As The New Barbarians — Ron Wood and Keith Richards‘ quasi-Stones group – finished their first set at Civic Auditorium, the stage lights went down. Then a single white spotlight picked out Richards, his rooster hairdo aflop, sitting on a stool and holding an acoustic guitar. When he hit the first notes of “Prodigal Son,” Mick Jagger materialized beside him from out of the backstage darkness, and a frightening roar — almost like halleluja — rose spontaneously from 5000 devotees who’d paid from ten dollars (the list price) to $350 (the top scalper’s price) for a chance to see one of what will undoubtedly be the only Rolling Stones concerts in North America this year. The crowd had hoped, but didn’t know for sure, that Keith Richards’ benefit concert for the blind — the one stipulation of a suspended sentence for his 1977 heroin conviction in Canada — would be a Stones show. It was a full-blown Stones event.
In the Rolling Stones hagiography, when it is finally writ, the Oshawa shows will likely be referred to as something like Hot Rocks on Ice (the auditorium is an ice hockey arena). Whatever, the Stones’ two shows the evening of April 22nd were the most blistering, manic and high-powered they have performed in years. And the event had all the usual Stones trappings: bodyguards; forty journalists from the U.S., England and Germany unsuccessfully chasing the band; groupies laying siege to the Stones’ hotel in Toronto (thirty-two miles from Oshawa); Stones fanatics hitchhiking in from throughout Canada and the U.S. and camping out near the auditorium; and horrified local residents worrying that their peaceful town would be sacked and burned.
As it happened, Oshawa’s forty or so policemen were extremely polite and efficient, and handled the total crowd of 10,000 that came to the four p.m. and 8:30 p.m. shows very well; the only thing that burned was the music. After Mick and Keith did “Prodigal Son,” the rest of the Stones came out onto the minuscule stage and hit “Let It Rock,” and it was obvious the Stones were alive and well and raising hell.
Keith, now healthy and energetic after his cure from heroin addiction, had never played better — or cockier. He was all over the stage, confidently sweeping his right arm overhead with each run, goosing Jagger with his guitar neck. The Stones literally raced through most of the cuts from Some Girls, adding reggae touches here and there. Jagger, in his 1978 tour outfit — red pants, a pink Funky Butt T-shirt and white jacket — outdid himself with his prancing and dancing and was rewarded with ovation after ovation; perhaps the Stones have learned, after their 1978 outdoor stadium mistakes, that a 5000-seat arena is their perfect vehicle. For their finale of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the Stones were joined by the Barbarians for a powerhouse eight-minute rock & roll juggernaut. The Stones earned a full five minutes of strident boos for not doing an encore, but they had yet another set to do.
Jagger went off to a nearby pool for a swim and sauna bath to renew himself between sets. How Keith rejuvenated himself, I don’t know: he’d been up all night for the band’s rehearsal and would play a total of two sets with the Barbarians and the Stones.
Backstage, the only Stone in sight, Charlie Watts, was cooling himself in the hospitality room. “This is Keith’s thing,” he said. “We just all thought that it would be a good idea to come.” The Stones, in fact, lost a great deal of money by paying their own expenses to come: Watts flew in from England; Wyman, from France, and the sound equipment was down from the U.S.
Ronnie Wood was in the first-aid room, having makeup applied while OD cases piled up around him. “I’ll see you in a minute,” he smiled at me.
The second Barbarians set was considerably better than the first; this was, after all, their first show anywhere. Still, the crowd wanted nothing but the Stones. There were still hundreds of kids outside who wanted in but who would have to be content with the sounds that wafted out. After the second set, during which four crazed roof rats ascended the rafters and danced away on twelve-inch-wide beams forty feet above the audience, Jagger took another swim, and then the Stones’ caravan of limousines raced back to Toronto. There the Stones evaded groupies at the Four Seasons Hotel by taking the freight elevator up to their heavily guarded rooms on the twenty-ninth floor.
Jagger invited me into his suite and put on a cassette of the show. He turned it up and opened Heinekens for both of us.
I asked about the show. “Wal,” said Mick, “we tried to do it as uncommercial as possible. I mean, there were all these people who wanted four-page ads in the papers saluting the Rolling Stones. We refused that bullshit.” The tape started. “This was fun,” Mick said. He seemed pleased with what he heard. He laughed at the occasional missed notes and got up and danced to the sizzling sections. During “Respectable,” he jumped up off the couch and yelled, “C’mon, how we goin’ to end it? Somebody stop it.” Keith and Ron finally brought it to a clashing metallic finish and Mick smiled at that.
I asked him about the concert’s money aspects, since one of the morning papers had said the show would lose money. “Listen,” he said, turning to face me, “the judge’s sentence was to play for the disabled. Not for money. If it’d just been a matter of charity, of providing money, we’d have just written them a check. But the judge wanted Keith to perform, so we put on a show.”
We went off to the Stones’ food room to eat some barbecued ribs: the Stones do not consume twelve-year-old virgins after each show, contrary to public opinion. It was all rather sedate.
I thought back to last night’s rehearsal, which was one of the best Stones’ shows I’d ever seen: the Stones blowing it out in front of a few people in Toronto’s Centre Studio. John Belushi, who was to be emcee the next night, strolled through hawking T-shirts: “Eh, only five bucks.” But the Stones were deadly serious and worked their asses off all night. After the rehearsal, they came over to say hello.
“It’ll be wonderful tomorrow,” Keith said. “Be bloody awful,” Mick said half-facetiously. “Bloody awful hell.” But Mick continued, “It’ll probably be better than the first show of last year’s tour, because we’re looser. It’ll be wonderful.”
I asked Keith about his role with the Barbarians. “Well,” he laughed, “it gives me a chance to do more than just the one song I have with the Stones — ‘Before They Make Me Run.'” And what about Keith’s long-rumored solo album? “It’ll come,” he said. “I have a lot recorded, but we’ve still got to finish the Stones’ next album.”
One final note: since this was a benefit show for the blind (2600 tickets were given to the blind), the Stones printed up a braille program for the show. It was never handed out because of protests from a blind group that a braille program was patronizing.
Mick snorted at this: “That’s like illiterate people complaining they’re being discriminated against because a program has words on it and they can’t read.”
This is a story from the May 31, 1979 issue of Rolling Stone.