The Rolling Stones: Jumping, Booming, Bumping, Grinding to a Halt

Did the touring repetition still mean magic - or had it become, simply, boredom?

September 11, 1975
Mick Jagger Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger on the cover of Rolling Stone
Photo by Annie Leibovitz

The Rolling Stones holed up at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for their week in Los Angeles. I arrived on July 8th about 12 hours after the band, in the middle of the worst smog I've ever encountered. I got a sore throat and headache that lasted three weeks.

Like everything in Los Angeles that doesn't look like a tamale stand, the Beverly Wilshire has a hacienda feel. The old wing is the model of large-scale pseudo-Spanish architecture, with iron grillwork, red and green lights and clinging vines. The new wing looks like a stack of computer-designed taco huts.

On Tuesday afternoon the Wilshire was pretty sedate. The crew members were staying at the Continental Riot House on Sunset Strip. The band was even less visible than usual. The wives – Bianca Jagger, Chrissy Wood and Shirley Watts – had arrived with the group; Astrid Lindstrom hadn't been far from Bill Wyman throughout the tour. Only Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards's girlfriend, wasn't around. But Richards wasn't staying at the Wilshire anyway. He was up in some canyon or other, at the home of Freddie Sessler. Charlie Watts was particularly happy that his wife and daughter arrived. He spent the first two weeks of the tour popping in and out of the tour office in each city, asking for string or a box or postage stamps to send his daily package home.

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I was there on business – to gauge the mood of the tour, to find some collective gestalt among the personalities, statistics, memoranda and occasional music. In the meantime, I got to see if I could still dance – around politics, protocol and personal problems. It was not a great way to spend my summer vacation.

Bob "Mr. Goodbar" Bender – the 260-pound blond security man who sat and sunned himself for 90 minutes every morning at the pool – is possibly more enamored of his own body than anyone this side of Mick Jagger; in Los Angeles he curried his muscles as carefully as Keith Richards tuned his guitar, soaking sun into them by day, lifting weights in the training room at the Fabulous Forum before each evening's show.

Bender was browning placidly one morning when Lisa Robinson, one of the tour's two traveling press reps, called him over to her chaise lounge. Robinson was among the most eccentric characters on the tour; in New York, where she lives, she churns out three fan magazines and several gossip columns. She exudes an aura of hysteria.

The normally stolid Bender was feeling more talkative than usual that morning. He'd been a football player at Syracuse, he recalled, and had transferred to Kent State just in time for the shootings. There he'd met Bob Poweski, a wrestler, and Jim Stepp, a good-hit, no-field outfielder. When Stepp formed Sunshine Security to handle crowds at Midwestern rock concerts, Bender had signed on.

"I'm not used to being shouted at, much less pushed around. For a week or so there, I thought I might have to punch Peter Rudge out," Bender said, describing his introduction to the Stones' whip-tongued tour manager, "but then he got straightened out and knocked it off."

Bender had a decidedly unstraight experience when, a few minutes later, makeup man Pierre Laroche, who did Jagger's face each night, wiggled past on his way to poolside. Robinson began to recount odd tales of Laroche's boyfriends. "So last night, he calls me down to his room to look at this 'absolutely dee-vine boy I peeked up at zeshow.' And he's lying there in this leather outfit with his cock hanging out and Pierre's snapping Polaroids."

Bender was aghast. "Uhh," he grunted. "Can't you call them something besides his boyfriends? I don't want to know about this stuff."

"Well, what do you want me to call 'em?" Robinson snapped. "His tricks? Anyway, leave 'im alone. What are you worried about?"

Poolside follies aside, this was the most low-key Rolling Stones tour imaginable. In 1969, they reappeared out of nowhere, determined to live up to a reputation which, in their absence, had become legendary. In 1972, they had a show designed to demolish the lingering resentments of Altamont. But this time they were simply touring by doing what a rock band does: playing all summer at the biggest arenas and stadiums they could conscionably rent.

In fact, the biggest change this tour had to do with economics. There were no limousines, for instance; they went to the halls in station wagons and panel trucks. Wild parties were out. Richards, Wood and Jagger stayed up all night, playing guitars and tapes, but the guests on the other floors didn't know it and the management received no complaints. Instead, the curse of the hotels was the fans. They lined up in dozens, at driveways, staying up all night in the lobbies; and in New York, Central Park South was lined 40 deep through the night.

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It was odd. Everything about the tour of the Americas (TOTA) was planned, indeed overplanned, by the Rolling Stones' minions – except for the public-address system. That was subcontracted.

The tour seemed like a goddamned summer cruise. What was at stake was what mattered to the businessmen – and that had been settled on May 1st, a month before the tour started, when 85% of the seats were sold out the day of the announcement.

The Los Angeles dates, like the New York ones, were the most lucrative because the Stones – under the moniker of "Sunday Promotions" – were promoting themselves. The five shows were immediate sellouts and grossed roughly a million and a quarter of which the Stones took about 80%; the rest was for food and rent.

But the Stones needed a challenge. The cool New York response to their mediocre performances seemed to provide it. They had to make up in Hollywood what they had lost on Broadway . . . or maybe not.

I'd been tracking the Stones since Jagger granted me a pre-tour interview at the executive terminal of LaGuardia Airport:

"Why are you touring?"

"It's my job, my vocation. No musician is beyond that . . . until he gets too old. There's a certain magic in repetition . . . but that's a deep subject."

In Los Angeles, almost a whole tour later, the question was different: Did repetition still mean magic – or had it become, simply, boredom?

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