The Rolling Stones Go South

Scenes from the Playboy Mansion all the way down to Alabama

Rock and roll band 'The Rolling Stones' pose for a portrait circa 1972.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
August 3, 1972

In Chicago, in the house that Playboy built, an anonymous brown-stone on a quiet leafy street that Hugh Hefner calls home, the scene is a party in the great room of the mansion, or the "Palace Museum" as it has come to be known on the Rolling Stones tour.

Past the security heavies in black suits at the front door, walkie talkies in their hands and pistols under their shoulders, is a camera that screens all prospective entrants, up the wide sweeping stairs to the door that says, "If you don't swing, don't ring" in Latin script.

Push through down three steps and you're in the great hall. Two suits of armor flank the stairs, deep plush couches are arranged to form sitting areas on either side. It all runs into a huge stone fireplace over which hangs a Picasso of a reclining nude woman.

Photos: Rare and Intimate Pictures of the Rolling Stones

Keith Richards is lying flat on his ass in a deep plush sofa. Keith's scarecrow frame is sporting brass studded jeans, leopardskin boots, mixmaster avocado hair, and red sunglasses. Five years ago he would have been stopped outside the front door and never even allowed to state his name or stand in front of the camera. Today he is lying flat on his ass digging Hugh Hefner.

"Look at him," Keith says, laughing into his Tequila Sunrise. "Doin' well, ain't he? Makin' conversation, bridgin' the generation gap. He's my father's dream, he is. I been thinkin' about doin' a Black and Decker job on my room. Yeah, you know . . . sprayin' it all black vinyl or somethin' . . . Maybe writin' Holiday Inn on the walls . . . somethin' to remember us by."

* * *

As the Rolling Stones continue to mamba along, seeing America on $15 per diem, it has become apparent that their music is finishing second to the party that swirls along with them.

"Have you noticed?" says Peter Rudge, tour manager, and always quick with a quote when the chips are down. "The music's almost a byproduct. It goes on for an hour and a half and then it's not talked about. Fewer and fewer people seem able to get out of the dressing room to watch the show either. Makes me wonder what's goin' on here. Not rock and roll, surely."

Days begin at five in the afternoon and end at ten in the morning. The boredom of being adrift in the Hyatt Houses and Ramada Inns of America is unending. Nothing can relieve it but to get knock-down loaded, dismantle a toilet or sometimes tear a TV set off its hinges and send it to its cathode ray-death some ten floors below (the entire incident is on film), then turn up the tape cassette and go looking for another party in another room.

Mr. Robert Frank, a street philosopher who is the tour film maker, sat grizzled and unshaven in a dining room in New Orleans, great bags developing under his eyes. A waitress dropped a dishcover just in back of his ear. He winced like a muscatel-soaked skid row refugee and sighed. "I have never been on anything like this," he said quietly. "I have been on trips with extraordinary people before but they were always directed outward . . . this totally excludes the outside world. To never get out, to never know what city you are in . . . I cannot get used to it."

Indeed. If you were to ask about Dallas, you would be told that the air-conditioning in the coffee shop on Sunday morning is lousy but not much else. As Charlie Watts said late one night, staring into a Texas pizza, "It's not much of a way to see the country, is it? All you care about is how good the bed is, and can ya get somethin' to eat after the show . . . "

The Rolling Stones tour party moves across the nation like the League in Hesse's The Journey to the East. The limousines are ready at any hour to whisk the entire party to private hangers where the chartered plane is ready to take off. Jo Bergman puts out a daily newsletter and it's off again, into the night, en route to uh, ah . . . hell, turn up the cassette and pour another drink.

* * *

Ostensibly the reason the Stones are stashed at Mr. Hefner's house in Chicago is security. "They might not like it here," says Leroy, their personal bodyguard, "but the security is super tight. This is the kinda town you can get yourself mugged right on the street in the daylight."

Chicago is toddling the week the Stones pass through. The downtown hotels are filled with a furniture convention (big dealers from Grand Rapids), and a hardware convention (nuts and bolts). Thus, the tour's back-up crew are given rooms in a hotel, whose architecture is much like the Kinney Parking lot on 54th Street in Manhattan. In the very same establishment, which is located only a convenient $15 cab ride from the city, are eight hundred McDonald's hamburger executives. The boys from McDonald's crowd the lobby, jam into the crystal Art Deco elevators and shout to each other from the balconies. They carry identical briefcases, wear the kind of outfit that's perfect for a yacht when you don't own one, and bear lapel stickers that say Be All You Can Be.

Things with the boys themselves are not much better at the PM (the Playboy Mansion/Palace Museum). When the Stones first arrived in the wee hours of the morning Is There Sex After Death is being screened. The couches are awash with ladies who are there to watch and the vibes are formal.

To alleviate that, Keith Richards invites most of Stevie Wonder's band and anyone else he can to a party the next evening . . .

Hugh Hefner is sitting on a polished leather hassock just under the Picasso, folding Cherry Blend into his black briar pipe with the white rabbit emblem on the stem. There is a circle of pneumatic ladies revolving around him, in his blue corduroy pants and a dark shirt. He looks just as he did during the TV days of Playboy After Dark. There's a bit of hanging back going on . . . God, rock and rollers get nervous too, in the presence of legends. Peter Rudge, who had had the benefit of a Cambridge education and is a master of the social graces, makes the first move. It's a great moment, this meeting between two dynamos, as Peter asks Hugh, "Who runs your record company?"

"Uh," Hef says, "John, John, uh . . . No, that's not right. It's uh . . . Geez, I'm just hell on names. Uh, Sal . . . "

"Sal Iannuci?" Peter says, trying to help.

"Uh . . . " Hef reloads his pipe, runs as absent-minded hand through the blonde hair of the girl by his knee. She smiles back at him, absent-mindedly. "Uh," Hef says finally, "damned if I know. I've been in a meeting that went on until 1:30 this morning. First chance I've had to relax all day. I guess I'm a little punchy." He smiles and puffs away at his pipe.

Around Hef the couches throb with long-legged suntanned American femininity. None of your faintly European-looking East Coast ladies, or wholewheat West Coast surfer girls. These are American dream ladies, the real thing, from the heartland, Rockport, and Omaha, and Columbus, Ohio. Bunnies mostly, with a sprinkling of Playmates and Bunny Plane stewardesses.

The Rolling Stones on the Cover of Rolling Stone

"Do you come from this planet?" one asks me.

"How do you mean?"

"Well the way you were sitting there, it's like this party has nothing to do with you. Aren't you having fun?"

One Bunny leads to another. Soon there's a throng of them, chattering away. One says she's a Libra. "Are there any more 'beans' around?" she asks her friends. It finally has gotten down to beans and carrots and peas. What are "beans"?

"Oh you know," she says, beaming brightly, "Quaaludes. Quacks. Seconals too. Beans are my second favorite drug."

And your first?

She smiles and holds up a dear, tiny coke spoon that hangs from a chain around her neck.

The conversation quickens, filled with information that makes it sound like a seminar on drug abuse. "Soapers are really nice . . . "

". . . a lot of coke but not anymore . . . "

"A couple of half-trips of acid . . . after the Stones finished I leaned back and my whole row of chairs fell to the floor . . . "

"It's fifty bucks a month to live in the mansion, and you have to pay for all your food. But weird things are always happening . . . "

". . . I came back feeling good and this chick had OD'ed on pills and booze. Let me tell you. It really brought my head down . . . "

Galliano and Courvoisier are flowing over the bar like water. Servants are cruising and they'll bring you anything you'd like.

"Say, waiter, I'm hungry."

"Very good, sir, what would you like?"

"Well, nothing special. What have you got?"

"Sir, we have everything . . . what do you prefer?"

"How about some fish?"

"Baked, broiled, fried, cold? Lobster tails, perhaps. Would lobster tails suffice?"

Like that. The gameroom is down a curving stairway, past the pool and the sun-and-sauna room and through the beaded curtains. There's a pool table in the middle and a collection of neon flashing pinball machines, a computer quiz, table football, The Red Baron, Test-Your-Skill driving games, electro-dart boards. It's all for free. No dime needed. You push the button and you get a replay.

Willie, the baggage man, is shooting pool one-handed, Charlie Watts watches and mumbles, "Fantastic, Willie is . . . " Jim Price is sighting down a pool cue saying "Sasssssss-katchewan," a phrase which has meaning only in pool halls. The sound system has been captured and plugged into a portable tape recorder. Jerry Lee Lewis is pounding piano, Smokey and the Miracles whirling "More Love," Aretha follows the Temptations who follow the Coasters who cause Bobby Keys to shout, "You know who that is? The greatest gawdam sax player of all time, that's who . . . King Curtis."

Four in the morning and people are careening room to room, from the bar through the living room down to the game room. Stevie Wonder's playing some incredible funky piano. A Playboy waiter has been treated to the very first amyl nitrate rush out of his life, and he spills an entire tray of drinks on the floor of a roomful of sympathetic tour folks.

"I've got to leave right away," a Bunny says. "They're organizing a Roman bath in the pool. I mean, I was like ordered to come but I don't think it includes that."

The next day a lady by the name of Mercy, in town to pose for her Playmate pictures, with her cascades of platinum blonde hair, wide eyes and what is usually described in toothpaste ads as a "winning smile" says, "Oh goodness. Usually, I'm the straightest of them all. But last night . . . oh Lawd. I've got bumps and bruises and bites all over my ass. Ooh. And tomorrow's my birthday too. I feel just like Cinderella."

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