The Rolling Stones are strongly considering at least one live concert later this year to mark their 50th anniversary, Stones insiders tell Rolling Stone. Sources add that the band is still considering a tour in 2013. “It looks like we are going to be doing more stuff,” guitarist Ronnie Wood said recently at a U.K. awards show. “I am keeping October and November free – that’s what I’ve been told.” Adds Keith Richards, “We’re open for anything. It all seems that things are moving forward.”
The Stones began exploring possible options for their anniversary at a brief, informal jam session in London last December. Earlier this month, the band members gathered in New York for a full week of rehearsals – their first time playing together at such length since the final night of the marathon Bigger Bang tour at London’s 02 arena in August 2007 – “It was fantastic,” Richards says of the New York rehearsals. “We played everything. Charlie Watts and the band were in top form. I realized it had been five years!”
After several days in New York, the Stones continued working across the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey. On the final day of rehearsals, they invited a film crew led by director Brett Morgen – best known for 2002’s The Kid Stays in the Picture – to shoot footage for a documentary celebrating the group’s anniversary, set for a fall release. With longtime sideman Chuck Leavell on keyboards and producer Don Was on bass (their usual bassist, Darryl Jones, left earlier in the week due to touring commitments), the Stones blasted through classics including “Beast of Burden,” “Respectable,” “Fool to Cry” and “Gimme Shelter.” The vibe was joyful, with Richards and Mick Jagger joking around and breaking into laughter between takes. “Someone would mention a song, and within the second run they had nailed it,” Morgen says. “Having screened through 50 years of material over the last six months, I would rank it up there with anything I’ve ever heard from them. They were extremely tight.”
“We just did it to get our chops together,” Richards adds. “It was like playing in the garage. A maintenance check, you know?”
Morgen has also conducted more than 50 hours of interviews with the Stones for the film – including with former members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor. “Most of the time the band is doing interviews, they’re focused on what they’re promoting,” Morgen says. “It’s not that often they sit down to do a two-hour interview about 1966.” The film will include previously unseen footage and music from the Stones’ official archives and private collections. “There’s a ton of stuff just from ’64 to ’66 that’s never seen the light of day,” says Morgen. “It’s an embarrassment of riches.”
One big question remains: Will the band mount another massive world tour next year? “They don’t want to do a tour,” says a top concert-industry source. “They just want to do some special dates in major markets.” In that scenario, the Stones might play multi-night runs in major cities like London and Los Angeles. But Richards insists that a tour is still possible: “The door is open for anything.”
If the group does choose to tour, industry sources say, it could top A Bigger Bang‘s $550 million gross. “If anything, they would probably be more relevant this time,” adds the industry source. “There are not that many iconic bands this important with this kind of repertoire that can tour as a unit.”
And while earlier tour discussions were tabled due to concerns about Richards’ health, sources say the guitarist has been working seriously on getting in touring shape. “I’m fine, man,” he tells Rolling Stone. “All cool.”
Richards’ sometimes tempestuous relationship with Jagger is on better footing, too – in March, during an interview for Morgen’s film, Richards apologized to Jagger for disrespectful comments in his 2010 memoir, Life. “Things are very, very cool,” Richards says. “We operate very well together right now.”
In addition to the anniversary preparations, the Stones are keeping busy with solo work. Jagger was set to host Saturday Night Live‘s season finale May 19th backed by Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters and Jeff Beck (Richards plans to watch from home); Wood played a solo gig in Atlantic City in April with several veteran Stones sidemen; and Watts has booked a stand of New York shows in June and July for his jazz band. Richards, meanwhile, co-produced an album for Aaron Neville at New York’s Electric Lady Studios in March, and continues to work with drummer Steve Jordan on a long-gestating solo project. “Everything starts off as an idea for the Stones,” Richards says. “But if the Stones are not around, I’m gonna put ’em out or do something with them – you know what I mean?”
In December, Richards said he’d love for former bassist Wyman and guitarist Taylor to reunite with the Stones again to mark their 50th anniversary, and the offer still stands. “If it’s a Stones thing, anybody who’s a Stone is welcome,” Richards says.
As the band rehearsed in Weehawken, Taylor was also in town, for a rare run of solo gigs at the Iridium Jazz Club, jamming on Stones cuts from “No Expectations” to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” Drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette outside a bar between gigs, Taylor says he’s open to playing with the band for the first time in more than 30 years. “I actually have seen them quite a lot in London at the office,” he says. “We go there for different things. Yes, we might play together. It’s not really up to me – it’s up to Mick Jagger. He’s the driving force. But they can’t afford to wait too long, though. Time is not on their side anymore, is it?”
This story is from the July 7th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.