it?"

This story is from the November 29, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 47: November 29, 1969