The Rolling Stones will not tour to mark their 50th anniversary this year, Rolling Stone has learned after separate interviews with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. “Basically, we’re just not ready,” says Richards. Instead, 2013 is the new goal. “I have a feeling that’s more realistic,” he adds.
But Stones insiders say that one reason for the delay is Richards’ health, which has raised questions about his ability to make it through a worldwide tour. The quality of the guitarist’s performances declined after he suffered a head injury on vacation in Fiji in April 2006, midway through the Bigger Bang tour. Many fans observed that his playing in Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light documentary later that year was weak — and often inaudible. After the tour, Richards put the guitar down completely. “You are looking at a very rusty Keith Richards right now,” he told Jimmy Fallon in 2010. “If you’ve been on the road for two years and suddenly you stop, you put it down for a little bit. And then a little bit longer and you say, ‘I really got to catch up, man.'”
A top concert-business source confirms the reservations over Richards’ condition. “They don’t want to do a full tour,” he says. “They don’t want to travel, and there are concerns about Keith’s health.” A more likely scenario would see the band camping out for multi-night runs in arenas, similar to Prince’s recent stands in New York and Los Angeles. “For example, they’d do 10 nights at MSG, 10 nights at Staples, 10 nights at London’s 02 arena,” the source adds.
The Stones are already considering offers: The band asked for proposals from promoters AEG, Live Nation and longtime Stones promoter Michael Cohl. “We’re drilling down on this new proposal,” says the source.
The news comes after the band gathered in a London studio in December and played together for the first time since the final night of the marathon two-year Bigger Bang tour in August 2007. Making the occasion even more special, former bassist Bill Wyman sat in for the first time since he left in 1992. “We played a lot of blues and outtakes of Some Girls and things like that,” says Jagger. “It went very well.”
Adds Richards, “It was a very back-to-basics sort of session. There was a lot of jamming. On the third day, Mick turned up, which was a real joy. Because I set it up really as a magnet, you know.”
After one of the longest periods of Stones inactivity ever, the group is revving up again for a slew of projects, including the 2013 dates, new studio sessions and a major documentary. “I saw Mick on Saturday,” Richards says. “He’s going to be living in New York too for a while, so we’re planning to get things going with the Stones again.” Richards adds that the Stones will begin rehearsing for a studio session as early as next month. “We’ll just get the boys back together again then and maybe cut a side,” he says. “I’ve got plenty in the locker here, but it’s not on tape.”
Richards appeared healthy and jovial at his first major performance in years, playing alongside Eric Clapton at the February 24th memorial concert for blues legend Hubert Sumlin at New York’s Apollo Theater. The guitarist has also been hard at work on a solo LP with producer Steve Jordan. “We’re not rushing it, ’cause there’s no need to,” Richards says. “But I’m quite surprised how much stuff is coming out of it.”
Three days earlier, Jagger proved he was in tour-ready form when he performed for President Obama at a White House blues celebration alongside B.B. King and Buddy Guy – his performance ranging from high-voltage R&B to the sleek soul of “Miss You.” “It was so much fun,” he says. “I’ve been playing guitar and singing and getting myself back together. You can’t just walk up there and do it. If you’re playing a football tournament, you’ve got to practice. I feel very confident. I don’t want to sound cocky, but it’ sjust part of what you do. If you prepare, then you can be cocky.”
In the meantime, fans will get their Stones fix from the upcoming documentary, out in the fall, which will trace the band’s entire 50-year journey and is packed with unseen footage and unreleased music. “Nobody has put the story together as a narrative,” says the movie’s director, Brett Morgen, who made 2002’s The Kid Stays in the Picture. “We’ve been looking under every rock going through their archives. It will be music never heard before, and I’ve conducted 50-plus hours of interviews so far. By the time we’re done, they will be the most extensive group interviews they’ve ever done.” Says Richards, “He told me 80 percent of the footage has never been seen before, which amazes me. I didn’t know there was that much around.”
Despite holding off on touring this year, the band is still buzzing from reuniting with Wyman. “We’re back in touch, which is great, because I hadn’t really spoken to him for years,” says Richards. Will Wyman rejoin the group on the road in 2013? “I think he’s up for it,” Richards says. “We talked about it. I’ll let you know when I can.”
And Richards points out that next year works just as well for an anniversary trek. “The Stones always really considered ’63 to be 50 years, because Charlie [Watts] didn’t actually join until January,” Richards says. “We look upon 2012 as sort of the year of conception, but the birth is next year.”
This story is from the March 29, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.