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

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

Mick Jagger Rolling Stones
Photo by Annie Leibovitz
Mick Jagger on the cover of Rolling Stone
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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.

The Rolling Stones, 1963-1969: Behind-the-Scenes Snapshots

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.

All Access: The Rock & Roll Photography of Ken Regan

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?

The TOTA party spoke of Keith Richards with awe. While in Los Angeles, he did not sleep for a solid week. Yet there his playing was the best of the tour.

"I 'aven't slept in me fucking room since we got 'ere," said Jim Callaghan, the Stones' security chief, whose assignment was to bodyguard Keith between shows. "Last night, we went to the gig, then to the party, then to another place and 'e's still up, 'e's still bouncin' and 'e's still got his 'ead together. And this ain't for a couple of days, this is through the fuckin' tour. 'E's brilliant, Keef Richards."

Peter Rudge had his own vision of Richards: "Keith is the only rock & roll gypsy in the world. He defies analysis onstage. There's something about Keith Richards that's what rock & roll is all about. It's the guy who goes with his friends, does what he wants; he plays great some nights, he plays lousy some nights. And the nights he plays lousy are the nights the Stones play badly. I mean, he is the Rolling Stone. There's no one else."

The crowd that packed the Inglewood Forum, a ten-minute drive from L.A. International, looked typical of this year's Rolling Stones concertgoer. The mob was young – by design, as tickets were put on sale in midday to give kids a couple hours' advantage over working adults – well scrubbed, if drugged, and psyched for another rock concert.

I eavesdropped on a 15-year-old girl who remained impassive until she was told that Billy Preston was on keyboards. "These guys must be pretty far out if they can get him to play with them."

Photos: Rare and Intimate Pictures of the Rolling Stones

The L.A. concert was filled with exotic images. "They sent me ahead from Dallas on Saturday," stage manager Brian Croft explained. "We had to begin on Monday and we didn't have a concept. On Sunday night I called Mick and said, 'Let's go Oriental.' He said 'great.' Then we decided to have Chicano musicians with their music, and I had to go out and hire about $100,000 worth of them."

It wasn't exactly jam-packed with celebrities on opening night. Except for George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Neil Diamond and Sarah Dylan, rock & roll peerage was out of town. Keith Moon wandered around unmolested. The big news was the movie stars.

Barbra Streisand had been slated to appear. She never made it, perhaps because when she inquired through her office about security arrangements, Rudge had snapped, "How would a dozen hairdressers in bikinis suit you?" (And this memo on the morning of opening night: "Absolutely no cars backstage except the band's – no matter how many hairdressers you know.")

Bianca Jagger came through with a few celebrities. Her ticket allotment was used for Sue Mengers, the agent, and two of her clients – Judy Garland's daughters, Liza Minelli and Lorna Luft. Whether the Stones thought much of this or not was hard to tell; Rudge: "In '72, Truman Capote got more press than Charlie or Bill and that angered us a bit."

Opening night was a flat show, not a bad one in the context of the tour, though some who were seeing the '75 production for the first time were shocked that it wasn't better. The galvanizing moment, visible only to a few, came at the end of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" when Jagger grabbed one of his four water buckets, turned to stage left, looking past Richards and Wyman, and spotted his wife standing with Liza Minelli; he bounced and dumped the bucket on them. "He's been trying to get her the whole tour," one of the tour women said, "and he couldn't have picked a better moment."

After the show, the Wilshire was lined with hangers-on. A beefy, T-shirted security man checked everyone; only registered guests with room keys made it past him, unless someone had phoned down with an okay. Warren Beatty was stopped from getting in the elevator to go to his rooftop apartment.

Chuch Magee, the road manager Ron Wood brought with him from the Faces, was disgruntled. "Look," he told me, "they're all afraid to go out of their fucking hotel rooms." Magee had bought a camper and had driven it from New York to the coast and back, sightseeing and camping out at the arena sites.

Jagger was mostly staying out of sight. He was burned by a slick Hollywood press agent, Allan Carr, who held a huge bash in Mick's honor on Tuesday night. Jagger had said no deal, but Carr left his name on the printed invitations and 600 showed up: The Cycle Sluts and various other members of the L.A. bisexual demimonde performed near a pool with floating swans.

Bianca was widely regarded as a pain in the ass by the tour party; I suspected it reflected the mood at the top, especially after I was told that an interview with her would hurt my chances of one with Mick. She was regarded as particularly meddlesome in Washington, where she and Andy Warhol attempted to drag Mick to the White House. She did drag Jack Ford to the concert. ("Well," Rudge said later, "we had some visa problems, so we had some business to take care of in Washington.") On Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Mick, Bianca, managerial assistant Mary Beth Medley and press agent Paul Wasserman were up until 3:00 a.m. discussing Bianca's ticket allotment for the L.A. dates. She was supposed to get 15 pairs, same as New York.

The Rolling Stones on the Cover of Rolling Stone

Then on Saturday night, Medley and Bianca had their big bout. Bianca wandered into the hotel room office where Medley was sorting out the final 50 tickets; requests from George Harrison, Neil Young and Sarah Dylan were still unfilled. Bianca snatched up half of them and walked away. "Hey," Medley shouted, "you can't have those. They're taken."

Bianca turned, said, "Too bad, isn't it?" and left.

Barbra Streisand never did meet the Stones. She showed for the midnight-to-6:00 a.m. party thrown by Atlantic Records on the tennis courts in Diana Ross's Beverly Hills backyard. She was on the list, but when she was told that she couldn't bring in the six people with her, she left. "We had too many goddamned hairdressers at the party already," an Atlantic Records exec laughed madly.

The Stones were scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday shows in San Francisco. I flew up on Monday afternoon with Jim Stepp, the security man, taking stock of my notes for the long promised interview with Jagger at the Mark Hopkins. Stepp had his theories about in-hall security but had quickly adjusted to the fact that there isn't anything one can do about the audience.

Bob Bender, the ex-football player, had acid thrown in his face in St. Paul but threw his hand up just in time. "You can never tell when the weapons will come out," Lisa Robinson noted later. It wasn't a joke.

The Jagger interview could have come at any moment, so I spent Monday evening at the hotel. The group showed at 2:00 a.m. and went immediately to bed. Except for Jagger and Keith (who had delayed the plane); they both headed for the Orphanage, where they spent the early morning hours with Toots and the Maytals, with whom they'd become friendly while in Jamaica.

Rudge woke up Tuesday morning with 54 telephone messages. Four were from people he knew. I was corralled into answering the phones. It was a far cry from L.A., where Rudge had been loose enough to run the hotel switchboard one afternoon.

At the Cow Palace, I watched the crew set up and talked to stage manager Brian Croft. "Look, there are any number of ways to go about a tour like this. One of them is simply to do what Ian Stewart always claims we should do: Put everything in the back of a van and haul the group around that way. You always have to remember it could be done that way.

The Rolling Stones Live

"If there's one thing this tour has made clear to me, it's that I'm in this business for the esprit de corps. And that's just what's missing here."

The 12-ton stagelight ring was unpacked at 6:00 a.m. and strung to the ceiling by 8:00 a.m. The crew was mostly one-time Disney-on-Parade riggers – acrobats and jugglers turned carpenters and handymen, led by a onetime human cannonball turned master electrician. When this crew found that some of the stage fittings were too high to be connected on foot, they went out and bought stilts.

The Tuesday show at the chilly Cow Palace was run-of-the-mill, though it picked up when transportation master Allan Dunn charged to the front of the stage during "Happy" with a message for Jagger. Written on a long piece of butcher paper, it read: "She's on the plane." Bianca had taken the late flight back to New York. After the show, the Stones went to the Orphanage around 4:00 a.m., hanging out until about 10:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. That shot down my interview that day but Rudge assured me that Jagger would talk before leaving town.

The second show, on Wednesday, was more inspired. Afterward, the crew and the group (except Watts, whose family was still in town, and Jagger, who wanted some sleep) went to the Trident in Sausalito where Bill Graham had helped arrange a party (which the Stones paid for). In the middle of the entertainment, Keith Richards and Ron Wood nearly bowled over some bellydancers when they got up to go to the Record Plant to record all night. The party, which wasn't very wild, featured some bug-eyed crew members staring at the bellydancers' breasts and a shrimp-throwing contest at dawn.

Never let it be said that Jagger's employees are disloyal. Even Croft, who seemed the most independent, said, "Mick's extremely sensitive to the crew. And I've seen him on the bad nights, counting off the numbers for the group, doing for them what they're supposed to be doing for him." And when I told Rudge how Keith had dominated the opening moment with those introductory chords to "Honky-Tonk Women," he responded, "Yeah, but remember it was Mick who decided to put that song first."

Jagger's stamina may be remarkable but, as Allan Dunn said, "He's really tired after a show. He'll come back to the hotel and do a concentrated hour of recuperation and then he'll be all right."

The Rolling Stones Live, 1964-2007

And why was the show so long? Was it to compete with the multi-hour extravaganzas of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and the Allman Brothers? Maybe the goal of this tour was to prove that Jagger is not an old man at 32, that he still has more stamina than anyone.

"The thing is," Rudge said, "with other groups who do two hours, half of it is John Bonham's drum solo or whatever. Jagger never gets off that stage except for one number."

Maybe so, but the show's pace was obviously designed to spell him: a half-hour of hard-driving rock and into the sludge. "Fingerprint File" was included to prove that Jagger could play guitar competently, but it also gave him a chance to stop dancing for a few minutes. Billy Preston may have gotten his solo spot because his manager insisted upon it – or because, as the press agents put it, the group has "such incredible respect for his musical talent" – but its placement near the end allowed Mick to rest up for the last roaring five numbers.

The obvious person to answer these questions was Jagger, of course. He was the focus of the tour. He was the man who (with aid from Watts) designed the stage, the logo, the size and scope of it all. But he continued to duck.

In Los Angeles, Rudge had assured me that Jagger and I would speak in San Francisco. In San Francisco he told me for two days that he was speaking to Jagger about it. But when I woke up on the final morning of the Stones' stay in the Bay Area, I heard that Jagger had decided to drive up the coast toward Seattle, the next date on the tour. I called Rudge; he confirmed the story. Now I didn't feel so bad about the rubber snake I'd put into his bed the night before.

Rudge continued to be evasive. I contacted Wasserman who assured me that he'd let me know about getting together with Mick in Detroit.

The Thursday before the Sunday and Monday shows in Detroit, Wasserman's secretary telephoned. "Paul asked me to tell you that Mick is aware of the situation in Detroit," she said. Presuming that was the go-ahead, I booked a flight to Detroit, where I arrived at 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning. The entire staff was still asleep; their flight from Bloomington, Indiana, hadn't arrived until 4:30 a.m.

In the afternoon, Wasserman and I spoke once more. "I'll be speaking to Mick shortly," he assured me.

"Haven't you already?" I asked, stunned.

"Well, yes, but in Chicago," he confessed.

At the hall, backstage, I again questioned Wasserman. Call on Mick. "He's not here yet," I was told. After all, he couldn't very well annoy Mick in his makeup room. The third time I asked, Wasserman simply grew testy; apparently, he didn't want to be bothered while squiring Knight Newspaper's gossip columnist Shirley Eder around.

The Rolling Stones Live, 1964-2007

At 12:30 Wasserman and I rendezvoused back at the hotel. He was, he assured me again, going up ("with Peter") to speak to Mick immediately. At 2:00 a.m. he came to my room. "Mick's gone out," he said. "Ollie Brown's mother is having a party, and he and Annie [Leibovitz] are going over there for a couple of hours. But he says he'll be right back and you can do the interview then."

Over the next two hours, Wasserman wandered in and out of my room to talk about Detroit. He said Detroit needs a press agent. At 3:00 a.m. Rudge called to assure me that Mick said everything was taken care of. Then Wasserman nonchalantly informed me at one point that, oh yes, he was going home to L.A. for a few days, and he had a 10:00 a.m. flight, so he had to be in bed by 4:30.

At 4:15, Wasserman phoned my room for the last time. He was curt. "It's nearly 4:30 and Mick's not back yet. That's it for tonight. Speak to Peter in the morning and I'll talk to you later."

At noon I phoned Rudge, waking him up. "Don't worry, Dave," he said pleasantly, "I'll take care of it." Well, you're leaving after the show for Atlanta, right? "Look, don't worry, Mick knows about it, it's all taken care of."

At 3:00 p.m. I wandered down to see Lisa Robinson, the most efficient of any staffer at arranging interviews. She suggested I speak to Allan Dunn, who was getting Mick up at 4:30, 45 minutes later. I wandered back to Robinson's room. "Sometimes Mick wakes up at 4:30 and he's ready to go," she said, "and sometimes he just stays in bed until it's tome to go."

Five o'clock came and then six. At 6:45, having heard nothing and knowing that Jagger had already said he'd not make himself late in getting to the hall (where he was due at eight), I packed my bag and headed for the elevator. There I met Rudge.

"Where ya goin' Dave?" he inquired pleasantly.

"Home," I said.

Robinson came downstairs, flustered, assuring me Mick was in the shower and would see me backstage. After seven years of interviewing, I knew this assured absolutely nothing. I caught the 8:30 plane back to LaGuardia.

Now, all of this might not be worth recounting if not for what happened later. After all, Jagger at one point seemed too busy, as Bob Greene reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, to visit Howlin' Wolf's home when the Stones played Chicago. And surely, Jagger owes more to Wolf than to you or me.

And, I was thinking, maybe it wasn't Mick's fault. After all, maybe Wasserman and Rudge hadn't told him about the interview when they said they had.

But on the night after I got home, I found out Mick had called a Rolling Stone editor at home to complain that I'd left too early. And two days later, Jagger called me at the office in New York. Our conversation was brief.

"Well ..." Jagger said in his best drawl, "I was thinking maybe we could do the interview on the telephone." Telephone interviews, I've discovered, are second only to backstage interviews in their rate of failure; I said so. And besides, I was beginning to think maybe I was wrong about who's responsibility all this was. Would Jagger cover his manager and press agent's asses so thoroughly? Or his own?

The rest of the conversation was brief. I said thanks, a little coldly. Mick said, "See you around," a little disappointed I like to think. Maybe someday we will. But not too soon. Like everyone else, I have some sleep to catch up on. After all, I'm not Keith Richards.

Christopher "Binny" Sykes, one of the tour's three "official" photographers, arrived from Milwaukee on the second week of the tour as an insider/ outsider with, as he put, "no political or business connection" in the music world. I asked him about the tour to get a relatively unbiased view.

"I arrived in Montauk," he said, "straight from London and New York, in mortal terror. I didn't know anyone. Very nervous, chewing up my fingernails and all that. I thought maybe nobody expected me. I went up to my room to sleep, woke up six o'clock, went down the hall and there was this enormous man standing by the lift.

"I walked up to him rather nervously and said, 'Are you something to do with the Rolling Stones?' He turned like some immoral twerp had slipped up the fire escape and I said, 'Well, uh, I'm uh, s'posed to be with 'em too.' He obviously didn't believe me at all, so he grabbed my arm and snarled. 'Well, ya can't see 'em now!' and pushed me into the lift. Without the badge, you couldn't explain to him."

The badge Sykes lacked was an orange laminated rectangle with a clip on the back. On the front side it featured a photo, generally of the face, but in the case of staffers like the stewardesses on the Star Ship, the breasts. Losing it supposedly meant a $50 fine.

"At the first concert I went to, in Milwaukee, I didn't have a badge," Sykes continued. ''So wherever I went, I was thrown out. And I just sort of quietly said okay and kept in the background until I got my badge."

At any rate, Sykes eventually did get his badge, and integrated himself into the crew. "All one's sort of illusions about what things would be like on a rock & roll tour are immediately destroyed when you realize that it's just hard work," said the insider/ outsider. "I cannot imagine anything more dreadful than going on tour just for fun. With nothing to do you'd go mad."

From The Archives Issue 195: September 11, 1975