Keith plays in a rock & roll band. Anita is a movie star queen. They currently reside in a large white marble house that everyone describes as “decadent looking.” The British Admiral who built it had trees brought from all over the world in ships of the line, pine and cypress and palm. There is an exotic colored bird in a cage in the front garden and a rabbit called Boots that lives in the back. A dog named Oakie sleeps where he wants.
Meals are the only recurring reality and twenty three at a table is not an unusual number. The ceilings are thirty feet from the floor and some nights, pink lightning hangs over the bay and the nearby town of Ville-france, which waits for the fleet to come back so its hotels can turn again into whorehouses.
There is a private beach down a flight of stairs and a water bed on the porch. Good reference points for the whole mise-en-scene are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night and the Shirelles’ greatest hits. There is a piano in the living room and guitars in the TV room. Between George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry, Keith Richard manages to sneak in a lick now and then like a great acoustic version of “The Jerk” by the Larks one morning at 4 AM.
A recording studio will soon be completed in the basement and the Stones will go to work on some tracks for the new album, Mick Jagger having returned from his honeymoon. They will tour the States soon.
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Most of it is in the tapes, in the background. Two cogent statements, both made by Keith, may be kept in mind while reading the questions and answers (which were asked and answered over a ten-day period at odd hours).
“It’s a pretty good house; we’re doing our best to fill it up with kids and rock ‘n’ roll.”
“You know that thing that Blind Willie said? ‘I don’t like the suits and ties/They don’t seem to harmonize.'”
What were you doing right at the beginning?
I was hanging out at art school. Yeah. Suburban art school. I mean in England, if you’re lucky you get into art school. It’s somewhere they put you if they can’t put you anywhere else. If you can’t saw wood straight or file metal. It’s where they put me to learn graphic design because I happened to be good at drawing apples or something. Fifteen . . . I was there for three years and meanwhile I learned how to play guitar. Lotta guitar players in art school. A lot of terrible artists too. It’s funny.
Your parents weren’t musical?
Nah. My grandfather was. He used to have a dance band in the Thirties. Played the sax. Was in a country band in the late Fifties, too, playin’ the US bases in England. Gus Dupree . . . King of the Country Fiddle. He was a groove, y’know . . . a good musician . . . He was never professional for more than a few years in the Thirties.
What did your father do?
He had a variety of professions. He was a baker for a while. I know he got shot up in the First World War. Gassed or something.
Were you raised middle class?
Working class. English working class . . . struggling, thinking they were middle class. Moved into a tough neighborhood when I was about ten. I used to be with Mick before that . . . we used to live close together. Then I moved to what they’d call in the States a housing project. Just been built. Thousands and thousands of houses, everyone wondering what the fuck was going on. Everyone was displaced. They were still building it and really there were gangs everywhere. Coming to Teddy Boys. Just before rock and roll hit England. But they were all waiting for it. They were practicing.
Were you one of the boys?
Rock and roll got me into being one of the boys. Before that I just got me ass kicked all over the place. Learned how to ride a punch.
It’s strange, ’cause I knew Mick when I was really young . . . five, six, seven. We used to hang out together. Then I moved and didn’t see him for a long time. I once met him selling ice creams outside the public library. I bought one. He was tryin’ to make extra money.
Rock and roll got to England about ’53, ’54, you were eleven . . .
Yeah. Presley hit first. Actually, the music from Blackboard Jungle, “Rock Around the Clock,” hit first. Not the movie, just the music. People saying, “Ah, did ya hear that music, man.” Because in England, we had never heard anything. It’s still the same scene: BBC controls it.
Then, everybody stood up for that music. I didn’t think of playing it. I just wanted to go and listen to it. It took ’em a year or so before anyone in England could make that music. The first big things that hit were skiffle – simple three chord stuff. It wasn’t really rock and roll. It was a lot more folky, a lot more strummy. Tea chest basses. A very crude sort of rock and roll. Lonnie Donegan’s the only cat to come out of skiffle.
But we were really listening to what was coming from over the Atlantic. The ones that were hitting hard were Little Richard and Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Chuck Berry was never really that big in England. They dug him but . . . all his big, big hits made it . . . but maybe because he never came over. Maybe because the movies he made like Go Johnny Go never got over because of distribution problems. Fats Domino was big. Freddie Bell and the Bellboys too; all kinds of weird people that never made it in America.
They loved the piano. Looking back on it, all the piano boys really had it together for England. More than just the cat that stood there with the guitar.
Did you start really playing in school then?
Yeah. It’s funny going back that far. Things come through but . . . I’ll tell you who’s really good at pushing memories: Bill. He’s got this little mind that remembers everything. I’m sure it’s like he rolls a tape.
How things were at the start is something. It’s when everybody’s got short hair. And everybody thought it was long. That’s the thing. I mean, we were really being put down like shit then for having long hair. Really. Now, people go into offices with longer hair.
When I went to art school, people were just startin’ to grow their hair and loosen up. You got in there on the favors of the headmaster. You go there and show him your shit, the stuff you’ve done at ordinary school, during art lessons, and he decides. You don’t have to do anything apart from going to see him. He says, “You takin’ anything? What are you on?” And you’re about 15 or 16 and you don’t even know what the fuck they do in art school. You have this vague picture of naked ladies sittin’ around. Drawing them . . . well, I’ll try that.
So you go there and you get your packet of Five Weights [cigarettes] a day. Everybody’s broke . . . and the best thing that’s going on is in the bog [toilet] with the guitars. There’s always some cat sneaked out going through his latest Woody Guthrie tune or Jack Elliot. Everybody’s into that kind of music as well. So when I went to art school I was thrown into that end of it too. Before that I was just into Little Richard. I was rockin’ away, avoidin’ the bicycle chains and the razors in those dance halls. The English get crazy. They’re calm, but they were really violent then, those cats. Those suits cost them $150, which is a lot of money. Jackets down to here. Waistcoats. Leopardskin lapels . . . amazing. It was really “Don’t step on mah blue suede shoes.” It was down to that.
I really, literally, got myself thrown out of school. I was livin’ at home but I had to go everyday. When you think that kids, all they really want to do is learn, watch how it’s done and try and figure out why and leave it at that. You’re going to school to do something you wanna do and they manage to turn the whole thing around and make you hate ’em. They really manage to do it. I don’t know anyone at that school who liked it or anyone my age who liked to be at school. One or two people who went to a decent school had a good teacher, someone who really knew how to teach. The nearest thing I been to it is Wormwood Scrubbs [an English prison] and that’s the nick. Really, it’s the same feeling.
So you spent three years there and it was coming to degree time . . .
That’s when they got me. It was 1958, they chucked me out. It’s amazing – Lennon, all those people, were already playing. I hadn’t really thought about playing. I was still just jivin’ to it. I went straight into this art school, and I heard these cats playin’, heard they were layin’ down some Broonzy songs. And I suddenly realized it goes back a lot further than just the two years I’d been listenin’. And I picked up the nearest guitar and started learnin’ from these cats. I learned from all these amateur art school people. One cat knew how to play “Cocaine Blues” very well, another cat knew how to play something else very well. There were a lot better guitar players at school than me.
But then I started to get into where it had come from. Broonzy first. He and Josh White were considered to be the only living black bluesmen still playing. So let’s get that together, I thought, that can’t be right. Then I started to discover Robert Johnson and those cats. You could never get their records though. One heard about them. On one hand I was playing all that folk stuff on the guitar. The other half of me was listenin’ to all that rock and roll, Chuck Berry, and sayin’ yeah, yeah.
And one day, I met Jagger again, man. Of all places, on the fucking train. I was going to the school and he was going up to the London School of Economics. It was about 1960. I never been able to get this one together, it’s so strange. I had these two things going and not being able to plug ’em together, playing guitar like all the other cats, folk, a little blues. But you can’t get the sounds from the States. Maybe once every six months someone’ll come through with an album, an Arhoolie album of Fred McDowell. And you’d say: There’s another cat! That’s another one. Just blowin’ my mind, like one album every six months.
So I get on this train one morning and there’s Jagger and under his arm he has four or five albums. I haven’t seen him since the time I bought an ice cream off him and we haven’t hung around since we were five, six, ten years. We recognized each other straight off. “Hi, man,” I say. “Where ya going?” he says. And under his arm, he’s got Chuck Berry and Little Walter, Muddy Waters. “You’re into Chuck Berry, man, really?” That’s a coincidence. He said, “Yeah, I got few more albums. Been writin’ away to this, uh, Chess Records in Chicago and got a mailing list thing and . . . got it together, you know?” Wow, man!
So I invited him up to my place for a cup of tea. He started playing me these records and I really turned on to it. We were both still living in Dartford, on the edge of London and I was still in art school.
There was another cat at art school named Dick Taylor, who later got the Pretty Things together. Mick found out – “Oh, you play?” he said to me. That’s what amazed him. Mick had been singin’ with some rock and roll bands, doin’ Buddy Holly . . . Buddy Holly was in England as solid as Elvis. Everything came out was a record smash number one. By about ’58, it was either Elvis or Buddy Holly. It was split into two camps. The Elvis fans were the heavy leather boys and the Buddy Holly ones all somehow looked like Buddy Holly.
By that time, the initial wham had gone out of rock and roll. You were getting “By The Light of The Silvery Moon” by Little Richard and “My Blue Heaven” by Fats, “Baby Face.” They’d run out of songs in a way, it seemed like. England itself was turning on to its own breed of rock and rollers. Cliff Richard at the time was a big rocker. Adam Faith. Billy Fury, who did one fantastic album that I’ve lost. He got it together once. One really good album. Songs he’d written, like people do now, he got some people he knew to play together and did it. His other scene was the hits, heavy moody ballads and the lead pipe down the trousers. They were all into that one.
To get back to Mick and I . . . He found out that I could play a little and he could sing a bit. “I dig to sing,” he said, and he also knew Dick Taylor from another school they’d gone to and the thing tied up so we try and do something. We’d all go to Dick Taylor’s house, in his back room, some other cats would come along and play, and we’d try to lay some of this Little Walter stuff and Chuck Berry stuff. No drummer or anything. Just two guitars and a little amplifier. Usual back room stuff. It fell into place very quickly.
Then we found Slim Harpo, we started to really find people. Mick was just singing, no harp. And suddenly in ’62, just when we were getting together, we read this little thing about a rhythm and blues club starting in Ealing. Everybody must have been trying to get one together. “Let’s go up to this place and find out what’s happening.” There was this amazing old cat playing harp . . . Cyril Davies. Where did he come from? He turned out to be a panel beater from North London. He was a great cat, Cyril. He didn’t last long. I only knew him for about two years and he died.
Alexis Korner really got this scene together. He’d been playin’ in jazz clubs for ages and he knew all the connections for gigs. So we went up there. The first or the second time Mick and I were sittin’ there Alexis Korner gets up and says, “We got a guest to play some guitar. He comes from Cheltenham. All the way up from Cheltenham just to play for ya.”
Suddenly, it’s Elmore James, this cat, man. And it’s Brian, man, he sittin’ on his little . . . he’s bent over . . . da-da-da, da-da-da . . . I said, what? What the fuck? Playing bar slide guitar.
We get into Brian after he finishes “Dust My Blues.” He’s really fantastic and a gas. We speak to Brian. He’d been doin’ the same as we’d been doin’ . . . thinkin’ he was the only cat in the world who was doin’ it. We started to turn Brian on to some Jimmy Reed things, Chicago blues that he hadn’t heard. He was more into T-Bone Walker and jazz-blues stuff. We’d turn him on to Chuck Berry and say, “Look, it’s all the same shit, man, and you can do it.” But Brian was also much more together. He was in the process of getting a band together and moving up to London with one of his many women and children. God knows how many he had. He sure left his mark, that cat. I know of five kids, at least. All by different chicks, and they all look like Brian.
He was a good guitar player then. He had the touch and was just peaking. He was already out of school, he’d been kicked out of university and had a variety of jobs. He was already into living on his own and trying to find a pad for his old lady. Whereas Mick and I were just kicking around in back rooms, still living at home.
I left art school and I didn’t even bother to get a job. We were still kids. Mick was still serious, he thought he was, everyone told him he ought to be serious about a career in economics. He was very much into it.
But Brian, he was already working at it. We said, “We’re just amateurs, man, but we dig to play.” He invited me up to listen to what he was getting together in some pub in London. It’s then it starts getting into back rooms of pubs in Soho and places. That’s where I met Stew [Ian Stewart]. He was with Brian. They’d just met. He used to play boogie-woogie piano in jazz clubs, apart from his regular job. He blew my head off too, when he started to play. I never heard a white piano like that before. Real Albert Ammons stuff. This is all ’62.
A lot of these old cats had been playin’ blues in those clubs for ages, or thought they were playin’ blues. Just because they’d met Big Bill Broonzy at a party or played with him once, they thought they were the king’s asshole.
Music was their love. They all wanted to be professional but in those days a recording contract was a voice from heaven. It was that rare. Not like now when you get a band together and hustle an advance. It was a closed shop.
Were you and Mick and Brian very strange for them?
That’s right. They couldn’t figure us out. Especially when I tried to lay Chuck Berry shit on them. “What are ya hangin’ with them rock and rollers for?” they’d ask. Brian kicked a lot of them out and I really dug it. He turned around and said, “Fuck off, you bastards, you’re a load of shit and I’m going to get it together with these cats.” This cat Dick Taylor shifted to bass by then. We were really looking for drums. Stew drifted with us for some reason. I sort of put him with those other cats because he had a job. But he said no too. “I’ll stick around and see what happens with you.”
So we got another back room in a different pub. Competition. Not that anybody came. Just rehearsin’.
Stew at that time used to turn up at rehearsals in a pair of shorts, on his bike. His piano used to be by the window and his biggest fear, the only thing that really stopped him at piano, was the thought that his bike might get nicked while he was playin’. So every now and then when someone walked past his bike, he’d stretch up and put his head out the window and keep playin’, sit down again and then he’d see someone else lookin’ at his bike. Up and up, still playing.
Were you playing electric then?
Yeah. With homemade amps, old wireless sets. It took a while longer to get the electric bit together. At the time we thought, “Oh, it just makes it louder,” but it ain’t quite as simple at that.
Brian was the one who kept us all together then. Mick was still going to school. I’d dropped out. So we decided we got to live in London to get it together. Time to break loose. So everybody left home, upped and got this pad in London. Chelsea.
Different Chelsea than now?
Edith Grove. World’s End. That place . . . every room got condemned slowly. It was like we slowly moved till we were all in the end room. Every room was shut up and stunk to hell, man. Terrible. Brian’s only possession was a radio-record player. That, and a few beds and a little gas fire. We kept on playin’, playin’, playin’.
Brian kicked his job. He was in a department store. He got into a very heavy scene for nickin’ some bread and just managed to work his way out of it. So he thought, “Fuck it. If I work anymore I’m gonna get in real trouble.” Get into jail or something.
He only nicked two pound . . . but he quit his job and his old lady had gone back to Cheltenham so he was on the loose again.
Are you gigging?
We didn’t dare, man, we didn’t dare. We were rehearsin’ drummers. Mick Avery came by, the drummer of the Kinks. He was terrible, then. Couldn’t find that off beat. Couldn’t pick up on that Jimmy Reed stuff.
Is everybody still straight?
It was very hard to find anything. No one could afford to buy anything anyway. A little bit of grass might turn up occasionally but . . . everybody’d dig it . . . everybody’s turn-on was just playing. It didn’t matter if you were pissed. That was it. That was the big shot.
Mick was the only one who was still hovering because he was more heavily committed to the London School of Economics and he was being supported by a government grant, and his parents and all that. So he had a heavier scene to break away from than me because they were very pleased to kick me out anyway. And Brian too, they were glad to kick out. From university for making some chick pregnant or something.
Brian and I were the sort of people they were glad to kick out. They’d say, “You’re nothing’ but bums, you’re gonna end up on skid row,” and that sort of thing. Probably will anyway. But Mick was still doing the two things. Brian and me’d be home in this pad all day tryin’ to make one foray a day to either pick up some beer bottles from a party and sell ’em back for thruppence deposit or raid the local supermarket. Try and get some potatoes or some eggs or something.
I went out one morning and came back in the evening and Brian was blowing harp, man. He’s got it together. He’s standin’ at the top of the stairs sayin’, “Listen to this.” Whooooow. Whooow. All these blues notes comin’ out. “I’ve learned how to do it. I’ve figured it out.” One day.
So then he started to really work on the harp. He dropped the guitar. He still dug to play it and was still into it and played very well but the harp became his thing. He’d walk around all the time playing his harp.
Is there anything going in London in terms of music then?
Alexis had that club together and we’d go down once a week to see what they were doing and they wanted to know what we were doing. “It’s coming,” we’d tell ’em. “We’ll be gigging soon.” We didn’t know where the fuck do ya start? Where do ya go to play?
But you were living together, unlike Cyril Davies or the older blues musicians, because you were young and broke . . .
Yeah. Just Mick and myself and Brian. We knew Charlie. He was a friend. He was gigging at the time, playing with Alexis. He was Korner’s drummer. We couldn’t afford him.
One day we picked up a drummer called Tony Chapman who was our first regular drummer. Terrible. One of the worst . . . cat would start a number and end up either four times as fast as he started it or three times as slow. But never stay the same.
We did say, “Hey Tony, d’y’know any bass players?” He said. “I do know one.” “Tell him come to next rehearsal.” So we all turned up and in walks . . . Bill Wyman, ladies and gentleman. Huge speaker he’s got, and a spare Vox eight-thirty amp which is the biggest amp we’ve ever seen in our lives. And that’s spare. He says, “You can put one of your guitars through there.” Whew. Put us up quite a few volts goin’ through there.
He had the bass together already. He’d been playin’ in rock bands for three or four years. He’s older than us. He knows how to play. But he doesn’t want to play with these shitty rock bands anymore because they’re all terrible. They’re all doing that Shadows trip, all those instrumental numbers, Duane Eddy, “Rebel Rouser.” There was no one who could sing very good.
Also, they don’t know what to play anymore. At that point, nobody wants to hear Buddy Holly anymore. He’s an old scene already to the rock and roll hip circuit. It’s that very light pop thing they’re all into . . . Bobby Vee was a big scene then. You wouldn’t dream of going to play in a ballroom. They’d just hurl bricks at you. Still have to stick to this little circuit of clubs, back rooms for one night, a shilling for everyone to get in. For people who didn’t want to go to ballrooms. Who wanted to listen to something different.
Most of these clubs at the time are filled with dixieland bands, traditional jazz bands. An alternative to all that Bobby Vee stuff. There was a big boom in that: the stomp, stompin’ about, weird dance, just really tryin’ to break the ceiling to a two beat. That was the big scene. They had all the clubs under control. That’s where Alexis made the breakthrough. He managed to open it up at the Ealing Club. Then he moved on to the Marquee and R&B started to become the thing. And all these traddies, as they were called, started getting worried. So they started this very bitter opposition.
Which is one reason I swung my guitar at Harold Pendleton’s head at the Marquee thing, because he was the kingpin behind all that. He owned all these trad clubs and he got a cut from these trad bands, he couldn’t bear to see them die. He couldn’t afford it.
But Alexis was packin’ em in man. Jus’ playing blues. Very similar to Chicago stuff. Heavy atmosphere. Workers and art students, kids who couldn’t make the ballrooms with supposedly long hair then, forget it, you couldn’t go into those places. You gravitated to places where you wouldn’t get hassled. The Marquee’s a West End club, where we stood in for Alexis a couple of times.
With Charlie drumming?
No. Our first gig was down at the Ealing Club, a stand-in gig. That’s the band without Charlie as drummer. We played everything. Muddy Waters. A lot of Jimmy Reed.
Still living in Chelsea?
Yeah. We had the middle floor. The top floor was sort of two school teachers tryin’ to keep a straight life. God knows how they managed it. Two guys trainin’ to be school teachers, they used to throw these bottle parties. All these weirdos, we used to think they were weirdos, they were as straight as . . . havin’ their little parties up there, all dancing around to Duke Ellington. Then when they’d all zonked out, we’d go up there and nick all the bottles. Get a big bag, Brian and I, get all the beer bottles and the next day we’d take ’em to the pub to get the money on ’em.
Downstairs was livin’ four old whores from Liverpool. Isn’t that a coincidence. “‘Allo dahlin’, ‘ow are ya? All right?” Real old boots they were. I don’t know how they made their bread, working . . . They used to sort of nurse people and keep us together when we really got out of it.
The cat that supported Brian, this is a long story. He came from Brian’s hometown. He got 80 quid a year for being in the Territorial Army in England, which is where you go for two weeks on a camp with the rest of these guys. Sort of a civil defense thing. They all live in tents and get soakin’ wet and get a cold and at the end they learn how to shoot a rifle and they get 80 quid cash depending on what rank you’ve managed to wangle yourself.
This cat arrived in London with his 80 quid, fresh out of the hills, from his tent. And he wants to have a good time with Brian. And Brian took him for every penny, man. Got a new guitar. The whole lot.
This weird thing with this cat. He was one of those weird people who would do anything you say. Things like, Brian would say, “Give me your overcoat.” Freezing cold, it’s the worst winter and he gave Brian this Army overcoat. “Give Keith the sweater.” So I put the sweater on.
“Now, you walk twenty yards behind us, man.” And off we’d walk to the local hamburger place. “Ah, stay there. No, you can’t come in. Give us two quid.” Used to treat him like really weird. This cat would stand outside the hamburger joint freezing cold giving Brian the money to pay for our hamburgers. Never saw him again after that.
No, no, it ended up with us tryin’ to electrocute him. It ended up with us gettin’ out of our heads one night. That was the night he disappeared. It was snowing outside. We came back to our pad and he was in Brian’s bed. Brian for some reason got very annoyed that he was in his bed asleep. We had all these cables lyin’ around and he pulled out this wire. “This end is plugged in, baby, and I’m comin’ after ya.”
This cat went screaming out of the pad and into the snow in his underpants. “They’re electrocuting me, they’re electrocuting me.” Somebody brought him in an hour later and he was blue. He was afraid to come in because he was so scared of Brian.
Brian used to pull these weird things. The next day the cat split. Brian had a new guitar, and his amp re-fixed, a whole new set of harmonicas.
I guess the craziness comes from the chemistry of the people. The craziness sort of kept us together. When the gigs become a little more plentiful and the kids started picking up on us was when we got picked up by Giorgio Gomelsky. Before he was into producing records. He was on the jazz club scene. I don’t know exactly what he did, promoting a couple of clubs a week. He cottoned on to us and sort of organized us a bit.
We still didn’t have Charlie as a drummer. We were really lacking a good drummer. We were really feeling it.
All I wanted to do is keep the band together. How we were going to do it and get gigs and people to listen to us? How to get a record together? We couldn’t even afford to make a dub. Anyway we didn’t have a drummer to make a dub with.
By this time we had it so together musically. We were really pleased with the way we were sounding. We were missing a drummer. We were missing good equipment. By this time the stuff we had was completely beaten to shit.
And the three of you get on? Are you the closest people for each other?
We were really a team. But there was always something between Brian, Mick and myself that didn’t quite make it somewhere. Always something. I’ve often thought, tried to figure it out. It was in Brian, somewhere; there was something . . . he still felt alone somewhere . . . he was either completely into Mick at the expense of me, like nickin’ my bread to go and have a drink. Like when I was zonked out, takin’ the only pound I had in me pocket. He’d do something like that. Or he’d be completely in with me tryin’ to work something against Mick. Brian was a very weird cat. He was a little insecure. He wouldn’t be able to make it with two other guys at one time and really get along well.
I don’t think it was a sexual thing. He was always so open with his chicks . . . It was something else I’ve never been able to figure out. You can read Jung. I still can’t figure it out. Maybe it was in the stars. He was a Pisces. I don’t know. I’m Sag and Mick’s a Leo. Maybe those three can’t ever connect completely all together at the same time for very long. There were periods when we had a ball together.
As we became more and more well-known and eventually grew into that giant sort of thing, that in Brian also became blown up until it became very difficult to work with and very difficult for him to be with us. Mick and I were more and more put together because we wrote together and Brian would – become uptight about that because he couldn’t write. He couldn’t even ask if he could come and try to write something with us. Where earlier on Brian and I would sit for hours trying to write songs and say, “Aw fuck it, we can’t write songs.”
It worked both ways. When we played, it gave Brian . . . man, when he wanted to play, he could play his ass off, that cat. To get him to do it, especially later on, was another thing. In the studio, for instance, to try and get Brian to play was such a hassle that eventually on a lot of those records that people think are the Stones, it’s me overdubbing three guitars and Brian zonked out on the floor.
It became very difficult because we were working non-stop . . . I’m skipping a lot of time now . . . when we were doing those American tours in ’64, ’65, ’66. When things were getting really difficult. Brian would go out and meet a lot of people, before we did, because Mick and I spent most of our time writing. He’d go out and get high somewhere, get smashed. We’d say, “Look, we got a session tomorrow, man, got to keep it together.” He’d come, completely out of his head, and zonk out on the floor with his guitar over him. So we started overdubbing, which was a drag cause it meant the whole band wasn’t playing.
Can you tell me about Oldham?
Andrew had the opportunity. He didn’t have the talent, really. He didn’t have the talent for what he wanted to be. He could hustle people and there’s nothing wrong with hustling . . . it still has to be done to get through. You need someone who can talk for you. But he’s got to be straight with you too.
Was he in the business before the Stones?
Yeah, he was with the Beatles. He helped kick them off in London. Epstein hired him and he did a very good job for them. One doesn’t know how much of a job was needed, but he managed to get them a lot of space in the press when “Love Me Do” came out and was like number nine in the charts and the kids were turning on to them and it was obvious they were going to be big, big, because they were only third on the bill and yet they were tearing the house down every night. A lot of it was down to Andrew. He got them known. And he did the same gig for us. He did it. Except he was more involved with us. He was working for us.
He had a genius for getting things through the media. Before people really knew what media was, to get messages through without people knowing.
Anita: But Brian, he never got on with Andrew.
Keith: Never. I’ve seen Brian and Andrew really pissed hanging all over each other but really basically there was no chemistry between them. They just didn’t get on. There was a time when Mick and I got on really well with Andrew. We went through the whole Clockwork Orange thing. We went through that whole trip together. Very sort of butch number. Ridin’ around with that mad criminal chauffeur of his.
Epstein and Oldham did a thing on the media in England that’s made it easier for millions of people since and for lots of musicians. It’s down to people like those that you can get on a record now. They blew that scene wide open, that EMI-Decca stranglehold. EMI is still the biggest record company in the whole fucking world despite being an English company. They can distribute in Hong Kong. They have it sewn up in the Philippines and Australia and everywhere. No matter who you go through, somewhere in the world, EMI is dealing your records. It’s a network left over from the colonial days and they’ve kept hold of it.
Oldham made money for the Stones.
Yeah. I mean, God knows how much money has been made on the Stones name and how much of it has got through to us and how much got through to people along the way. Without mentioning any names but there is one guy I’m still going to get.
It’s not money. It’s like, what do you want? And how do you want to get it? And do you want to keep it cool? It’s not simple, cut and dried. By the time it goes through all those peoples’ hands they’re pretty soiled those dollar bills. To work it out any other way, you have to end up like them to do it.
How long was Andrew involved?
From ’63 to the end of ’67. It still goes on though. I got a letter the other day about some litigation, Oldham versus Eric Easton, who was our first manager proper. Oldham was only half of the team, the other was Eric Easton, who was just a bumbly old Northern agent. Handled a couple semi-successful chick singers and could get you gigs in ballrooms in the North of England. Once it got to America, this cat Easton dissolved. He went into a puddle. He couldn’t handle that scene.
Was Charlie drumming with you when Andrew first saw you work?
I’ll tell you how we picked Charlie up. I told you about the people Brian was getting a band together with and then he turned on to us and he told those other people to fuck off, et cetera. Our common ground with Brian back then was Elmore James and Muddy Waters. We laid Slim Harpo on him, and Fred McDowell.
Because Brian was from Cheltenham, a very genteel town full of old ladies, where it used to be fashionable to go and take the baths once a year at Cheltenham Spa. The water is very good because it comes out of the hills, it’s spring water. It’s a Regency thing, you know Beau Brummel, around that time. Turn of the 19th century. Now it’s a seedy sort of place full of aspirations to be an aristocratic town. It rubs off on anyone who comes from there.
The R&B thing started to blossom and we found playing on the bill with us in a club, there were two bands on, Charlie was in the other band. He’d left Korner, and was with the same cats Brian had said fuck off to about six months before. We did our set and Charlie was knocked out by it. “You’re great, man,” he says, “but you need a fucking good drummer.” So we said, “Charlie, we can’t afford you, man.” Because Charlie had a job and just wanted to do weekend gigs. Charlie used to play anything then – he’d play pubs, anything, just to play, cause he loves to play with good people. But he always had to do it for economic reasons. By this time we’re getting three, four gigs a week. “Well, we can’t pay you as much as that band but . . . “we said. So he said, Ok and told the other band to fuck off, “I’m gonna play with these guys.”
That was it. When we got Charlie, that really made it for us. We started getting a lot of gigs. Then we got that Richmond gig with Giorgio and that built up to an enormous scene. In London, that was the place to be every Sunday night. At the Richmond Station Hotel. It’s on the river Richmond, a fairly well-to-do neighborhood but kids from all over London would come down there on a Sunday night.
There’s only so far you can go on that London scene; if you stay in that club circuit eventually you get constipated. You go round and round so many times and then suddenly, you’re not the hip band anymore, someone else is. Like the High Numbers, they took over from us in a lot of clubs. The High Numbers turned out to become the Who. The Yardbirds took over from us in Richmond and on Sunday nights we’d find we were booked into a place in Manchester.
Where are you recording now, with Giorgio?
Not with Giorgio. Eric and Andrew fucked Giorgio because he had nothing on paper with us. They screwed him to get us a recording contract. We were saying to Giorgio, “What about records?” and he didn’t have it together for the record thing. Not for a long time afterwards either. He was still very much a club man. We knew that to go any further and reach out a bit, we wanted to get off the club thing and get into the ballrooms where the kids were. It turned out to be right.
It was difficult the first few months though. We were known in the big cities but when you get outside into the sticks, they don’t know who the fuck you are and they’re still preferring the local band. That makes you play your ass off every night so that at the end of two hour-long sets, you’ve got ’em. You’ve gotta do it. That’s the testing ground, in those ballrooms where it’s really hard to play.
Stew is driving you around now?
Yeah, there was this whole thing, because for us Stew is one of the band up until Andrew. “Well, he just doesn’t look the part,” Andrew said, “and six is too many for them to remember the faces in the picture.” But piano is important for us. Brian at that time is the leader of the band. He pulled us all together, he’s playing good guitar, but his love is the harmonica. On top of that, he’s got the pop star hangup – he wants to sing, with Mick, like “Walking the Dog.”
Are you singing?
Naw, I was getting into writing then though. Andrew was getting on to me to write because he sussed that maybe I could do it if I put my mind to it.
What are some of the first things you wrote?
They’re on the first album. “Tell Me,” which was pulled out as a single in America, which was a dub. Half those records were dubs on that first album, that Mick and I and Charlie and I’d put a bass on or maybe Bill was there and he’d put a bass on. “Let’s put it down while we remember it,” and the next thing we know is, “Oh look, track eight is that dub we did a couple months ago.” That’s how little control we had, we were driving around the country every fucking night, playing a different gig, sleeping in the van, hotels if we were lucky.
A lot of it was Andrew’s choice. He selected what was to be released. He was executive record producer, so-called. While we were gigging, he’d get that scene together. But remember then, it was important to put out a single every three months. You had to put out a 45, a red-hot single, every three months. An album was something like Motown – you put the hit single on the album and ten tracks of shit and then rush it out. Now, the album is the thing. Marshall has laid the figures on me and the Sticky Fingers album has done more than the single. They’re both number one in the charts but the album’s done more than the single.
The concept’s changed so completely. Back then it was down to turning on 13-year-old chicks and putting out singles every three months. That was the basic force of the whole business. That was how it was done.
That’s another thing. Both the Beatles and us had been through buying albums that were filled with ten tracks of rubbish. We said, “No, we want to make each track good. Work almost as hard on it as you would work on a single.” So maybe we changed that concept.
Still, we were on the road every night so there are probably a couple of tracks in there that are probably bummers because Andrew said, “Well, put that on.” Because up until the Beatles and ourselves got into records, the cat who was singing had absolutely no control, man. None at all. He had no say in the studio. The backing track was laid down by session men, under the A and R man, artists and repertoire, whatever the fuck that means. He controlled the artist and the material. Bobby Vee or Billy Fury just laid down the vocal. They weren’t allowed to go into the booth and say, “I want my voice to sound like this or I want the guitar to sound like this.” The man from the record company decided what went where.
That’s why there became longer and longer gaps between albums coming out because we got into trying to make everything good.
The first three albums are pretty close though.
The first one was done all in England. In a little demo studio in “Tin Pan Alley,” as it used to be called. Denmark Street in Soho. It was all done on a two-track Revox that he had on the wall. We used to think, “Oh, this is a recording studio, huh? This is what they’re like?” A tiny little backroom.
When we got into RCA in Hollywood, fuckin’ huge Studio A, with Dave Hassinger engineering, we said, “We can really do it here. It’s all laid out. All you have to do is not let them take you over.” Engineers never even used to work, man. They’d flick a few switches and that was it. The machinery was unsophisticated in those days, four track was the biggest there was.
Suddenly a whole new breed of engineers appears, like Glyn Johns, people who are willing to work with you, and not with someone from the record company. There are all those weird things which have broken up in the record industry, which haven’t happened for movies yet. There are no more in-between men between you and the engineer and you can lay it down. If you want a producer or feel you need one, which most people do, it’s a close friend, someone you dig to work with, that translates for you. Eventually we found Jimmy Miller, after all those years.
Slowly and slowly, we’ve been finding the right people to do the right thing like Marshall Chess, like Jo Bergman. All those people are as important as we are. Especially now that we’ve got Rolling Stones records, with the Kali tongue . . . nobody’s gotten into that yet, but that’s Kali, the Hindu female goddess. Five arms, a row of heads around her, a sabre in one hand, flames coming out the other, she stands there, with her tongue out. But that’s gonna change. That symbol’s not going to stay as it is. Sometimes it’ll take up the whole label, maybe slowly it’ll turn to a cock, I don’t know yet.
You going to put two pills on the tongue?
We’re going to do everything with it, slowly. Don’t want to let it grow stale. It’s growing change. Got to keep it growing.
What was the first lime Oldham saw the band?
It was in March, 1963. The next week he took us right into a big studio and we cut “Come On.” We were always doing other people’s material but we thought we’d have a go at that – “Oh, it sounds catchy.” And it worked out. At the time it was done just to get a record out. We never wanted to hear it. The idea was Andrew’s – to get a strong single so they’d let us make an album which back then was a privilege.
Were you still a London band then?
Completely. We’d never been out of the city. I’d never been further north than the north of London.
Was Andrew a change in the kind of people you had to deal with?
He faced us with the real problems. That we had to find the hole to get out of the circle of London clubs and into the next circle. Lot of hustle, a lot of blague.
Did you have an image thing already?
It’s funny. He tried . . . people think Oldham made the image, but he tried to tidy us up. He fought it. Absolutely. There are photographs of us in suits he put us in, those dog-tooth checked suits with the black velvet collars. Everybody’s got black pants, and a tie and a shirt. For a month on the first tour, we said, “All right. We’ll do it. You know the game. We’ll try it out.” But then the Stones thing started taking over. Charlie’d leave his jacket in some dressing room and I’d pull mine out and there’d be whiskey stains all over it or chocolate pudding. The thing just took over and by the end of the tour we were playing in our own gear again because that’s all we had left. Which was the usual reason.
You weren’t the socially “smart” band yet?
No. The Beatles went through it, and they put us through it. They have to know you. They’ve changed a lot too you know. A lot of them have gone through some funny trips. Some titled gentlemen of some stature are now roaming around England like gypsies and they’ve acquired this fantastic country Cockney accent. “Ai sole a fe ‘orses down ‘ere. Got a new caravan like and we’re thinking of tripping up to see . . . ” But it’s great.
It must have been amazing early on, when some young lord or some young titled lady would come to see you play?
Brian and I were really fascinated by them. They used to make us really laugh, from a real working class thing. It was so silly to us. It happened so fast that one never had time to really get into that thing, “Wow, I’m a Rolling Stone.” We were still sleeping in the back of this truck every night because of the most hard-hearted and callous roadie I’ve ever encountered, Stew. From one end of England to another in Stew’s Volkswagen bus. With just an engine and a rear window and all the equipment and then you fit in. The gear first though.
But to even get out of London then was such a weird trip for Mick and me. The North. Like we went back this year right, on the English tour, and it hasn’t changed a bit, man. In the Thirties, it used to look exactly the same, in the middle of the depression. It’s never ended for those people.
You’re travelling alone?
Sure. Never carry chicks. Pick it up there or drop it. No room, man. Stew wouldn’t allow it. Crafty Bill Wyman. For years we believed that he couldn’t travel in the back of the bus or he’d spew all over us so he was always allowed to sit in the passenger seat. Years later, we find out he never gets travel sick at all.
Is the first album out?
No, we released two singles before the album. The first single was “Come On” with Muddy Waters’ “I Wanna Be Loved” on the other side. We were learning to record. Andrew too. He’d never made a record in his life, and he was producing. Just to walk in and start telling people, it took guts. Andrew had his own ideas on what we were supposed to sound like. It’s only been in the last few years with Jimmy that it’s changed. The music went through Andrew then. He was in the booth.
Was there a period when it was all the same, just working, but you knew something was building?
It’s weird. I can remember. You know it in front. Being on the road every night you can tell by the way the gigs are going, there’s something enormous coming. You can feel this energy building up as you go around the country. You feel it winding tighter and tighter, until one day you get out there halfway through the first number and the whole stage is full of chicks screaming, “Nyeehhh.” There was a period of six months in England we couldn’t play ballrooms anymore because we never got through more than three or four songs every night, man. Chaos. Police and too many people in the places, fainting.
We’d walk into some of those places and it was like they had the Battle of the Crimea going on, people gasping, tits hanging out, chicks choking, nurses running around with ambulances.
I know it was the same for the Beatles. One had been reading about that, “Beatlemania.” “Scream power” was the thing everything was judged by, as far as gigs were concerned. If Gerry and the Pacemakers were the top of the bill, incredible, man. You know that weird sound that thousands of chicks make when they’re really lettin’ it go. They couldn’t hear the music. We couldn’t hear ourselves, for years. Monitors were unheard of. It was impossible to play as a band on stage, and we forgot all about it.
Did you develop a stage act?
Not really. Mick did his thing and I tried to keep the band together. That’s always what it’s been, basically. If I’m leapin’ about, it’s only because something’s goin’ drastically wrong or it’s going drastically right.
Mick had always dug visual artists himself. He always loved Diddley and Chuck Berry and Little Richard for the thing they laid on people on stage. He really dug James Brown the first time he saw him. All that organization . . . ten dollar fine for the drummer if he missed the off beat.
What was Brian like onstage?
He’d worked out these movements. In those days, little chicks would all have their favorites. Yeah, when you think the Rolling Stones magazine, the Beatles magazine came out once a month. Big sort of fan thing. It was a very old thing that one had the feeling had to change. All those teenyboppers.
It might have been a great last gasp.
Yeah, I think so. Chicks now maybe they feel more equal. I think chicks and guys have gotten more into each other, realized there’s the same in each. Instead of them having to go through that completely hysterical, completely female trip to let it out that way. Probably now they just screw it out.
Was it innocent hysteria?
They used to tell us, “There’s not a dry seat in the cinema.” It was like that.
Were you being approached by the kids?
Yeah, I got strangled twice. That’s why I never wear anything around my neck anymore. Going out of theatres was the dodgiest. One chick grabs one side of the chain and another chick grabs the other side . . . Another time I found myself lying in the gutter with shirt on and half a pair of pants and the car roaring away down the street. Oh shit, man. They leap on you. “What do you want? What?”
You have to get a little crazy from that.
You get completely crazy. And the bigger it got, America and Australia and everywhere it’s exactly the same number. Oh, we were so glad when that finished. We stopped. We couldn’t go on anymore. And when we decided to get it together again, everybody had changed.
Was it the same kind of madness in the States before it changed?
Completely different kind of madness. Before, America was a real fantasy land. It was still Walt Disney and hamburger dates and when you came back in 1969 it wasn’t anymore. Kids were really into what was going on in their country. I remember watching Goldwater-Johnson in ’64 and it was a compete little show. But by the time it came to Nixon’s turn two years ago, people were concerned in a really different way.
Rock music as politics?
Who knows, man? I mean they used to try and put it down so heavy, rock ‘n’ roll. I wonder if they knew there was some rhythm in there that was gonna shake their house down. I used to pick up those posters down South that say, “Don’t let your kid buy Negro records. Savage music. It will twist their minds.” Real heavy stuff against a black radio station or black records.
Was it a big thing to finally see the black lifestyle in America for the first time?
It was a real joy. It was like I imagined but even better. Always a gas to see Etta James or B.B. King work for the first time. Some of those old blues cats. Wherever I go I still try and see whoever I can, I’ve heard is good or is still alive. I saw Arthur Crudup and Bukka White last time. Incredible.
We all went to the Apollo Theatre the first time over. Joe Tex and Wilson Pickett and the complete James Brown Review. Could never get over the fact that they were into that soul bag in ’64. Those suits, those movements, the vocal groups. It became obvious then the spades were going to change their music. They were into that formal, professional thing, which is not half as exciting as when they just let it go. And music ties in with all the rest. Like a real rebellion against that soul thing. Like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” You were always told it was going to be heavy going up there, but it never was.
Actually, the first gig was in San Bernardino. It was a straight gas, man. They all knew the songs and they were all bopping. It was like being back home. “Ah, love these American gigs.” and “Route 66” mentioned San Bernardino, so everybody was into it. The next gig was Omaha with the motorcycles and 600 kids. Then you get deflated. That’s what stopped us from turning into pop stars then, we were always having those continual complete somebody hittin’ you in the face, “Don’t forget, boy.” Then we really had to work America and it really got the band together. We’d fallen off in playing in England ’cause nobody was listening, we’d do four numbers and be gone. Don’t blink, you’ll miss us.
There was one ballroom number in Black-pool during Scots week when all the Scots come down and get really drunk and let it rip. A whole gang of ’em came to this ballroom and they didn’t like us and they punched their way to the front, right through the whole 7000 people, straight to the stage and started spitting at us. This guy in front spitting. His head was just football size, just right. In those days for me, I had a temper, and “You spit on me?” and I kicked his face in. It was down to the pressure of the road too. America to Australia to Canada to Europe, then recording.
You did some recording the first time over?
Yeah, at Chess, “Michigan Avenue” and “It’s All Over Now” and “Confessing the Blues.” Oldham was never a blues man, which was one reason he couldn’t connect with us. But a lot of things like “Spider and the Fly” were cut at the end of a session, while some guy was sweeping up. “Play With Fire” is like that, with Phil Spector on tuned-down electric guitar, me on acoustic, Jack Nitzsche on harpsichord, and Mick on tambourine with echo chamber. It was about seven o’clock in the morning. Everybody fell asleep.
Did you meet Spector that first time over?
I think we met him in England before we even went to the States. We were still into the blues. Phil Spector was a big American record producer, kind of just another person that Andrew wanted you to meet. Although I really dug his sound, those records. Always wanted to know how he got such a big sound, and when I found out it was a 170-piece orchestra, Ok. Jack Nitzsche was Phil’s arranger and a very important part of that whole sound. It was Jack’s idea of harmonies and spacing. But it’s nice he’s singing with Crazy Horse now. He couldn’t stand to . . . to even get him to play the piano you used to have to do a whole Jack number. It’s great he’s doing it.
Brian had some kind of genius for finding people, didn’t he?
He did. He got us together . . . Charlie, Mick and me.
He brought Nico to the Velvet Underground.
He was into Dylan too, very early on. He was the only one of us who hung out with Dylan for a bit. A lot of people know Brian that I don’t know, that I didn’t know knew him who come up and say, “Yeah, I knew Brian.”
He was great. It was only when you had to work with him that he got very hung up. Anita could tell you a lot about Brian, obviously, because she was Brian’s chick for a long time. Brian did have that thing for pulling people together, for meeting people, didn’t he?
Anita: Mixing. Mix it. Mix it, Charlie. Fix it, Charlie.
Keith: We’re just trying to figure out why Brian couldn’t be with Mick and me at the same time. “Why can’t Mick come in?” “No, no,” he’d say . . . he was a big whisperer too, Brian. Little giggles . . . you don’t meet people like that. Since everybody got stoned, people just say what they want to say.
Brain got very fragile. As he went along, he got more and more fragile and delicate. His personality and physically. I think all that touring did a lot to break him. We worked our asses off from ’63 to ’66, right through those three years, non-stop. I believe we had two weeks off. That’s nothing, I mean I tell that to B.B. King and he’ll say, “I been doing it for years.” But for cats like Brian . . . He was tough but one thing and another he slowly became more fragile. When I first met Brian he was like a little Welsh bull. He was broad, and he seemed to be very tough.
For a start, people were always laying stuff on him because he was a Stone. And he’d try it. He’d take anything. Any other sort of trip too, head trips. He never had time to work it out ’cause we were on the road all the time, always on the plane the next day. Eventually, it caught up.
Right until the last, Brian was trying to get it together. Just before he died, he was rehearsing with more people. Because it happened so quickly, people think . . .
Anita: They think he was really down. But he was really up.
Keith: And they also think that he was one of the Stones when he died. But in actual fact, he’d left. We went down to see him and he said, “I can’t do it again. I can’t start again and go on the road again like that again.” And we said, “We understand. We’ll come and see you in a couple weeks and see how you feel. Meantime, how do you want to say. Do you want to say that you’ve left?” And he said, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s say I’ve left and if I want to I can come back.” “Because we’ve got to know. We’ve got to get someone to take your place because we’re starting to think about getting it together for another tour. We’ve got itchy feet and we’ve got Mick Taylor lined up.” We didn’t really, we didn’t have Mick waiting in the wings to bring on. But we wanted to know if we should get someone else or if Brian wanted to get back into it again. “I don’t think I can,” he said, “I don’t think I can go to America and do those one-nighters anymore. I just can’t.” Two weeks later, they found him in the pool, man.
In those two weeks, he’d had musicians down there every day. He was rehearsing. I’d talk to him every day and he’d say, “It’s coming along fine. Gonna get a really funky little band together and work and make a record.”
Do you think his death was an accident?
Well, I don’t want to say. Some very weird things happened that night, that’s all I can say.
It could have as well been an accident. There were people there that suddenly disappeared . . . the whole thing with Brian is . . .
Anita: They opened the inquiry again six months after his death.
Keith: But nothing happened. None of us were trying to hush it up. We wanted to know what was going on. We were at a session that night and we weren’t expecting Brian to come along. He’d officially left the band. We were doing the first gig with Mick Taylor that night. No, I wouldn’t say that was true. Maybe Mick had been with us for a week or so but it was very close to when Mick had joined. And someone called us up at midnight and said, “Brian’s dead.”
Well, what the fuck’s going on? We had these chauffeurs working for us and we tried to find out . . . some of them had a weird hold over Brian. There were a lot of chicks there and there was a whole thing going on, they were having a party. I don’t know, man, I just don’t know what happened to Brian that night.
Do you think he was murdered?
There was no one there that’d want to murder him. Somebody didn’t take care of him. And they should have done because he had somebody there who was supposed to take care of him. Everyone knew what Brian was like, especially at a party. Maybe he did just go in for a swim and have an asthma attack. I’d never seen Brian have an attack. I know that he was asthmatic. I know that he was hung up with his spray but I’ve never seen him have an attack. He was a good swimmer. He was a better swimmer than anybody else around me. He could dive off those rocks straight into the sea.
He was really easing back from the whole drug thing. He wasn’t hitting ’em like he had been, he wasn’t hitting anything like he had. Maybe the combination of things. It’s one of those things I just can’t find out. You know, who do you ask?
Such a beautiful cat, man. He was one of those people who are so beautiful in one way, and such an asshole in another. “Brian, how could you do that to me, man?” It was like that.
How did you feel about his death?
We were completely shocked. I got straight into it and wanted to know who was there and couldn’t find out. The only cat I could ask was the one I think who got rid of everybody and did the whole disappearing trick so when the cops arrived, it was just an accident. Maybe it was. Maybe the cat just wanted to get everyone out of the way so it wasn’t all names involved, et cetera. Maybe he did the right thing, but I don’t know. I don’t even know who was there that night and trying to find out is impossible.
Maybe he tried to pull one of his deep diving stunts and was too loaded and hit his chest and that was it. But I’ve seen Brian swim in terrible conditions, in the sea with breakers up to here. I’ve been underwater with Brian in Fiji. He was all right then. He was a goddamn good swimmer and it’s very hard to believe he could have died in a swimming pool.
But goddammit, to find out is impossible. And especially with him not being officially one of the Stones then, none of our people were in direct contact so it was trying to find out who was around Brian at that moment, who he had there. It’s the same feeling with who killed Kennedy. You can’t get to the bottom of it.
Anita: He was surrounded by the wrong kind of people.
Keith: Like Jimi Hendrix. He just couldn’t suss the assholes from the good people. He wouldn’t kick out somebody that was a shit. He’d let them sit there and maybe they’d be thinking how to sell off his possessions. He’d give ’em booze and he’d feed ’em and they’d be thinking, “Oh, that’s worth 250 quid and I can roll that up and take it away.” I don’t know.
Anita: Brian was a leader. With the Stones, he was the first one that had a car. He was the first into flash clothes. And smoke. And acid. It was back when it seemed anything was possible. Everybody was turning on to acid, young and beautiful and then a friend of Brian’s died and it affected him very much. It made it seem as if the whole thing was a lie.
Did he stop taking acid then?
Anita: No. He got further into it. And STP. DMT, which I think is the worst, no? Too chemical. The first time Brian and I took acid we thought it was like smoking a joint. We went to bed. Suddenly we looked around and all these Hieronymus Bosch things were flashing around. That was in 1965. Musically he would have got it together. I’m sure of it. He and Keith couldn’t play together any more. I don’t know what causes those things but they couldn’t.
Was there a gap between Brian and the rest of the Stones because he had taken acid and they hadn’t?
Anita: Yes, as far as I know, Mick took his first trip the day he got busted, in ’67. Keith had started to suss, he saw us flying around all over the place. He started to live with us. Every time Brian was taking trips, he was working, making tapes. Fantastic.
He didn’t dig the music the Stones were making and he really got a block in his head that he couldn’t play with them. Now, he would dig it. He never really stopped playing. It was just so different from what they were playing, he couldn’t play in sessions. I’m positive he could have gotten it together. Positive. He was just a musician. Pure, so pure a musician.
Keith: I remember once in Philadelphia some kids had picked up on an interview Brian had done with somebody, he’d used one of those intellectual words like “esoteric.” And so, right in the front, these kids had big signs that said, “Brian, you’re so esoteric.” It had that aura. It was down to Sixteen magazine. Everything you did in America then, it could all be in Sixteen magazine.
It was a thing when the Beatles and the Stones came over on that first wave . . . in New York, they were on the radio all the time with Murray the K . . .
Ah, Murray. The fifth Beatle and the sixth Rolling Stone. Nobody realizes how America blew our minds and the Beatles too. Can’t even describe what America meant to us. We first started listenin’ to Otis when we got to the States, and picked up our first Stax singles. And Wilson Pickett. That’s what’s so amazing about Bobby Keys, that cat, man, he was there from the beginnin’.
If you come from the city, somehow you’re aware of black music but if, say, you’re from Nebraska . . .
Nebraska. We really felt like a sore pimple in Omaha. On top of that, the first time we arrived there, the only people to meet us off the plane were twelve motorcycle cops who insisted on doing this motorcade thing right through town. And nobody in Omaha had ever heard of us. We thought, “Wow, we’ve made it. We must be heavy.” And we get to the auditorium and there’s 600 people there in a 15,000 seat hall. But we had a good time.
The only thing that went down heavy there was a cop scene. It was then I realized what Lenny Bruce was talking about. We were sitting back in the dressing room. First time in Omaha in ’64. Drinkin’ whiskey and coke out of cups, paper cups, just waiting to go on. Cops walked in. “What’s that?” “Whiskey.” “You can’t drink whiskey in a public place.” I happened to be drinking just Coke actually. “Tip it down the bog.” I said, “No man, I’ve just got Coca-Cola in here.”
I look up and I got a 44 lookin’ at me, right between the eyes. Here’s a cop, tellin’ me to tip Coca-Cola down the bog. Wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for Coca-Cola. But that’s when I realized what it could get into.
Lenny Bruce gave his life . . .
They really got him strung up. He must have read every lawbook. His last gigs were all Constitution and Federal law. In England, that’s where they did him way back. They left him alone in America until the English bothered about him and when he went back, they threw the shit at him.
The same thing happened to Jerry Lee Lewis, man. He was ridin’ on the crest of a wave until he came to England with his 13-year-old wife. The English busted him for it and said, y’know, “Get out of the country. This is scandalous.” When he got back to the States he suddenly found out he couldn’t gig anymore, straight from being number one.
England’s so strange. The way they’ve taken over the Stones, as “our” Stones and “good on ya, boys,” for making it.
The English are very strange. They’re tolerant up to a point where they’re told not to be. You get to a point up there where somebody turns around and swings a little finger. They’ve had it in their hands so long, the power. They haven’t been fucked since Cromwell, man.
Three weeks before I left, I was just goin’ out my front door. Up screams a squad car. “Hello, Keith. How are ya, boy? All right? Let’s roll up your sleeve, eh? Let us have a look at your veins. Not on the heavy stuff, are ya?” Just like that. “How’s Anita and the baby? What’s this? This smell like hash to you, Fred?”
In the States, you know the cops are bent and if you want to get into it, Ok, you can go to them and say, “How much do you want?” and they’ll drop it. In England, you can drop fifty grand and the next week they’ll still bust you and say, “Oh, it went to the wrong hands. I’m sorry. It didn’t get to the right man.” It’s insane.
This whole Western Civilization would be fine if everybody works, if they did it right but they don’t. They’re all trying to fuck each other, behind each other’s backs. The people in England think their police are the finest police force in the world. They don’t even know, man . . . what goes on. If they were told, they wouldn’t wanna believe it. What goes on in London. They’d turn the other way and pretend they hadn’t heard.
The 1967 bust was arranged, wasn’t it?
The News of the World got hold of someone who was working for us. I think it was the cat who was driving me, at the time. They knew we were going to be down there at a party. Really, just something I’d done a million times before and I’ve done a million times since. I simply said, “Let’s go down to my place for a weekend.” It just so happened we all took acid and were in a completely freaked out state when they arrived. They weren’t ready for that.
There’s a big knock at the door. 8 o’clock. Everybody is just sort of gliding down slowly from the whole day of sort of freaking about. Everyone has managed to find their way back to the house. TV is on with the sound off and the record player is on. Strobe lights are flickering. Marianne Faithfull has just decided that she wanted a bath and has wrapped herself up in a rug and is watching the box.
“Bang, bang, bang,” this big knock at the door and I go to answer it. “Oh look, there’s lots of little ladies and gentlemen outside.” He says, “Read this,” and I’m goin’ whaa, whaa.” All right.
There was this other pusher there who I really didn’t know. He’d come with some other people and was sittin’ there with a big bag of stash. They even let him go, out of the country. He wasn’t what they were looking for.
When it came down to it, they couldn’t pin anything at all on us. All they could pin on me was allowing people to smoke on my premises. It wasn’t my shit. All they could pin on Mick was these four amphetamine tablets that he’d bought in Italy across the counter. It really backfired on them because they didn’t get enough on us. They had more on the people who were with us who they weren’t interested in. There were lots of people there they didn’t even bring up on charges.
Because you were young kids with a lot of money or because they saw you as leaders of some kind of movement?
Both. First, they don’t like young kids with a lot of money. But as long as you don’t bother them, that’s cool. But we bothered them. We bothered ’em because of the way we looked, the way we’d act. Because we never showed any reverence for them whatsoever. Whereas the Beatles had. They’d gone along with it so far, with the MBEs and shaking hands. Whenever we were asked about things like that we’d say, “Fuck it. Don’t want to know about things like that. Bollocks. Don’t need it.” That riled ’em somewhere.
It came from quite a way up, that thing. It was CID.
Was the bust physically heavy?
No. It might have been. But we were just gliding off from a 12-hour trip. You know how that freaks people out when they walk in on you. The vibes were so funny for them. I told one of the women with them they’d brought to search the ladies, “Would you mind stepping off that Moroccan cushion. Because you’re ruining the tapestries.” We were playin’ it like that. They tried to get us to turn the record player off and we said, “No. We won’t turn it off but we’ll turn it down.” As they went, as they started going out the door, somebody put on “Rainy Day Women” really loud. Everybody must get stoned. And that was it.
What usually happens is that someone gets busted, the papers have it the next day. For a week they held it back to see how much bread they could get off us. Nothing was said for a week. They wanted to see. Unfortunately none of us knew what to do, who to bum the bread to and so went via slightly the wrong people and it didn’t get up all the way.
Mick can tell you how much. It was his bread. Quite a bit of bread.
Eventually after a couple of weeks the papers said the Rolling Stones have been raided for possession. The first court thing didn’t come up for three months. Just a straight hearing. That was cool. The heavy trial came in June, about five months after. It was really startin’ to wear us out by then. The lawyers were saying “It seems really weird, they want to really do it to you.”
I didn’t play it that way anyway. When the prosecuting counsel asked me about chicks in nothing but fur rugs, I said, “I’m not concerned with your petty morals which are illegitimate.” They couldn’t take that one.
The rumor that there was an orgy going on was part of the thing too, wasn’t it?
Nobody was in the state for an orgy, man. They should have come some other times, they would have really . . . They tried to make it seem as bad as they could. So Ok, here come the sentences. Mick and Robert Fraser, who was another cat who got done, already been in the local jail for two days, waiting. They’d already been found guilty. They were waiting for their sentence until they’d gone through with my one. Mick gets three months for those four amphetamine pills. They give me a year, for allowing people to smoke in my house.
Now Wormwood Scrubs is 150 years old, man. I wouldn’t even want to play there, much less live there. They take me inside. They don’t give you a knife and fork, they given you a spoon with very blunt edges so you can’t do yourself in. They don’t give you a belt, in case you hang yourself. It’s that bad in there.
They give you a little piece of paper and a pencil. Both Robert and I, the first thing we did is sit down and write. “Dear Mum, don’t worry . . . I’m in here and someone’s workin’ to get me out, da-da-da.” Then you’re given your cell. And they start knockin’ on the bars at six in the morning to wake you up.
All the other prisoners started droppin’ bits of tobacco through for me, ’cause in any jail tobacco is the currency. Some of them were really great. Some of them were in for life. Shovin’ papers under the door to roll it up with. The first thing you do automatically when you wake up is drag the chair to the window and look up to see what you can see out the window. It’s an automatic reaction. That one little square of sky, tryin’ to reach it.
It’s amazing. I was going to have to make those little Christmas trees that go on cakes. And sewing up mailbags. Then there’s the hour walk when you have to keep moving, round in a courtyard. Cats comin’ up behind me, it’s amazing, they can talk without moving their mouths, “Want some hash? Want some acid?” Take acid? In here?
Most of the prisoners were really great. “What you doin’ in here? Bastards. They just wanted to get you.” They filled me in. “They been waiting for you in here for ages,” they said. So I said, “I ain’t gonna be in here very long, baby, don’t worry about that.”
And that afternoon, they had the radio playing, this fucking Stones record comes on. And the whole prison started, “Rayyyyy!” Goin’ like mad. Bangin’ on the bars. They knew I was in and they wanted to let me know.
They took all the new prisoners to have their photographs taken sitting on a swivel stool, looked like an execution chamber. Really hard. Face and profile. Those are the sort of things they’ll do automatically if they pick you up in America, you get fingerdabs and photographs. In England, it’s a much heavier scene. You don’t get photographed and fingerprinted until you’ve been convicted.
Then they take you to the padre and the chapel and the library, you’re allowed one book and they show you where you’re going to work and that’s it. That afternoon, I’m lyin’ in my cell, wondering what the fuck was going on and suddenly someone yelled, “You’re out, man, you’re out. It’s just been on the news.” So I started kickin’ the shit out of the door, I said, “You let me out you bastards, I got bail.”
So they took me to the governor’s office and signed me out. And when it got up to the appeal court, they just threw it out in ten minutes. This judge had just blown it. I mean, he said things to me while I was up there that if I’d caught him by himself I’d have wrung his neck. When he gave me the year sentence, he called me “scum” and “filth,” and “People like this shouldn’t be . . . ”
Was the bust some kind of confirmation of things you already knew?
Yeah. It kind of said, “Ok, from now on it’s heavy.” Up till then, it had been showbiz, entertainment, play it how you want to, teenyboppers. At that point you knew, they considered you to be outside . . . they’re the ones who put you outside the law. Like Dylan says, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.”
They’re the ones that decide who lives outside the law. I mean, you don’t decide, right? You’re just livin’. I mean your laws don’t apply to me, nobody says that, because you can’t. But they say it. And then you have to decide what you’re going to do from then on.
It was the summer too. You had just started to turn on to acid.
Yeah, we had picked it up in America in ’66, on that last tour in the summer and we came home and just laid back and started to get it on. We had been working for a long time without stopping, without thinking for a long time. For three years. The bust ended it. We knew it was going to be heavy. We split England about a week after the bust.
Keith: We just carried on down in Morocco for a while. Soon after then, it’s “You have to come back to England to speak to the lawyers.” Slowly you start to straighten out again.
Anita: Mick was on his first trip at the bust.
Keith: I’m not sure. I know he took a lot more after that.
Was ‘Between the Buttons’ cut after the bust?
No, that was done after the American tour. The album that was done while we were waiting to go in and on trial was Satanic Majesties. It was made in between court sessions and lawyers with everyone sort of falling apart. I ended up with chicken pox. At the appeal, when I got up, I was covered with spots, man. It was too much. It was the last thing, they couldn’t take it. They couldn’t even get me into court because I was diseased.
Flowers was put together in America by Andrew Oldham, just to put something out because they were begging for product. In fact, all that stuff had been cut a year or so before and rejected by us as not making it. I was really surprised when people dug it, when it even came out. Andrew was kind of getting pissed off with us by then because we were getting stoned and been busted. It hung him up that he couldn’t carry on hustling because he didn’t know if we were going to jail or what. And we kept saying, “Andrew, Andrew . . . ”
I remember “Dandelion” as a single in the States in flower power summer.
With the other side, “We Love You” with the sound of the jail door. We didn’t have a chance to go through too much flower power because of the bust. We’re outlaws.
But there’s a time in everybody’s life when they come out, when they bloom and it was just about then for the Stones.
Keith: Brian was like that at Monterey.
Anita: He was on STP at Monterey.
Did he come back from there with a lot of things in his head?
Keith: Yeah, he did.
Anita: With a lot of STP.
Keith: He changed . . . because we changed around Brian, Anita and I. We had that whole thing in Morocco and that kind of blew Brian too, on top of everything else. The thing I’ve forgotten about was when we were in court waiting to hear if there was to be bail before the real trial, that’s when they busted Brian, man. They had it timed down to the minute. When we were actually in the fucking courtroom up in London, an hour and a half drive away, they were going into Brian’s house to do him so that the papers would come out with “Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Mick Jagger on trial for this, meanwhile Brian Jones just been found with this” – so they could lay that on. “Well, they must be guilty.”
Anita: They were going to come down and see us . . . and we called from Brian’s house and said, “Don’t bother. The cops are here.”
Keith: “Don’t come down. We’ll come up.” Unbelievable. It’s really weird because people think of England as far more tolerant and genteel than America but when they laid that one on us, when they want to lay it down, they can be just as heavy. They just don’t carry guns, that’s all.
But some good came out of it. There was a rally and Release grew up around it.
Sure. The thing that shocked the cops was the Times coming out in our favor. The Times! The tabloid of the Establishment came out and said, “Why are you trying to break a butterfly on a wheel? What is this? What have they done?” The Times people, they’re the ones that can absorb, see? They’re the ones who can say, “You’re just a butterfly. Let’s just keep you a butterfly and leave it at that.”
To talk about the music then, with Brian into acid before anyone and having been to the West Coast, was there a reluctance to play just rock and roll?
There was a point where it was difficult to do that. People would say. “What you playin’ that old shit for?” Which really screwed me up ’cause that’s all I can play. We just sort of laid back and listened to what they were doing in Frisco whereas Brian was making great tapes, overdubbing. He was much more into it than we were. And we were digging what we were hearing, for what it was but that other thing in you is saying, “Yeah. But where’s Chuck Berry? What’s he doing?” It’s got to follow through. It’s got to connect.
The feeling that a lot of people had first in ’69, that they didn’t want to work for other people, do you think that might have rubbed off on the Stones?
With the Stones though, you’re always involved in that other scene, that financial scene. Another heavy trip. But it’s more under control now. I mean ask John Lennon and Paul McCartney if we aren’t more together than they are with it. They’re not. Because it’s a very hard thing. You can get it any way you want it, but it’s who gets it for you, and how much do you want? For doing what?
I don’t want to go to America and be called a capitalist bastard because of what the tickets cost. In ’69, I didn’t know what the tickets were costing. You just go and play some music and when you get there you find out and you’re in the deep end already.
What were you paying in ’66 to see us? Because I don’t want to make the prices so high that there is a whole stratum of kids that can’t afford to see us. They’re probably the funkiest kids, you know? They’re the ones that would come and dig to see it and have a good time at doin’ it too.
Like in Poland, in Warsaw in ’67. Nearest thing to that Long Beach riot I ever saw.
You did a concert in Warsaw?
Man, fantastic. We get there, behind the Iron Curtain, do the whole bit, all very uptight. There’s Army at the airport. Get to the hotel which is very jail-like. Lots of security people about, a lot like America. And it gets even more like America as it goes along. We’re invited by the Minister of Culture, on a cultural visit, and we’re playing in the Palace of Culture. We get there to do our gig. We go on “Honksi-de-boyski, boysk. Zee Rolling Stones-ki.”
And who’s got the best seats in the house right down front? The sons and daughters of the hierarchy of the Communist Party. They’re sitting there with their diamonds and their pearls . . . and their fingers in their ears. About three numbers, and I say, “Fuckin’ stop playin’ Charlie. You fuckin’ lot, get out and let those bahstads in the back down front.” So they went. About four rows just walked out. All the mumma and daddy’s boys.
Outside, they’ve got water cannons . . . the only scene I ever seen near it was when we tried to get out of the Long Beach Auditorium in 1965 when a motorcycle cop got run over and crushed. Exactly the same equipment, man. Deployed in the same way. All the cops had white helmets and the big long batons. Exactly the same uniforms.
There were 2000 kids that couldn’t get in because of the sons and daughters. They wouldn’t have had a riot there if they’d let the kids in. Only later I found out Poland is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
There can’t be many bands that have been played behind the Iron Curtain.
I always figured the Beatles were perfect for doing that. They were perfect for opening doors. But somewhere along the line, they got heavy. They wanted to be the ones to actually do it. They copped all the goodies for doing it. Sure enough.
When they went to America they made it wide open for us. We could never have gone there without them. They’re so fucking good at what they did. If they’d kept it together and realized what they were doing, instead of now doing “Power to the People” and disintegrating like that in such a tatty way. It’s a shame.
The Stones seem to have done much better in just handling success.
Anita: As far as I can see, it has always been a question of the Stones being from London and the Beatles being from Liverpool.
Keith: Maybe, because you’re not English you can see it that way. It’s true enough that the Beatles’ first obstacle was to get out of Liverpool and get into London. We kicked off in London so it was no hang-up. Brian knew about those problems because he came from a provincial town in England. He had to conquer London first, that was his thing. He felt very happy when he made it in London, when we were the hip band in London.
For Mick and me, it didn’t mean a thing, – because it was just our place. We thought “Well, at least we’ve got a foothold in our own fucking town.”
Do you and Mick still write now the way you used to then?
Well, I haven’t seen him for a couple weeks because he went and got married, but basically yes. We do bits that we hear and then we throw them all together on a cassette or something, and listen to it. Mick writes more melodies now than he used to.
The first things, usually I wrote the melody and Mick wrote the words. It’s not gotten like the Lennon-McCartney thing got where they wrote completely by themselves. Every song we’ve got have pieces of each other in it. The only thing in Sticky Fingers I don’t have anything to do with is “Moonlight Mile,” ’cause I wasn’t there when they did it. It was great to hear that because I was very out of it by the end of the album and it was like listening, really listening. It was really nice. We were all surprised at the way that album fell together. Sticky Fingers – it pulled itself together.
How about “Satisfaction”?
I wrote that. I woke up one night in a hotel room. Hotel rooms are great. You can do some of your best writing in hotel rooms, I woke up with a riff in my head and the basic refrain and wrote it down. The record still sounded like a dub to me. I wanted to do . . . I couldn’t see getting excited about. I’d really dug it that night in the hotel but I’d gone past it. No, I didn’t want it out, I said. I wanted to cut it again. It sounded all right but I didn’t really like that fuzz guitar. I wanted to make that thing different. But I don’t think we could have done, you needed either horns or something that could really knock that riff out.
With “Satisfaction,” people start to wonder what certain phrases mean like “smoke another kind of cigarette.”
A lot of them are completely innocent. I don’t think that one is. It might have been. I don’t know if it was a sly reference to drugs or not. After a while, one realizes that whatever one writes, it goes through other people, and it’s what gets to them. Like the way people used to go through Dylan songs. It don’t matter. They’re just words. Words is words.
There was a time when for the Beatles and us . . . Dylan was another punch in the face. Someone said, “You’ve got to look outside what you’re doing.” He was someone else who was working hard but . . . good musicians too, that cat always picked ’em. Robbie Robertson . . . Kooper.
Al Kooper’s a gas to play with. We cut a version of “Brown Sugar” with Al Kooper, it was a good track. He’s playing piano on it at Bobby Keys’, and my birthday party which was held at Olympic Studios. A lot of people came; Eric’s on guitar. We wanted to use it cause it’s a new version but there’s something about the Muscle Shoals feel of the album one, that we got into at the end of the last American tour. Charlie really fills the sound and it was so easy to cut down there. We do a track a day there which is amazing. If you’ve been playing every night you can record quickly.
That’s why we all moved . . . people say, “Why the south of France?” It’s just the closest place where we can relax a bit and then record. That’s why we’re all living in the same . . . to transfer all that equipment, I hope it’s worthwhile.
After you came back to England from the first or second American tour, did you have some kind of acceptance, were you starting to get respectable?
Still came across some opposition. It wasn’t that complete acceptance that the Beatles had. Always being kicked out of our hotel for not being dressed properly or something.
How is it that the Stones are banned from essentially every hotel in Manchester?
It’s from years ago. They’re so ridiculous with their little rules. For us to arrive at a place at 3 o’clock in the morning and be told we couldn’t have anything to eat or that the drink cupboard is locked, immediately it’s “Wadda you mean?” You’re off a gig and you’ve been traveling for five hours and you’ve been doing it every day for a year. Eventually, they just ban you and night porters put up their bars when they hear you coming.
The funniest thing that happened like that was the court case for peeing in the gas station. That was just in that period, when the Rolling Stones were real big biggies. One night coming back from a gig in North London, Bill Wyman, who has this prodigious bladder, decided he wanted to have a pee. So we told the driver to stop. The car is full up with people and a few other people say, “Yeah, I could get into that. Let’s take a pee.” So we leap out and we had chosen a gas station that looked closed but it wasn’t. There they are, up against the wall, spraying away.
And suddenly this guy steps out. And a cop flashes his torch on Bill’s cock and says, “All right. What you up to then?” And that was it. The next day it was all in the papers. Bill was accused and Brian was accused of insulting language. Because what they did them for was not peeing but for trespassing.
All these witnesses come up. “There he was, your Honor, he was facing the wall, and well, he was, uh, urinating.”
How about the wall of the toilet for the corner of Beggars Banquet?
Anita, Mick and I found this wall. Barry Feinstein photographed it. It was a great picture. A real funky cover. The fight they gave us – we dug in our heels. They really wouldn’t budge. It stopped the album from coming out. Eventually it got to be too much of a drag. It went on for nine months or so.
It was like them saying. “We don’t give a shit if your album never goes out.” After that, we knew it was impossible and started looking around to do it differently. The main thing about having your own label is that you’re not solely confined to putting out Rolling Stones material. If we come across anyone else we like or any other thing we dig that people are saying, we can put it on record. It doesn’t all have to be our product. Somebody said they got hold of some tapes of Artaud explaining a few things. That would be great to put out.
Did the Stones sign a film deal for five films when Oldham was handling things?
I think there was definitely a film clause. We were part of Andrew’s hangup. One of the first things he put out in the English press were that talks were going on for the Stones to appear in their own full-length feature movie. Just to make people keep their ears open a little more. It never got together.
Later on we paid for Only Lovers Left Alive, which is a book. I haven’t read it for years. It seemed corny then but . . . it was quite a heavy book, some nice things in it. We saw some very straight English film directors about it and they really put us off. Their concept of how it should be. Them trying to turn us on to it really turned us off it.
Would you want to make a movie?
It would just have to happen. I couldn’t think about going into it. Mick wanted to do something, and nobody was together enough, he didn’t have a band together enough to do anything and he felt he’d like to learn about films. There was only one way he could do that. And after, we understood more about the movies because he went through a whole movie.
What do you think of Performance?
I thought it was a great movie. There were a lot of things in there. It was heavy, I mean Donald Cammel is heavy, he wrote it. We’ve known him since ’65 or ’66. Anita and I went back to England for that, we hadn’t been living there. I mean they did that movie in ’68. In the fall.
Donald had so many hassles getting it out. They kept making him re-edit it, I don’t know how many times. It was the last film Anita did before Marlon.
Did you go to Rome to write that album?
No, to Positano, south of Naples. We’d been there before. We knew the place vaguely and someone offered us their house there. It was empty, barren, very cold. Huge fires and we just sat and wrote. Did “Midnight Rambler” there, “Monkey Man” and some others.
Do you think Let it Bleed is the Stones’ best album?
I haven’t heard it for a long time and I believe things like “Midnight Rambler” come through better live, because we’ve extended it more. Sometimes when you record something you go off half-cocked because maybe you haven’t ever played it live. You’ve just written it and you record it. From then on you take it and keep on playing it and it gets different. I remember I was into 12-string bottlenecks then.
That song is Mick way out on his persona, isn’t it?
Usually when you write you just kick Mick off on something and let him fly on it, just let it roll out and listen to it and start to pick up on certain words that are coming through and it’s built up on that. A lot of people still complain they can’t hear the voice properly. If the words come through it’s fine, if they don’t, that’s all right too because anyway they can mean a thousand different things to anybody.
But the song’s almost psychotic isn’t it?
It’s just something that’s there, that’s always been there. Some kind of chemistry. Mick and I can really get it on together. It’s one way to channel it out. I’d rather play it out than shoot it out.
People come to Stones concerts to work it out.
Yeah, which in turn has been interpreted as violence or “a goddamn riot” when it’s just people letting it out. Not against anybody but with each other. That rock and roll thing, even when it was young, those songs created a domestic revolution. When the parents were out, there were all those parties. Eddie Cochran and all those people, they created some kind of thing which has followed through now and is being built on.
Like “Streetfighting Man”?
The timing of those things is funny because you’re really following what’s going on. That’s been interpreted thousands of different ways because it really is ambiguous as a song. Trying to be revolutionary in London in Grosvenor Square. Mick went to all those demonstrations and got charged by the cops.
The basic track of that was done on a mono cassette with very distorted overrecording, on a Phillips with no limiters. Brian is playing sitar, it twangs away. He’s holding notes that wouldn’t come through if you had a board, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But on a cassette if you just move the people, it does. Cut in the studio and then put on a tape. Started puttin’ percussion and bass on it. That was really an electronic track, up in the realms.
Some songs, with a 16-track, I don’t really need all that. It’s nice to make it simpler sometimes. “Parachute Woman” is a cassette track.
“Salt of the Earth”?
No, that’s studio. Mick’s words, but I think I was there for a bit of them too. I’d forgotten about that actually. Nearly all Mick, that one. Funny year, ’68, it’s got a hole in it somewhere. Coming out of the bust and other stuff . . . I was in L.A. for a couple months.
When did you start to meet with Alan Klein?
Andrew got Klein to meet us, to get us out of the original English scene. There was a new deal with Decca to be made and no one really knew, everyone wanted to know about it, in a business we’d never thought of. Who’s actually making the money. He was managing financial advisor for Donovan and the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, who were all enormous then.
The first time we met was in London. The only thing that impressed me about him was that he said he could do it. Nobody else had said that. The thing that he really wanted was the Beatles and the Stones together, to have them both. He did it. But as he picked one up, he dropped the other. A juggling act. Then he didn’t get Paul either, which was a real fuckup, coming at such a time that it really did them in. In a way, he was probably the last straw in the whole thing for the Beatles. To be set against each other in things like that is such a downer. To have to go through that court thing that they did in London.
Did the Stones decide together to go with Klein?
I really pushed them. I was saying, “Let’s turn things around. Let’s do something.” Either we go down to Decca and tell them to do it with us . . . which is what we did that very day with Klein, just went down there and scared the shit out of them.
You originally signed a two-year contract with them?
Yeah, in ’63. He did a good job, man. Andrew told us that Klein was a fantastic cat for dealing with those people, which we couldn’t do. Andrew knew he didn’t know enough about the legal side of it to be able to do it. So we had to get someone who knew how to do it or someone who’d fuck it up once and for all. Then it would be up to us to deal with him.
Andrew had gotten together his own label and we had the feeling that he had what we wanted and could go ahead and do his own stuff. He was no longer that into what we were doing and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do, because of the busts. He didn’t want to get involved in all of that, so it seemed the right time. It just fell apart.
Did it feel like an end to anybody?
It did to Brian, thinking about it. Not to me. I just sort of picked it up again. I think Brian felt that was it. He was really a sensitive cat, too sensitive, the thought of going back on the road really horrified him. In ’66 when we last saw America it was 45’s and teenyboppers and in three years it established a completely different order. What a change in America, just amazing.
And he was OK on that last tour?
Yeah, we were all very stoned. The last gig was in L.A. We came back to England with pockets full of acid. In ’65 you hardly saw any grass. By ’66, it was becoming common. It was still a spade trip before that, a spade laid it on you and it was a pleasure to get a joint. It was one of those turn-ons, like when we get to America, we’ll get joints laid on us if we get a spade act with us.
Apart from a visit to New York in ’67 to do the cover for Satanic Majesties, which we constructed in a day, and a couple months in ’68, I was there just before the convention . . . the only contact I had was the underground press and whatever came through.
Were the Springfield going in L.A. then?
Jack Nitzsche had told me about Neil Young and I had seen the Springfield in a club in New York in ’66. Hendrix too, at Ondines. He was fantastic. Doing Dylan songs and “Wild Thing” in a club with a pickup band. Fantastic. One of those cats you just knew you were going to see again. He was like Brian too. We were on the European tour when both Jimi and Janis died, so I didn’t really get into it till I got back, a few months later.
Did it scare you?
Not really, because I don’t feel as fragile as those people.
You live in the same world.
Yeah, but they were very vulnerable. Like Brian was. He really got it all off on stage and he didn’t want to fuck with anybody after. I didn’t know Jimi that well, but he had a lot of people hangin’ ’round that he didn’t need and that’s what screwed Brian. We’re talking about people I really didn’t know that well, so I can only relate it to Brian.
Did you do a lot of traveling in the years when the Stones didn’t work as a band?
Went to Morocco for quite a while. I drove down through Spain. It’s incredible. It’s like getting stoned for the first time to go through the Casbah. Mick and everybody ended up there because it was after the bust. Everybody sort of ran. Met Achmed down there, Anita had known him from before, when she went with Brian, but then in ’67 he was just getting his thing together . . . he had this beautiful little shop and he’d tell all these incredible stories, and he made this incredible stuff. I haven’t been there for two or three years and I keep meaning to go back.
It was quiet in Tangier then. Just Ta few American kids. Brion Gysin was there too. That cat who wrote The Process. Weird. I’m expecting him down here, with Burroughs, they’re talking about Naked Lunch and trying to get it together for a movie.
How did that picture of the band in drag come about?
There was a big rush for “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby?” Jerry Schatzberg took the picture and Andrew ordered a truckload of costumes and Brian just laid on me this incredible stuff. He just said, “Take this.” We walked down from Park Lane in that gear and we did the pictures. It was very quiet, Saturday afternoon, all the businesses are shut but there’s traffic . . .
Wearing high heels?
Yeah, and the whole bit. Bill in a wheelchair. It took a while to get this picture and going back, what do you do? Do you take half the stuff off and walk back . . . or do you keep it on? Anyway, I’m thirsty, let’s go and have a beer. We all zip down to this bar. Hey, what voice do you do? We sat there and had a beer and watched TV and no one said anything. But it was just so outrageous because Bill stayed in his wheelchair and Brian was pushing him about.
Do you like that record?
I loved the track of it. I never did like the record. It was cut badly. It was mastered badly. It was mixed badly. The only reason we were so hot on it was that the track blew our heads off, everything else was rushed too quickly. Tapes were being flown . . . and lost. It needed another couple weeks. The rhythm section thing is almost lost completely.
Along with “Stupid Girl” and “Under My Thumb” and other songs of that time, there’s a real down-on-chicks feeling in it.
It was all a spinoff from our environment . . . hotels, and too many dumb chicks. Not all dumb, not by any means but that’s how one got. When you’re canned up – half the time it’s impossible to go out, it’s a real hassle to go out – it was to go through a whole sort of football match. One just didn’t. You got all you needed from room service, you sent out for it. Limousines sent tearing across cities to pick up a little bag of this or that. You’re getting really cut off.
Of course, there was still “Lady Jane.”
Brian was getting into dulcimer then. Because he dug Richard Farina. It has to do with what you listen to. Like I’ll just listen to old blues cats for months and not want to hear anything else and then I just want to hear what’s happening and collect it all and listen to it. We were also listening to a lot of Appalachian music then too. To me, “Lady Jane” is very Elizabethan. There are a few places in England where people still speak that way, Chaucer English.
Brian played flute on “Ruby Tuesday.”
Yeah, he was a gas. He was a cat who could play any instrument. It was like, “there it is, music comes out of it, if I work at it for a bit, I can do it.” It’s him on marimbas on “Under My Thumb” and mellotron on a quite a few things on Satanic Majesties. He was the strings on “Two Thousand Light Years From Home,” Brian on mellotron, and the brass on “We Love You,” all that Arabic riff.
How about “Goin’ Home”? It was one of the earlier jams to be put on a pop album.
It was the first long rock and roll cut. It broke that two minute barrier. We tried to make singles as long as we could do then because we just like to let things roll on. Dylan was used to building a song for 20 minutes because of the folk thing he came from.
That was another thing. No one sat down to make an 11 minute track. I mean “Goin’ Home,” the song was written just the first two and a half minutes. We just happened to keep the tape rolling, me on guitar, Brian on harp, Bill and Charlie and Mick. If there’s a piano, it’s Stew.
Did you record during those years you didn’t gig?
A lot of recording, and getting together with Jimmy Miller in ’68 or late ’67 when we started Beggars Banquet. It’s really a gas to work with Jimmy. We’d tried to do it ourselves but it’s a drag not to have someone to bounce off of. Someone who knows what you want and what he wants. I wouldn’t like to produce, there’s too much running up and down, too much legwork.
John Lennon said that the Stones did things two months after the Beatles. A lot of people say Satanic Majesties is just Sergeant Pepper upside down.
But then I don’t know. I never listened any more to the Beatles than to anyone else in those days when we were working. It’s probably more down to the fact that we were going through the same things. Maybe we were doing it a little bit after them. Anyway, we were following them through so many scenes. We’re only just mirrors ourselves of that whole thing. It took us much longer to get a record out for us, our stuff was always coming out later anyway.
I moved around a lot. And then Anita and I got together and I lay back for a long time. We just decided what we wanted to do. There was a time three, four years ago, in ’67, when everybody just stopped, everything just stopped dead. Everybody was tryin’ to work it out, what was going to go on. So many weird things happened to so many weird people at one time. America really turned itself round, the kids . . . coming together. Pushed together so hard that they sort of dug each other.
For us too, we had always been pushed together . . . not bein’ able to get hotel rooms. Even now, it’s one of the last things I say, you never pull that thing . . . that you’re a Rolling Stone. I like to be anonymous, which is sort of difficult.
How long did Satanic Majesties take to cut?
It wasn’t meant to be that ambitious, it just got that way. It must have taken nearly all of ’67 to get it together. Started in February and March and it came out in November.
The design was yours?
Michael Cooper was in charge of the whole thing, under his leadership. It was handicrafts day . . . you make Saturn, and I’ll make the rings. I forget the name of those people, those 3D postcards. Thing is, everyone looks round on that one. They take pictures at slightly different times and distances and they’re put together and the heads move but after it gets scratched you don’t really see it anymore.
And who else?
Lyndon Johnson and Mao . . . We just started . . . we had to put a stop to it. We were getting the whole of Sergeant Pepper in there, just for the hell of it. It was gettin’ late and Michael finally got Saturn suspended. . . It was really funny . . . we should have done a gig that night.
Hidden things like that . . . like Paul is dead.
Ohhhhh. We were in L.A. when that came down. Just playing before the tour started. It’s incredible. I’ve never heard the things they say are on the albums. I’ve read about it but I’ve never gotten into it enough to sort of try and slow down a track. Somebody should make a tape of the whole thing and lay it down. All those connections and pictures. But the thing is, he’s alive.
It’s a weird kind of paranoia. To think that people are working on you that way.
“Two Thousand Lightyears From Home.” Were you into reading science fiction then?
Not so much. We got into a lot of those English eccentrics. People finding out all about these magnetic lines. We hung around a lot with John Michelle, wandered around England a few weekends, and he showed us obvious things. I mean, bloody obvious. He’s into the pyramids in Egypt. There are an awful lot of straight professors who are aiding in that thing. Michelle’s incredible. I haven’t seen him for ages. He’s the sort you never see for years . . . and then he pops up.
And all those flying saucers kept appearing. A whole rash of them in England. There was one right near my place that two cops had seen. We all rushed out to a village about fourteen miles from my place. They’d seen it and chased it and lost it. The whole story got lost and you never heard any more about it, but two cops around our way, man, were really spaced out.
Is that where “God ride the music” comes from?
There was a cat in America, Charles Foot, who collected useless information, about levitating plates with violin notes. I don’t know where he is now either.
Where did the title Beggars Banquet come from?
It comes from a cat called Christopher Gibbs. Mick laid it on me but it was Christopher who arrived at that mixture. Although we had all been throwing around Tramps’ Mushup or something. On the same idea. We wanted to do the picture, that idea came first, the beggars thing came first. Sticky Fingers was never meant to be the title. It’s just what we called it while we were working on it. Usually though, the working titles stick. Mick was very into that tattered minstrel bit then.
Did Let It Bleed have anything to do with Let It Be?
Not a thing. Just a coincidence because you’re working along the same lines at the same time at the same age as a lot of other cats. All trying to do the same thing basically, turn themselves and other people on. “Let It Bleed” was just one line in that song Mick wrote. It became the title . . . we just kicked a line out. We didn’t know what to call that song. We’d gone through “Take my arm, take my leg” and we’d done the track. We dug that song so . . . maybe there was some influence because Let It Be had been kicked around for years for their movie, for that album. Let it . . . be something. Let it out. Let it loose.
Do you sing for the first time alone on that album?
Please. My voice first appeared solo on the first verse of “Salt of the Earth.” We did the chorus together, me and Mick. If I write a song, I usually write it all but it’s difficult. Somebody’s always got their finger in there. I thought I wasn’t on “Moonlight Mile” but the last riff everybody gets into playing is a riff I’d been playing on earlier tapes before I dropped out. “Wild Horses,” we wrote the chorus in the John of the Muscle Shoals recording studio ’cause it didn’t finish off right.
Does it have to do with Marian’s birth?
Yeah, cause I knew we were going to have to go to America and start work again, to get me off me ass, and not really wanting to go away. It was a very delicate moment, the kid’s only two months old, and you’re goin’ away. Millions of people do it all the time but still . . .
How about earlier stuff like “Paint It Black”?
Mick wrote it. I wrote the music, he did the words. Get a single together.
What’s amazing about that one for me is the sitar. Also, the fact that we cut it as a comedy track. Bill was playing an organ, doing a takeoff of our first manager who started his career in show business as an organist in a cinema pit. We’d been doing it with funky rhythms and it hadn’t worked and he started playing it like this and everybody got behind it. It’s a two-beat, very strange. Brian playing the sitar makes it a whole other thing.
There were some weird letters, racial letters. “Was there a comma in the title? Was it an order to the world?”
How about “Get Off My Cloud”?
That was the follow-up to “Satisfaction.” I never dug it as a record. The chorus was a nice idea but we rushed it as the follow-up. We were in L.A. and it was time for another single. But how do you follow “Satisfaction”? Actually, what I wanted was to do it slow like a Lee Dorsey thing. We rocked it up. I thought it was one of Andrew’s worse productions.
“Mother’s Little Helper”?
In those days, Mick and I were into a solid word-music bag unless I thought of something outstanding, which could be used in the title or something. I would spend the first two weeks of the tour, because it was done on the road, all of it was worked out . . . an American tour meant you started writing another album. After three, four weeks you had enough and then you went to L.A. and recorded it. We worked very fast that way and when you came off a tour you were shit hot playing, as hot as the band is gonna be.
“Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown,” “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby,” “Mother’s Little Helper,” they’re all putting down another generation.
Mick’s always written a lot about it. A lot of the stuff Chuck Berry and early rock writers did was putting down that other generation. That feeling then, like in ’67. We used to laugh at those people but they must have gotten the message right away because they tried to put rock ‘n’ roll down, trying to get it off the radio, off records. Obviously they saw some destruction stemming from . . . they felt it right away.
The Mayor of Denver once sent us a letter asking us to come in quietly, do the show as quietly as possible, and split the same night, if possible. “Thank you very much, we’ll be very pleased to see you in the near future.” I’ve got that letter with the seal of Denver on it. That’s what the mayors wanted to do with us. They might entertain the Beatles, but they wanted to kick us out of town.
Part of the Stones’ image is sex trips.
Yeah, on our first expedition to the United States we noticed a distinct lack of crumpet, as we put it in those days. It was very difficult, man. For cats who had done Europe and England, scoring chicks right, left, and center, to come to a country where apparently no one believed in it. We really got down to the lowest and worked our way up again. Because it was difficult.
In New York or L.A., you can always find something in a city that big if that’s what you want. But when you’re in Omaha in 1964 and you suddenly feel horny, you might as well forget it. In three years, in two years, every time you went back it was . . . the next time back it was like, it only took someone from outside to come in and hit the switch somewhere.
Did you have guys trying to hustle you?
Yeah, in America we went through a lot of that. In France and England too, not groupies as such, they have some concrete reason for being around. They work for a radio station, they contribute to some obscure magazine. It’s hard to suss if they want to know what’s going on or if they just want to be around for a second-hand thrill. Out of just being around.
Unlike the Beatles, the Stones, and Mick in particular, have always had the uni-sexual thing going.
Oh, you should have seen Mick really . . . I’ll put it like this, there was a period when Mick was extremely camp. When Mick went through his camp period, in 1964, Brian and I immediately went enormously butch and sort of laughin’ at him. That terrible thing . . . that switching around confusion of roles that still goes on.
Anita is something very special for the Stones.
It’s because she’s an amazing lady. She’s worked with Mick, Mick and I work together . . . she’s an incredible chick. She found us, through Brian. A long time ago. She’s been involved in it all . . . Anita . . . yeah . . . there are some people you just know are gonna end up all right. It’s really nice. That’s why we had Marlon . . . because . . . we just knew it was the right time . . . we’re very instinctive people. He’s traveled around, though, even before he was born, to Peru. We found out in South America she was pregnant.
What was South America like?
I really like to go to places I know nothing about. Brazil is an amazing place, aside from the amazing hangovers from the Spanish thing that run it. North of Rio it gets really primitive, and Mick’s been there a couple times.
But even Rio, man, on New Years, on the beach practicing macumba. Whole place turns into . . . thousands of thousands of people living in shacks on hills and every time they knock one down, three or four new ones pop up . . . an even more incredible city is Sao Paulo. Which is, in the south, as fast as New York, as speedy as that in tropical conditions, it pours down rain for ten minutes then the sun comes out and it’s a hundred and twenty, and the place starts to steam. Millions of people rushing about . . . all for Coca-Cola. It’s just like New York.
Lot of good guitar players down there. All over South America, it must be the most widely played instrument.
Did you get the earring in South America?
The one that’s hanging there? Yeah. Not the hole. I bought the earring in Peru. I re-bent this one after I got into a fight . . . I mean that’s why I say I never mention the Rolling Stones when I’m just going about my business. We had a car crash down there and settled it all and some little bureaucrat from the local harbor has to butt in so someone mentioned, “Oh, that’s one of the Rolling Stones.” Is it? Bang. Someone leaps in. Telephones flying. And when someone hits them back, it’s pistols. “They’ve got a gun. Call the police.” Mention the Rolling Stones and get a smack in the face.
I know what we did do in South America. Went to a ranch and wrote “Honky Tonk Women” because it was into a cowboy thing. All these spades are fantastic cowboys. Beautiful ponies and quarter horses. Miles from anywhere. Just like being in Arizona or something.
“Honky-Tonk” is always the song that brings people up to dance, isn’t it?
We’ve never known why. There’s always been a few songs that do that. If they weren’t dancing by then, you’d know you weren’t getting it on. The guitar is in open tuning on that, I learned that particular tuning off Ry Cooder.
It’s been said that the Stones brought him over for Let it Bleed and ripped him off.
He came over with Jack Nitzsche, and we said, “Do you want to come along and play?” The first thing Mick wanted was to re-cut “Sister Morphine” with the Stones, which is what we got together. He’s also playing mandolin on “Love In Vain” or . . . he’s on another track too. He played beautifully, man. I heard those things he said, I was amazed. I learned a lot of things off a lot of people. I learned a lot watching Bukka White play. He taught me the tuning and I got behind it.
He says you kept him in the studio with the tapes going and then just used some of his stuff and stole the rest.
If the cat . . . first of all, he was never brought over for the album, which is the main thing. He came over with Jack Nitzsche to get the music for some movie. He came by and we played together a lot, sure. I mean, he’s a gas to play with. He’s amazing. I wasn’t there for a lot of it, but Bill and Charlie still talk about it. They really dug to play with him. I mean, he’s so good.
I had already been into open tuning on Beggars Banquet, “Street Fighting Man.” Just a different tuning. Those old cats are always turning a few machineheads. I learned a lot of things from watching Chuck Berry’s hands on Jazz On A Summer’s Day. It got shown a lot in Europe.
I remember Brian, Mick and I on the way to one of our first gigs stopped into a cinema because we had a few hours to kill to see this movie. I had a guitar with me in just a soft case. We had just gotten in on Chuck Berry’s bit, which is what everybody wanted to turn on to, particularly. We were watching and walking and I tripped over this fucking guitar and smashed it to pieces. “Dyonnng” . . . it made this huge noise, strings going and wood splintering.
But you learned from his hands.
It was the only way to watch someone play then.
Tell us the interesting story of how you got your ear pierced.
Well, the cat who was doing it – a jeweler or he studied it – was on about 15 Mandrax. Very stoned. Doing it the good old-fashioned way. None of your anaesthetics and machinery. With a sewing needle and ice. Me next. Rubs the ice on and he’s dodging back and forth. God knows how he managed to do it. And he just made it. It’s right at the lobe.
I’ve always wanted a pierced ear. I made me first bottleneck and had me ear pierced the same night, with about 15 of the Living Theatre and I was about the fourth ear. He did Anita’s too, at a special angle. By then he had another ten Mandrax and was completely out of it. Try it from the front. No, let’s go at it from the back.
But a lot of people got their ear pierced that night, it was around the time of the Hyde Park concert.
That was June, 1969. You hadn’t worked for two years but had you become better musicians?
No, you always get worse laying off, in one way. You get rusty. Which you can put right if you start playing together. None of us were worried about it. I learned a lot though. I played a lot of acoustic guitar. I did a lot of writing; I didn’t use to but I dug to do it. I was writing in a different way, not for a hit single or to keep that riff going.
Everybody let their hair grow.
The thing is we were already getting so hassled with our hair like it was. You really weren’t safe in some places. I’ve chopped it off now for the sun. It’s usually long in the winter. You couldn’t go into Omaha, you’d get the shit beat out of you.
We did a lot of things in those years, traveled, I hung around a lot with the Living Theatre when they were in Rome and London. They were still working on stage doing things which made the audience no longer an audience, which got them involved.
Did the Stones get more theatrical? “Midnight Rambler” is a piece of theatre.
It’s all experiments. I know there are certain things you can do up there when the lights are on you. But the gas of it is when the whole place looks the same, when the house lights are up, when the stage then looks just as tatty as the rest of the auditorium and everybody’s standing up. That’s the real turn-on. Not the theater, although that song’s a gas, and I dig to play it. It’s when the audience decides to join, that’s when it really knocks you out.
You’ve only got to see a few people dancing, and I turn and watch, and play for them to dance to. It’s like you can play for a body that moves. It’s always them turning you on so that you can turn them on some more.
Was the Hyde Park concert scheduled before Brian’s death?
It was. Don’t forget, it was our first thing with Mick Taylor. We wanted to get Mick Taylor up on stage to be seen. We wanted to do something in London. And we wanted it to be free. Which is also a bastard. Because the two free things we’ve done have been that and Altamont. Both so totally different. people trying to pull that old riff on us, going there in armor. Maybe it was the wisest thing. So we went in an armored ambulance. Took about two hours to drive through the crowd. And we played pretty bad. Until near the end, ’cause we hadn’t played for years. And nobody minded ’cause they just wanted to hear us play again. It was nice they were glad to see us because we were glad to see them. Coming after Brian’s death, it was like a thing we had to do. We had that big picture of him on stage and it comes out looking like a ghost in some pictures.
Was his death still unreal?
It didn’t hit me for months because I hadn’t seen him a lot. The only time we’d see him was down at the courthouse, at one of his trials. They really roughed him up, man. He wasn’t a cat that could stand that kind of shit and they really went for him like when hound dogs smell blood. “There’s one that’ll break if we keep on.” And they busted him and busted him. That cat got so paranoid at the end like they did to Lenny Bruce, the same tactics, break him down. Maybe with Mick and me they felt, well, they’re just old lads.
Mick read a poem for Brian at the concert.
He read something from Shelley. He wanted to do it for Brian. It’s a tough thing . . . the first thing you’ve done on stage before an audience in two years. To get up and read a Shelley poem. He wanted to do it for Brian. He said it was necessary to make some sort of incantation.
And the butterflies . . . they were really nice. Biggest public gathering in London for over two hundred years. The last time they had a gathering that big in England, it started a people’s revolt. Had to be put down with the dragoons.
You did songs from Beggars Banquet.
Yeah. It had already been out quite a while because we’d had Let It Bleed almost finished. We took it with us to the States where we met Bobby and Jim Price.
The whole Satan trip really comes out after Beggars Banquet.
I think there’s always been an acceptance . . . I mean Kenneth Anger told me I was his right-hand man. It’s just what you feel. Whether you’ve gotten that good and evil thing together. Left hand path, right hand path, how far do you want to go down?
Once you start, there’s no going back. Where they lead to is another thing.
The same place?
Yeah. So what the fuck? It’s something everybody ought to explore. There are possibilities there. A lot of people have played on it, and it’s inside everybody. I mean, Doctor John’s whole trip is based on it.
Why do people practice voodoo? All these things bunged under the name of superstition and old wives’ tales. I’m no expert in it. I would never pretend to be, I just try to bring it into the open a little. There’s only so much you can bring into the open.
There’s got to be people around who know it all, man. Nobody ever really finds out what’s important with the kinds of government you’ve got now. Fifty years after, they tell you what really went on. They’ll let you know what happened to Kennedy in a few years’ time. It’s no mystery. An enormous fuckup in the organization, a cog went wrong, and they’ll say who did it. But by then it won’t matter, they’ll all be dead and gone and “Now it’s different, and in this more enlightened age . . . “
“I shouted out who killed the Kennedys.” Does that thing hold for Mick too, or is it more a show business thing?
Mick and I basically have been through the same things. A lot of it comes anyway from association and press and media people laying it on people. Before, when we were just innocent kids out for a good time, they’re saying, “They’re evil, they’re evil.” Oh I’m evil, really? So that makes you start thinking about evil.
What is evil? Half of it, I don’t know how much people think of Mick as the devil or as just a good rock performer or what? There are black magicians who think we are acting as unknown agents of Lucifer and others who think we are Lucifer. Everybody’s Lucifer.
Does that produce things like Altamont?
As I said, I particularly didn’t like the atmosphere there by the time we went on. After a day of letting some uniforms loose, what can you expect? Who do you want to lay it on? Do you want to just blame someone, or do you want to learn from it? I don’t really think anyone is to blame, in laying it on the Angels.
If you put that kind of people in that kind of position . . . but I didn’t know what kind of people they were. I’d heard about the Angels but I haven’t lived in California and San Jose, I have no contact with those people. I don’t know how uncontrolled they are, how basic their drives are.
But when the Dead told us, “It’s cool. We’ve used them for the last two or three years, Kesey cooled them out,” I was skeptical about it but I said, “I’ll take your word for it. I’ve taken everybody’s word for it up till now that they know what they’re doing when they put on a show.” You have to accept that for a start, that it’s gonna be together when you get there or else you never get to any gigs. Few ripoff promoters in the Midwest though . . .
Who put the Angels in that position? Specifically.
Specifically? . . . we asked the Dead basically if they would help us get a free concert together. First we had this idea we want to do a free concert and we want to do it in Frisco because that’s where they do a lot of free concerts. Who do you ask and who’s done more free concerts than anybody – the Grateful Dead. It’s very nice, man, we hung around, talked about lots of things, played a bit. They said this is how they done it and this is a big one and they think they can get it together.
It comes down to how many people can you put together. In India they’re used to that many people turning up for a religious occasion. But this was not a religious occasion and also it was in the middle of the fucking desert, in California with freeways. We were so hassled. We were in Muscle Shoals, trying to make a record. Meanwhile they’re going through all these hassles with people saying yeah you can set up a stage and put up all your equipment and then saying “Fuck off.” We’d been going through it throughout the whole tour, man. “Golden Gate Park, yes it’s on. No no. City officials say no.” Then they pack across the Bay.
We’re still in Alabama, into making records. And so we have to take people at their word. We have to trust them. And they could do it, and they did. But it wasn’t their fault they didn’t have enough time to think about the parking or how people are going to get there or the johns or the . . . they thought of them to a certain extent but nobody knew exactly how many people were coming anyway. Then you get there and what a fucking place, man. Well, let’s just make the best of it.
I went out there the night before Mick. Mick went back. I stayed there. I just hung around, met a few nice people. It was really beautiful. That night before, everywhere I went was a gas. People were sitting around their fires, really cool, getting high and I ended up in a trailer and woke up when it was about a hundred and ten degrees inside.
Were you there when Mick got hit?
I was there the whole fucking day in that trailer. Also, it’s the last gig. Do this and we go home. So everybody is in sort of that final mad rush. We’d done this incredible flight from New York to West Palm Beach and sat on the tarmac in the plane for nine hours at LaGuardia, in New York while they got it ready. We got to the gig eight hours behind schedule, after a helicopter flight. We got on at four o’clock in the morning. Below zero. And that was the last gig of the tour proper.
Those kids waited all night to see you.
They were great. Such a sight. That place wasn’t much better than Altamont. Everyone was frozen stiff. We got it on for a bit but everybody dug it. It was a gas. By the time we finished and got back to the hotel on the beach, dawn was coming up, the sun was warm and we went to Muscle Shoals.
When did you first feel things might turn out badly?
The Airplane’s gig. When I heard what they done to Marty Balin, they’re gettin’ out of hand. It’s just gonna gel worse, I thought, obviously it’s not going to get better. Nothing’s gonna cool them out once they start. What a bummer. What can you do? Just sit tight.
Did you consider not going on?
Can you think what that would have caused on top of getting all the people to the place? Talk about one cat getting killed . . . on top of that, everybody was very sensitive. America suddenly seems to have developed this hyper-sensitivity to life and death that I’d never seen them concerned with before. I never saw them concerned when a cop got crushed at Long Beach.
I don’t care who it is. Some Angel or whatever . . . the underground suddenly leaps up in a horrified shriek when some spade hippie gets done, which is a terrible thing, but they never got uptight if some cop got done. Some cop, he’s probably on extra duty, and he gets crushed at a pop concert. That one really brought me down. I could never believe it ended up in the 15th page of the Herald-Tribune or whatever it was called. That sort of thing makes you want to stop. I don’t demand sacrifices at this stage of the game.
What information were you getting at Altamont as to what was going on?
Ah, it’s obvious, man. Maybe they’ll do me the next time I go there, but they were out of control, man. The Angels shouldn’t have been asked to do the job. I didn’t know if the Angels were still like Marlon Brando had depicted fifteen years before, or whether they’d grown up a little or if they’re still into that “don’t touch my chromework” bit. All right. Someone else should have known that. If they didn’t, then the Angels kept it very well hidden for a long time.
Who should have known? Sam Cutler?
Sam Cutler was with us all the time, man.
Ronnie Schneider? John Jaymes?
They should have known. I think the Dead should have known. Rock Scully should have known, I think. He didn’t. I spoke to him, we all spoke to him and he trusted those cats, man, to do just a good job of keeping the stage clear of people so no plugs’ll get pulled out and no chaos would ensue. Somewhere along they flipped.
The people look very very stoned in Gimme Shelter.
People were just asking for it. All those nude fat people, just asking for it. They had those victims’ faces. That guy was pathetic. Most of this I’ve seen from the movie. Same as anyone else. Most of the people who’ve seen what went down at Altamont have caught it from the movie. When I was there, I just heard a bit, I never actually saw anything flying till we went on.
What did you see when you went on?
The usual sort of chaotic scene.
Did you wail purposely until it was dark to go to heighten the effect”
Oh man, I’d been there 24 hours, I couldn’t wait to get out of that place. It was fuckups, the beatups, the chaos, our people telling us not to go on yet, let the people cool down a bit. Those campfire sessions, they always go on longer than expected anyway.
What happens when you come out on stage?
Perfectly normal. Go into “Jumpin” Jack Flash.” It felt great and sounded great. I’m not used to bein’ upstaged by Hell’s Angels – goddammit, man, somebody’s motorbike. I can’t believe it. For a stunt. What is the bike doin’ there anyway, in the fourth row of the fucking . . . it would have looked better up on stage and it would have been safer too.
So the cat left his bike there and it got knocked over so that was the first one. “Oh dear, a bike’s got knocked over.” Yes. I perfectly understand that your bike’s got knocked over, can we carry on with the concert? But they’re not like that. They have a whole thing going with their bikes, as we all know now. It’s like Sonny Barger, “If you’ve spent $1700 . . . ‘
Well, if that’s what you want to get together, that’s fine but I really don’t think if you leave it in front of half a million people, you can’t expect it to not to get knocked over.
What if someone tried to do your guitar? They’d get punched out very quickly, wouldn’t they?
I don’t kill him, man. And I don’t get five hundred buddies of mine to come down and put their boot in too. I don’t have it organized to that extent. If someone tries to do my guitar, and I don’t want it to be done, it’s between him and me. I don’t call in Bill Wyman to come in and do him over for me, with one of his vicious ankle-twisters or Chinese burns.
I didn’t see any killings. If I see any killing going on, I shout “Murder.” You dig, when you’re on stage you can’t see much, like just the first four rows. It’s blinding, like a pool of light in complete darkness, unless someone out there lights up a cigarette. Ail you see is lights out there. If someone strikes one or shines one. Since all this went on 10 or 15 rows back, the only time we were aware of trouble was when suddenly a hundred cats would leap in front of us and everybody would start yelling.
But you stopped playing right after the stabbing and Sam Cutler went to the mike for a doctor.
Someone asked for a doctor, yeah. Half of our concerts in our whole career have been stopped for doctors and stretchers. How much responsibility for the gig are you going to lay on the cat who’s playing and how much on the cat that organized it? Rolling Stones’ name is linked with Altamont. It wasn’t our production particularly. Our people were involved but they were relying on local knowledge.
There were all these rumors flashing around. “There’s a bomb gone off and 20 people have been blown to bits, man.” You say, “I think you got it wrong, man, I’m sure you got it wrong.” ‘Cause you’ve been hearing crazy rumors all day, that you’re dead, as ridiculous as that. By the time you’re in California and you’ve gone through a whole tour and you’ve heard all those rumors that seem to go round and around and around . . . you don’t believe anything. I don’t believe anything at the end of an American tour ever.
Mick seemed to know something was going on, he tried to cool it out.
The same as Grace Slick tried earlier. “Be cool, be cool.” For all the control one can have over an audience, it doesn’t mean you can control the murderers. That’s a different thing, man, you can’t make someone’s knife disappear by just looking at him. Somehow in America in ’69 – I don’t know about now, and I never got it before – one got the feeling they really wanted to suck you out.
Like at the Rainbow Room press conference. So ridiculous, cats asking what to do about the Vietnam War. “What are you asking me? You’ve got your people to get that one together.” And they’re asking you about everything, about your third eye . . . it’s very nice. But you can’t be God. You can’t ever pretend to play at being God . . . Altamont, it could only happen to the Stones, man. Let’s face it. It wouldn’t happen to the BeeGees and it wouldn’t happen to Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
Except that they were there and it didn’t make a difference.
Were they? I heard they were in some airport and didn’t come, all those rumors. The wisest people I saw were Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh in that movie: “Those Angels beatin’ the shit out of people? I ain’t goin’ in there.” I don’t blame the Dead for not working. I just wish they . . . ah, it’s too late. Maybe what saves the whole thing is making a movie about it and showing what went down and maybe a little less belief in uniforms.
Does the money from that film go to Meredith Hunter’s family?
I don’t know, man. As far as I know, the Maysles, the cats who made it, told me that the premiers in various cities have been to help street clinics . . . I don’t know about the Meredith Hunter scene because it’s all litigation. It’s all lawyers.
I’ve never met his mother. They should get something from somebody. Because . . . I don’t know. I get like Charlie when I get down and think about it. The cat was waving a gun, man, and he looked very spaced out.
But the gun was unloaded.
Tell it to Wild Bill Hickock, man.
How did John Jaymes get to the Stones?
Ronnie Schneider we’d known. He’s Klein’s nephew but he broke away from him. He’s a smart cat. I dig Ronnie. He’d been on a lot of tours with us handling business and hung around with us. He was the only cat we knew in ’69 who could handle the Stones tour that everybody knew, that we could leave to get on with it till we got there.
How Jaymes got in, I don’t know. First met him in L.A. I don’t know the whole riff that goes down there. Just like I don’t know the whole riff about America, who organizes it all. Occasionally, they show up. Leave it at that. They laid some good shit on me, those people.
The story is that Jaymes had ex-narcos who did heavy numbers on the Stones.
He was an ex-narco.
And he had bodyguards . . . were you being held prisoner?
Oh no, man. It’s nice . . . I get the riff. I get the riff. No, there was some paranoia among the organizational people about Uncle Alan. It comes down to the . . . uh . . . the Jewish trade unions and the Italian trade unions, y’see. There are these two trade unions. And they just love to fuck with each other. And it was down to family connections, as far as I could see. And I just wanted to get on with the tour.
And Jaymes’ people were going to protect you.
No, in the crew, there were street cats, Chip Monck’s crew, very together cats. But there were stories of things being dropped on their heads from unusually high places and weird coincidences. Just things I hear. You never know if its the truth or rumors. Everyone gets paranoid. There’s a lot of other peoples’ paranoia beside your own, which you can probably cope with. How many strings can you pull at once? Twelve is my maximum . . . six is my specialty.
But no one liked Jaymes, did they?
Ah, on the last American tour we did in ’66, you never expected to meet anyone you liked. All you expected to meet were assholes and maybe laugh at them, and that’s where the whole cynical thing really was fed. Being left adrift with the editor of Sixteen magazine for two days. Or having the prizewinner of some schnooky competition in Iowa to have lunch with. I think once in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we did wind up with the Mayor and his daughter in the civic banqueting hall.
She escaped intact?
I think Brian let rip with a few golden oldies. I know we ended up in the supermarket across the road, buying records.
What were the concerts on the tour like before Altamont?
I remember enjoying them. There’s always a bummer. It was probably West Palm Beach. You could enjoy the people for hanging around that long but it was too fucking cold to play properly and we tried to do the whole show . . . too fucking cold. A bummer. After Madison Square Garden, came out of three shows there to freeze your balls off in a Florida swamp. We always get ’em.
It was the first time you saw that America.
It was the first time we played it. Mick and I had been to L.A. in ’68, the Strip every night. I dug what was going on there. Brian and I popped over a few times in ’67 incognito. Went over in December ’66 with Brian. Down in Watts a lot. Very stoned. We got so out of it we wanted to go back and do some more. Without having to play a gig every night. It was the only place we knew where to score, man.
And then Mick and I went in ’68 to mix down Beggars Banquet with Jimmy and stayed for two months. Hung out with Taj and the Burritos. Went to the Palomino a lot.
I think England has such a high standard in heavy drugs. Well, the system for junkies was beautiful. It’s fucked up now because it’s a halfway thing. They really had it under control. It depends how you want to see junk.
It’s two years since I’ve been to America, which is the longest period ever I’m away. I hear stories. You hear how that junk thing is getting heavier and heavier. I been through all that. It depends how you want to see it. There’s a lot of Chinese shit around. That’s all I can say. That’s another one of those rumors.
You get young kids as junkies in the cities.
You know what it does. It’s on the wrong end. They should turn on to it when they’re 60. All these old ladies down here, learn a lesson from these old chicks. For a start look at its effect on a nine-year-old. Say he kicks when he’s 15. More than likely he’ll only be 10 or 11 when he’s 15. His voice will break suddenly. Puberty is delayed.
But these old ladies, they leave it alone, then start hitting morphine and horse and they don’t feel things like lumbago and arthritis and the plague or old age and things like that. They live to 90, 105. It’s a particular Europe trip. Old rich people.
If you’re going to get into junk, it stands to reason you should . . . for a start, in guys particularly, it takes the place of everything. You don’t need a chick, you don’t need music, you don’t need nothing. It doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s not called “junk” for nothing. Why did Burroughs kick it, after 25 years? He’s thankful he kicked it, believe me.
How about for making music?
People have offered me a lot of things over the years, mainly to keep going . . . “Work ya bastard. Take one of these.” I’ve tried a lot of shit. I don’t even know what it is. I personally think . . . it depends if you’re ready. Same with alcohol. You should find out what it does. If you don’t know what it does and you’re just putting it in, for the sake of it, you’re a dummy.
What it does depends on what form you take it in. Some people snort, some people shoot it. You tell me what it does. The Peruvians, they chew it, and that’s the trip. You can buy it in any grocery store and you eat it with a hunk of limestone and it just freezes you . . . at 11,000 feet it’s hard to breathe anyway. Those cats have 47 percent more red corpuscles than us lowlanders. Huge lungs, and they’re chewing it all the time. You buy it along with your eggs and your lemons. It depends how you take it.
People also say the drunker you are, the better you play.
All those things are true. The first time you go out every time roaring drunk, after five years you’re a fucking wreck. And you still might think it’s a gas, but you’re making it for yourself, which is cool, but people are coming and paying and you’re not turning them on, you’re only turning yourself on. And you don’t know.
What works for you?
It used to be booze. It used to be this . . . I try not to get behind anything for too long anymore because . . . I’ve been hung up on things. I’ve got to travel on, I’ve got to be on stage, I don’t want to be hung up carrying all those things with me. When I go through, I go through clean. I’m a clean man.
Again, about Hendrix . . .
I don’t know if someone sold him some bad shit or what. These days they’re selling stuff, it’s no longer cut with talcum powder and sugar, its cut with caustic soda, or with Ajax. England is a very healthy place in a way, or was, because they fucked it and they’re gonna let the big boys in now for sure. They’re blowing it by the way they’re handling the drug situation. People will go somewhere else to look for junk and buy bad shit.
Once things get into powders . . . Arthur Machen wrote a story about white powder back in 1909 . . . a guy takes more and more white powder until one night he turns into a blob and drips through the ceiling. Since then I haven’t touched a white powder if I don’t know what they are. Even if it’s for the runs.
You, though, are in a unique position. People listen when you sing, and Sticky Fingers is a heavy drug album, one way or another.
I don’t think Sticky Fingers is a heavy drug album any more than the world is a heavy world. In 1964, I didn’t used to run into cats in America who’d come up to me and say, “Do you want some skag? Do you want some coke? Do you want some acid? Do you want some peyote?” And then go through all those initials and names. Now you have trouble avoiding them.
People who think you’re ready to finance every drug smuggling expedition in the world. “Hey listen, I’m not interested. You got the wrong idea.” The cats that are into it are into it because they’re good at . . . they’ve taken their chances at it. They’re not doing it for nothing, it’s either they’re getting their rocks off or they’re into it for bread. A lot of cats get their kicks going through customs. So what, man?
How about a 12 or 13-year-old kid who buys Sticky Fingers and that’s the first time he hears about cocaine, or he finds out that “Brown Sugar” has another meaning?
Well, I didn’t find out that “Brown Sugar” had another meaning . . . we wrote it in ’69. And as far as I can tell they weren’t calling it brown sugar then.
Horse, in some places. Apparently what they get in L.A., it’s light brown with brown lumps in it. I don’t know where that stuff comes from or what it is. These people don’t know what they’re getting. If you don’t know what you’re getting, you don’t know what you’re putting into yourself. And if you don’t know that, you’re a dummy. Nobody would eat meat with maggots crawling out of it but people will shoot up some shit they don’t know about.
Don’t take my example. Take Jimi Hendrix. Or not. Depending on where you are and how you feel. Who says you’ve got to live threescore and ten years? There’s only one source of information I know that says that, and even that doesn’t say everybody’s got to make it. Everybody can’t make 70.
Do you want to make 70?
I can’t even imagine what it’s like, to be 70. When I was 20 I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be 28.
Can you imagine 30?
It’s only two years away. I don’t know, not really. Thirty still seems like a real trip to me. And I know 33 is a real trip: 33 is a year.
When Christ was crucified . . .
Everybody who reaches 33, goes through some weird things.
About Sticky Fingers . . .
I mean, though there are songs with heavy drug references, as people have pointed out to me. Me being completely unaware of the situation. They’re all actually quite old, which maybe indicates that we were into those things a couple of years ago, three years ago. Maybe we recorded it 20 years ago, man, you know.
I mean, people, you can’t take a fucking record like other people take a bible. It’s only a fucking record, man. Goddamn it, you know, you might love it one day, you might hate it the next. Or you might love it forever, but it doesn’t mean to say that whatever it says in there you’ve got to go out and do, you’ve got to go out and say.
There’s no rules, you know. When it was teenybopper time one just despaired anyway. I mean, what was the relevance of it.
What did it all mean?
Yeah. Suddenly you’re a pop star. Well, you do that because you know pop stars only last two years anyway. So you go through it: “Oh, you know, I’ll be that for a bit.” The thing is that things change along with it.
You understand that hardly anybody especially in America —
I thought that also along with it had changed that sort of bullshit, that authority. The establishment has its fingers on show business in this way that in fact it comes out through the mouth of justice itself. “Since you are an idol of millions you therefore hold special responsibilties.”
In actual fact, you don’t. There’s only him that says you do. You don’t shoulder any responsibilities when you pick up a guitar or sing a song, because it’s not a position of responsibility.
Some people try and reflect it, don’t they? Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? The song, “Chicago” – like that.
Good topical stuff.
Which sells records?
Certainly. Mayor Daley’s a good target. And there’s a million Mayor Daleys in America. Why have a go at one? Sure he’s cunt, you know, everyone knows he’s a cunt. But there’s a million hiding behind. Last time I was in L.A. I met the old lady that owns most of those head shops in the Strip, man. She’s got a little home in Beverly Hills, she’s rolling, you know. She’s made a packet, man, and she gets those little hippies to work in there. And it’s a front, man. It’s all a fucking front. There’s another Mayor Daley.
I mean, who knows where they are? How many times can you use those words – justice, freedom. It’s like margarine, man. You can package it and you can sell that too. In America they have a great talent for doing that.
And so, as I was saying, just because it’s on a record doesn’t mean that you have to take it for what it is. The cat could be lying, you know, at the end of the record, you know, maybe they cut the tape off and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m lying. You know, I’m just fooling you.” But they just happened to edit the tape there, you know. “I’m putting you on.”
Maybe Dylan said at the end of “Visions of Johanna” – oh, I don’t know, which is a very personal thing – but maybe he said it at the end of some of his earlier stuff: “But I don’t give a fuck.” at the end of “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “That’s up to you,” maybe said that.
But they just, by the time somebody gets to a record anyway, they’ve got to realize that even our records have gone through the hands of some of the straightest people you could ever meet. Nearly all the Rolling Stones records – you know this is the first album that hasn’t – have gone through this very straight English private fucking company, man. They’re the people that are really giving it to you. It’s not us that are giving it, we’re giving it to them.
Because that’s the only way you can get records out, and they’re giving it to the people. So really it’s coming from them anyway. I mean, we went through a lot of hassles with them, but it’s not like straight from us to you. It’s always going through the hands of somebody, and the thing is to try and get those hands into the same sort of sympathy.
The music says something very basic and simple, man. Which, I don’t know, exasperates. I mean, look at Richard Nixon and then look at your average young cat in the street, or some Indian cat. It’s all there, you’ve only got to look at what’s in front of you. And that’s all we’ve ever been trying to do. Not trying to tell people where to go or which way to go because I don’t know. We’re all following. I mean, it’s all going to happen. It’s all coming down.
And to us it might seem, oh, world population. Before there were newspapers and radios and TV you wouldn’t hear about that . . . You would never hear about that plague in India or Bengal that they’re having and the cholera thing. If you was living in Wales at the time of the great plague in London you probably wouldn’t get to hear about that until five years after it happened. And so, something like world population, you wouldn’t even know about it.
Depends how worried you want to get about everything. I mean, how can you worry about world population, whose problem is that? You tell me.
Everybody feels they ought to do something about it. If you know the facts. On the face of it it sounds scary. But after a while it always splits into two things, one side is “Oh, in ten years there’s going to be so many people on the earth and you not going to be able to do this, that and the other” and the other says, “Oh yes; it’s going to be terrible for them, but it’s going to be all right for us.”
And then there’s “Oh, the world’s growing too much food and they’re just throwing it all away, enough to feed the world five times over is being thrown into the Atlantic Ocean”: and the only reason it’s not getting to the people that need it to stay alive is either because they don’t want to afford the cost of transporting it to those people or they want those people to die anyway. I mean, what about that tidal wave in Pakistan, man? Quarter of a million in one night.
No way to understand it. On the face of that, what kind of music are you writing?
I’ll just keep on rocking and hope for the best. I mean that’s really what in all honesty it comes down to. I mean why do people want to be entertainers or do they want to listen to music or come and watch people make music? Is it just a distraction or is it a vision or God knows what? It’s everything to all kinds of people. You know, it’s all different things.
Ok, but the music’s changing. “Can’t you hear me knockin'” changed because of Bobby Keyes and Jim Price. “Moonlit Mile” is a change.
Yeah, it’s a gas to play. It’s a gas not to be so insulated and play with some more people, especially people like Bobby, man, who sort of on top of being born at the same time of day and the same everything as me has been playing on the road, man, since ’56 – ’57.
He was on Buddy Holly’s first record. I mean he’s a fantastic cat to know, for somebody who’s into playing rock and roll, because it’s been an unending chain for him. The first few years that he was playing around man, I was just the same as anyone, I was just listening to it and digging it and wondering where it came from. And he was there, man. Bobby’s like one of those things that goes all the way through that whole thing, sails right through it.
I didn’t know it man, but we played on the same show as Bobby Keys in ’64, first time we went to San Antone. San Antone State Fair, no, Teen Fair, San Antone Teen Fair, 1964. George Jones, Bobby Vee, that’s who Bobby Keys was playing with, playing with Bobby Vee’s backup band. I remember that gig, but I don’t remember Bobby.
But the reason I remember San Antone so much is waking up and this is, I mean, a young English cat never been face to face with the realities of American life. San Antone was like one of the first places we hit after Omaha and L.A. L.A., Omaha. San Antone, you know, really right in there.
I put on the TV the first morning: “15 killed last night in a brawl down on the river Brazos” or whatever it is. I thought, “God, they’re riotin’ down here, what’s going on?” “Is it a race riot, old chap?”. “Did you hear that? All these weird people with this English accent.”
Turn on the TV next morning, 18 people killed last night and it slowly began to sink in, right, every night around 15 or 20 people get it done to them in San Antone, either Mexicans or spades or kids that go out. I mean in ’65, I don’t know if the locals are still up to it but in ’64 they were very into spick hunting. You know, just go across the river on a Friday night and have a night, have a little chiv up.
I mean that’s amazing. Why doesn’t someone do something about that? That’s what I used to think then. You know, that doesn’t happen in my home town. It happens, one could find it, you could find it in any town, you could find it in my town, sure. But it wasn’t that 18 people were dead the next morning, you know, and one could certainly get one’s self chipped about quite easily.
You don’t have to go very far to provoke, even in an English town, to get yourself done over, but 15 people dead, you know, 12 people, you know. If I’m exaggerating over the years, 12 people dead or whatever. But regularly every morning! I was there for about four or five days and every morning it was within two or three of 15. They’re probably still going on now, man. I bet that morgue makes a fortune.
You going to start working on a new album here?
Yeah, right in me own basement, as it turns out. After months of searching I end up sitting on it.
How long has it been since Sticky Fingers was finished? How long since the band recorded?
We finished – when were the last sessions, man? Was I even there for the last sessions of Sticky Fingers?
And it took over a year, did it?
Well, I mean, stretched out, the songs, one could say it stretched over two years, you know, because “Sister Morphine” comes from ’68, although we cut it in early ’69. Some songs were written awhile ago.
But Stones albums usually take a long time, don’t they?
They’ve usually taken longer and longer.
Why is that?
Which really pisses me off. Because everybody’s laid back a little more and everybody has other things, they do other things now, whereas when it was just a matter of being on the road and recording, that’s all you did, you know, and that was it. And obviously you could do things much quicker that way.
But I mean, if we carried on doing it like that, we’d probably be doing it from wheelchairs already. Because you can’t carry on at that pace forever. You know, you can do it in spurts, but I mean, even if you’re young and a teenager, you get awfully drawn looking.
Do you reckon you could be doing more work than you are? More recording, laying down more tracks? You, personally?
Yeah, but you know, but you can’t have weddings of the year and solo albums and you know, I mean, it’s great fun.
You going to do a solo album?
No, I’m not going to do one. All I’m going to do is see if I’ve got enough things left over from Stones things that they don’t like that I do, that I might want to put out at some time, but I’m not going to go and make an album.
Too much trouble or what?
I can’t imagine doing it, you know? I can’t imagine making an album just like that. I’ve never had an urge to be a solo. Maybe I can get together one song, two songs a year, that I really feel that I want to sing. And so I do it and I put it on the Stones album. Because it’s cool. If I feel, if I become more productive, I’ll just collect things. I’ll just wait until I’ve got enough things.
Shit, man, I was just a hired guitar player when I started. Things grew out of that and I learned how to write songs just by sitting down and doing it. For me it seems inconceivable that any guitar player can’t sit down and write songs. I don’t see how a cat can play a guitar, really, and not be able to lay something down of his own in some way.
But that’s the way I feel because I happen to be able to do it. For some guitar players it’s inconceivable that nobody can play the guitar, you know, that anybody can’t just pick it up just like that.
Because to them it’s a second . . . you know. If it’s sort of in you, and it’s something that you’ve got together, it’s simple, you can’t explain it, it’s easy. How do you write a song? It’s fucking easy, man. I’ll come back in a few minutes and lay one on you. But if you’re one of these cats that sat down for fucking weeks and months and tried desperately to produce something and nothing ever comes out, it must seem like the greatest task in the world.
I mean, I’ve desperately tried to remain anonymous. The state the world is in today it’s much more of an advantage to remain anonymous than it is to be identifiable or recognized.
As a musician?
Fucking Chuck Berry wrote “Let It Rock” under E. Anderson, man, and it’s one of the best things he ever did. And yet he put it out, you know he’s got some tax publishing hassle, he puts it out under some middle name: Charles A. Berry, Edward Anderson, or whatever. He should have got recognition for it, and as far as I’m concerned he should definitely be recognized as the writer for “Let It Rock.” Would the U.S. Internal Revenue kindly bear it in mind.
How do you feel about the music business?
How can you check up on the fucking record company when to get it together in the first place you have to be out on that stage every fucking night, you have to get out there every night in front of the people saying here I am and this is what I do. You can’t keep a check on it. Someone else is handling all that bread.
We found out, and it wasn’t years till we did, that all the bread we made for Decca was going into making little black boxes that go into America Air Force bombers to bomb fucking North Vietnam. They took the bread we made for them and put it into the radar section of their business. When we found that out, it blew our minds. That was it. Goddamn, you find out you’ve helped to kill God knows how many thousands of people without even knowing it.
I’d rather the Mafia than Decca.
Anita: I mean, Mafia than the CIA, man. But if you’ve got to be on that stage every night, there’s no possible way of checking up on all those people.
Gram Parsons told me a great story about the Mafia. What they’re really into now is growing tomatoes. Tomatoes is the only business in America that you can still get cash on the nail so that if you drive up with a truck-load of tomatoes, you get money right off. So they have the whole tomato business sewn up.
Gram had an uncle who was growing a thousand acres of tomatoes and one day some guys came down in a limousine and got very heavy with him and said, “Why don’t you switch to citrus fruits and leave the tomatoes to us.”
Anita: Leave the tomatoes to us.
Keith: It gets so weird, one has to think about everything. I mean, they’re running it. They’re running America.
Anita: That’s why in an interview with the Daily Mirror Keith said he was ready to grow tomatoes.
Keith: A subliminal message to the Mafia. “Come see me, I’m ready to grow tomatoes.”
What is the conjunction of show business and crime?
A lot of money in entertainment. The criminal element is there for the bread. And where there’s crime, there’s cops. They’re both in the same business, right? Who else deals with crime but criminals and cops? They’re the only two that are hung up on it.
Anita: And Italians.
Anita’s seen it all, from another viewpoint. I mean, I’m always in the middle. I’ve heard incredible Rolling Stones stories I know nothing about. I don’t know if I was asleep in my room or . . . why did I miss out on that one?
This story is from the August 19th, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.