M y cab is cruising through the winding entrance of the Harbour Castle Hilton in Toronto, temporary home for the Rolling Stones , and I have no idea what to expect. All I know is what I've read (and written myself): Keith Richards has been busted again; his bust — right here at the Harbour Castle — happened just days after his common-law wife, Anita Pallenberg, was arrested by Mounties at the airport; and there is serious talk that the Stones have had it.
I know the Stones are here to record two nights of live shows at El Mocambo Tavern to complete a live album. But now with the busts, the Stones are once again in chaos. I'd been with them before, in 1975 on their Tour of the Americas, and there had been speculation then that the end was near. I know I'll have to face Mick Jagger with what has become a tired question: could this be the last time? Perhaps for the first time, he'll have to give the question serious thought, and an answer.
But first there was the Stones hierarchy: aides, attorneys, security, and the two men I would run up against most frequently in Toronto: Paul Wasserman, number one among rock & roll press agents ( the Who , Bob Dylan , George Harrison , Linda Ronstadt , Crosby, Stills and Nash , Neil Diamond ), who is often paid to keep his clients out of the press. And manager Peter Rudge, formerly American manager of the Who, currently manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd , a dapper but hyper Briton, well-known for pulling the unexpected. Rudge has been trying to keep the activities of the Rolling Stones in Toronto a secret. God only knows what will happen when he learns that I'm here.
After I check in to the Harbour Castle, I slip into the lobby — which is packed with local journalists and patrolled by Mounties — and run into Bill Carter. He is a tough lawyer out of Little Rock, Arkansas, who was a U.S. Secret Service agent under Kennedy and Johnson, and who is now the Stones' very efficient American attorney and chief of tour security. I know him from the '75 tour. We retire to a corner of the Quayside bar to talk.
Not ten minutes later, Peter Rudge walks by, sees me, and turns pale. Another half-hour later, he finally comes over to shake hands — gingerly. "I forbade American press, you know," he says. "Also, we knew you were coming. Why do you think you couldn't get a room on our floor?"
I am, in fact, stuck on the seventh floor, while the Stones entourage is scattered between 29 and 34.
"I already have the rooming list," I tell him.
"I'll bet you do," he says, and walks away. (I had acquired a list of the most important rooms, thanks to the worldwide tendency of hotel chambermaids to trade information for cash.)
There were two stories to get here. One had to do with the Stones' first club concerts since Bristol, England, November 13th, 1964 — your basic "The-Stones-do-a-concert-and-make-a-record" piece.
The other story started February 24th, when Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg were stopped at the Toronto airport. Customs agents and Mounties from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police narcotics office at the airport searched Pallenberg's 28 pieces of luggage and allegedly found hashish and traces of heroin. While she was being booked and released — in Brampton, which has jurisdiction over the airport area — Keith and their seven-year-old son Marlon went to the Harbour Castle Hilton. Keith registered in six different rooms, using the name "Redlings." These rooms are called "floaters" in the rock & roll world, and they can be very useful to major rock stars. When you have no name and many rooms, then you are not there.
Three days after Anita's bust, Mounties and Ontario provincial police swarmed through the hotel, armed with a search warrant with Pallenberg's name on it. She was not registered, and it took the police 45 minutes before they located one of Keith's floaters, where they allegedly found an ounce of heroin.
Then the Mounties made a mistake. Presumably since they work out of the airport and since the warrant had Anita's name on it, they took Keith back out to Brampton to book him, rather than remaining in Toronto proper where the authorities might have been more concerned. The justice of the peace in Brampton released Keith on a $1000 no-deposit bail. He didn't have to post a cent.
That did not please the Mounties. They had charged him with possession with intent to traffic — a serious charge that can draw seven years to life in prison. High vs. low bail for Keith Richards, Rolling Stone, became an issue.
While the band went on with all-night rehearsals at rented studios, action picked up at the Harbour Castle. The lobby was suddenly populated with plain-clothes Mounties, groupies and reporters. The Stones' own beefy security force flew in. (They would have been outside Keith's floaters at the time of the bust, I was told later, but had been caught off-guard by a change in Keith and Anita's flight schedule from London.)
I leave Bill Carter at the Quayside and go off in search of Paul Wasserman, the press agent, to see what he is not allowed to tell me. When he opens the door to 3016 he sighs: "Why didn't you call me from New York? I could have told you that you weren't allowed to come." He ushers me in and opens a bottle of wine.
"I'd rather hear it in person," I say. "Are the Stones going to be recording at El Mocambo tonight? I know that April Wine has booked tonight through Saturday night for a recording session there, and I know that CHUM [radio] has been running a contest for tickets to a party with the Stones, and I know that April Wine's manager is a friend of Skippy Snair, who saved Peter Rudge's life in Montreal in 1975 when someone blew up the Stones' equipment and Skippy was the only person in Canada who was able to round up enough equipment in time to get the Stones onstage, and I know Skippy's been spotted here in the hotel. So — the Stones will play El Mocambo. Now, is it tonight?"
He sighs heavily. "You know more than I do. It doesn't matter. You can't get in anyway. No press. And you can't talk to the Stones either."
"Thanks a lot," I say on my way out. "I'll keep you posted on what's happening."
"Thanks. By the way, they won't be there tonight. There's a party here which you are not invited to. If you mention any of this to Peter, I'll deny having said it."
Since trying to crash a closed Stones party the first night would likely queer the whole deal, I decide to check out El Mocambo with a local reporter. There is a small crowd gathered outside the front door, which is locked. We knock at the window and an enormous bouncer scowls: "Closed session."
"Skippy sent us," we say, and the portals suddenly open. We go upstairs and watch April Wine play. It looks like a perfect place for the Stones: small, dark, sleazy and crowded, with a big orange moon and black palm trees as backdrop.
O n the eighth day of the Stones' latest crisis, Thursday, March 3rd, I am awakened by a phone call from Wasserman. "Why won't you ever believe me?" he asks indignantly. "We know that you got into El Mocambo last night. Why didn't you stay here and come to the party?"
There is silence on my end. What could I say to this master of double talk?
Wasserman resumes: "Carter and I are taking Anita to court this morning but there's no reason for you to go to that. They'll just remand her hearing to the 14th. The Stones rehearsed all night so they'll sleep all day. They're working on new material for a studio album. I didn't tell you that. Ciao. Remember something: all the phones here are tapped."
I scan the morning papers and wonder why there's nothing about Keith or Anita in them, until I remember that under Canadian law you cannot publish anything that could later be construed as evidence in pending cases: you can only cover the official hearings and verdicts and so on. There are other interesting items in the papers, though. Ontario Province attorney general Roy McMurtry apologizes for saying that the province should open up marijuana shops, since the courts were so cluttered with marijuana cases. An RCMP constable admitted in court that he had accidentally erased part of a phone wiretap that had been used as evidence in a hashish trial. There is an irate letter to the editor from one L.E. Wallingford about the RCMP which concludes that "we were harassed, intimidated, upset and humiliated, all because of an unfounded 'tip' and the Gestapo-like powers conferred on the RCMP. . ."
It doesn't surprise me when I call the RCMP and receive only a firm "no comment" about the Keith Richards case.
A friendly source within the Stones camp does tell me some interesting tidbits: "You can spot the Mounties in the lobby because they wear tiny receivers in their ears. . . We still don't know whether there was an informer in the hotel. I'm afraid this is serious. The Stones, especially Mick, are desperate and depressed. They think these are the last albums, the live one and the studio one. I'll tell you something else: we found a transmitter in Keith's room but the lawyers aren't going to mention it till they go to court."
Suddenly realizing that I am registered as being from Rolling Stone and wondering if the RCMP know the difference, I start searching my room every few hours to make sure nothing has been planted.
The RCMP are answerable only to the Federal Solicitor General's Department. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau himself, if he wanted to, could not intervene in Keith's case. "The closest comparison I can make," one local reporter tells me, "is that the Mounties are a combination of the FBI and the CIA."
I talk to one of the Stones' drivers, who tells me unmarked cars follow the Stones everywhere they go.
I get a call from Wasserman, just back from court, slightly irritated that CHUM referred to him as Anita's "large American bodyguard." "By the way," he says, "the Stones are recording tomorrow night at El Mocambo, but if you show up I'll throw you out."
"I'll be there," I say and hang up. I call Peter Rudge and argue with him for a while, but he is clearly operating in some other dimension. Check into the Harbour Castle and you have to check your sense of reality at the door.
Wasserman calls back: Rudge says your chances of seeing the band are "absolutely zero." Lisa Robinson, a syndicated rock columnist, has been calling from New York every two hours, he says, frantic to come. But Rudge has forbidden her to enter the country. "If Flippo shows up, you'll throw him out?" she asks. "Fuckin'-a-right," is Rudge's reply.
Good God! The American press is going crazy — they're waiting for Rudge to give them permission to enter the country! What, I'd really like to know, have I gotten myself into?
Late in the night, two young women knock on the door of 3019. "Are you Peter Rudge?" one of them asks when he opens the door. "Yes," he says as they sweep by him, seating themselves on a couch. Rudge is nonplused. "Who are you?"
"You're Peter Rudge. We were ordered up here to do Peter Rudge. We were promised $100 each and we're not leaving till we get paid."
Rudge flees to Wasserman in 3016. "My room has been taken over! Get the police! Get Carter!"
Carter goes over to 3019 and knocks. "Are y'all hookers?" Yes, he is told. He negotiates a settlement with them: $50 each, and they leave. Rudge finally retakes his room.
He still does not know who set the whole thing up.
O n the ninth day, Friday, March 4th, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's 28-year-old wife, Margaret, suddenly enters the picture. But let's set the scene.
At 6 p.m. the 300 lucky ticket holders meet at CHUM and, without being told their destination, board buses and are driven to El Mocambo. The club is virtually surrounded by police. After several hours of arguing with Rudge and Wasserman — who tell me that the band is nervous and doesn't want any press there — I decide to hold off until the next night. Then I get a tip from the club that the place is crawling with Canadian reporters.
I race down to the El Mocambo and, by dint of money and a police card, get in and confront Wasserman: "Goddamn you, you lied to me."
"Well," he says, "Peter decided that since this is Canada, we had to let some Canadian reporters in."
Later Bill Wyman tells me he is genuinely puzzled about Rudge trying to keep me out.
Meanwhile, during the show, just as the Stones start "Star Star" (better known as "Starfucker"), who should sit down at a ringside table but Margaret Trudeau? She had arrived in a Stones limo and leaves in a Stones limo and takes a suite at the Harbour Castle and holds a well-guarded party for the band. Back at the hotel, I catch a glimpse of her in a white bathrobe wafting down a corridor.
O n the morning of the tenth day, Saturday, Toronto begins turning itself upsidedown. Banner headlines appear everywhere: MARGARET DROPS IN ON THE STONES. None of the Toronto papers knows that she is at the hotel, despite the fact that the Toronto Star offices are just across the street.
I call Wasserman: "Wasserman, I'm warning you. I'm going to be in that club tonight no matter what it takes. You can't treat the press this way." "No way," he says, "it's Peter's orders."
Hours of arguing later, I find myself being wheeled down the bleak hallways of St. Michael's Hospital's emergency room, past the drunks and stabbing victims.
"Nerves and high blood pressure from arguments like that could well lead to a nervous breakdown," says a Dr. Wilkinson. "Who is this Rudge person you were raving about?"
I explain. She says it's a wonder I didn't get into a physical fight.
As Dr. Wilkinson ministers to me, I send word to the hotel to let Rudge know I have just been "rushed to the hospital." When I get back to the hotel there's a concert pass waiting for me at the desk, with no note of explanation.
That night, at El Mocambo, Rudge comes up to inquire about my health and to explain he had planned all along to let me in. "Sure, Peter."
Wasserman to me later: "The only reason you got a pass is because Peter thought he had killed you." He must be thinking: "The bastard finally got even. Did he stage the whole thing?"
Rudge tells Wasserman he will throw him out if any American press gets a table. Wasserman: "You can't throw me out. I signed my own pass."
I settle down at a stage-front table with Lisa Robinson and John Rockwell of the New York Times, who'd both arrived late that afternoon after the press ban was lifted. Rudge spots me at the table but can only grind his teeth.
The Stones are magnificent. Sitting five feet away from them when they are at full power is nothing but awesome: Billy Preston slides in behind his keyboards, Ollie Brown takes up his percussion instruments behind Charlie Watts , Bill Wyman is diffidently off at the right end of the tiny stage, and Jagger is flanked by Keith and Ronnie Wood. Keith, who is gaunt and unshaven but occasionally smiling, leads them in with "Honky Tonk Women" and Jagger, in a little green and white striped jump suit open to the point where his pubic hair presumably begins, puts on the most defiant, cocksure, strutting performance I have ever seen. The band members sign autographs in between numbers and at one point Jagger ends up on his back with a female admirer lying on top of him, kissing and feeling.
They play for well over an hour and a half and never let the pace down: "Route 66," "Little Red Rooster," "Hand of Fate," Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy," "Worried Life Blues," "Brown Sugar," "Dance Little Sister," "Let's Spend the Night Together," "Cracking Up" (a new song with a reggae twist), "Hot Stuff," "All Down the Line," "Fool to Cry," "Crazy Mama," "Reelin' and Rockin'," "Tumbling Dice," "Star Star," "It's Only Rock 'n Roll," ending with a frenzied "Jumpin" Jack Flash."
During "Star Star" Mick gestures toward our table, shouting "star fuckers!" Then, as "Jumpin' Jack Flash" ends, I sense the presence of someone behind me. Peter Rudge is motioning to Mick and pointing to our table. Then Rudge grabs Lisa Robinson's hair and Jagger flings a pitcher of ice water at us. Revenge at last.
The Stones, accompanied by Margaret Trudeau, leave for a private party.
O n Day 11, after Rudge misses an appointment to meet me, I get a phone call: "Mr. Flippo? This is Mr. Jagger."
"Bullshit," I say. "This is Rudge or some lackey. Listen…"
"This is Mr. Jagger. I can prove it. You had a note delivered to me that said you wanted to talk to me. Wal, I'm just sitting around waiting to get busted. Come on up."
Christ, I think, it is Jagger.
I go up to 34. No bodyguards around, so I wander on down to 3424 and there, through the open door, is Jagger, dressed in a tan suit and red boots, sitting alone, watching TV. He waves me in.
"What happened to all the vaunted Stones security forces?"
"Why bother?" he says. "Have a seat."
Charlie Watts comes in and after a moment the two of them are giggling at a Candid Camera segment where some poor woman in a beauty shop keeps seeing a demon image in a mirror opposite her. Deviousness obviously appeals to the Stones.
"How did you like the show last night?" Jagger asks.
"Great," I say, "especially when you finally baptized the press."
"That's not quite the way I meant it," he smiles. "Are you having a good time?"
"As good a time as you can have hanging out in limbo. How does it feel to be a bar band again?"
Jagger: "Very nice, it's a nice gig. We got half the bar money the first night — $371. We didn't do it for the money, obviously. We wanted to get a good sound, and we liked the idea of playing a club.
"We didn't do that many new songs; we did a lot that we've recorded but have never done on shows. We did 'Let's Spend the Night Together.' I don't ever remember playing that live, apart from once. And stuff like 'Little Red Rooster' that we haven't played for years.
"Toronto just seemed part of North America. It was easy. But it didn't turn out that way. Keith got busted — it won't be so easy for Keith."
On Margaret Trudeau:
"She just dropped by [Mick says this with a sly grin]. Someone said she wanted to come to the gig, so we took her. I had never met her before. But I guess she likes to go out to clubs and go rocking and rolling like everyone else — young girl, you know."
"One of our mums," Watts adds.
On the Stones' anxiety level:
"I don't want to talk about it, because the more I talk about it the worse it gets. I don't want to talk because they all read this fucking crap — that's the trouble, these people. . . It's difficult, you know. You get busted all the time; it makes it very hard."
What about the future?
"We can't really do a five-year plan at the rate things are going. I did do a plan for two years, but it's going to be changed [ laughter ]."
Would the Stones tour if Keith was in jail?
"Yeah, I should say so, if they wanted to. If the Stones wanted to tour badly or wanted to go onstage, I think they'd have to, and obviously we wouldn't if Keith were only in jail for a month or two months. But if he were in jail for a long period of time, I suppose we'd have to. We can't wait five years. In five years we won't be touring at all — not much anyway, just a few lounges."
Do you think the Saturday performance at El Mocambo might have been the Stones' last performance, as the Canadian newspapers have been saying?
"Oh, no, not that again." He throws his hands in the air. "Our Knebworth concert was the 'last Rolling Stones performance.' We'll let you know when the last one is, or we won't let you know."
Charlie Watts: "When my drums start to get blown up, that's the last one."
Jagger continues, "Well, I think that's all rubbish. That is just journalistic claptrap. That's just looking for a pathetic angle."
Well, I say, that's not what I'm after, but when I came into the hotel on Wednesday, the feeling here was Prisoner of Zenda — the band will never get out unless you pull an Entebbe raid.
Jagger laughs. "It's not that difficult to get out of here."
Yeah, I say, but they took all your passports.
Jagger sits bolt upright: "What? Why would they take our passports?"
Well, that is what Wasserman told me. He said the Mounties seized 28 passports and…
"Wasserman told you that? Why would they possibly take Charlie's and my passport? They took Keith's. But they didn't take ours, what for? Wasserman told you that, you sure? "
I'm certain, I say.
"If I ask him, he'll deny telling you that. What else did he tell you?"
He said — wait a minute, I'm telling you what you're paying someone to tell me.
"Wal, I didn't tell him to tell you anything. So, what can I say?"
We talk music for a while and then Mick decides he wants to watch TV some more.
D ay 12, March 7th, is Keith's day in court — likely all that will happen, I am assured, is that he will appear briefly at old City Hall and his case will be remanded to a later hearing. The morning papers, as Wasserman points out when he calls at 6 a.m., are full of Margaret Trudeau. Wasserman says he just called to tell me that I myself made two of the papers — the Globe and Mail said I was "anguished"; the Sun said I broke the ban on American journalists.
At noon, CHUM announces that Keith will appear at old City Hall at 2 p.m. I get there at one to find the imposing granite structure flooded with young people, hundreds of them, waiting for Keith.
Wasserman had promised the press that Keith would arrive at the front door and he does. A bit late (at 1:30, Anita had to borrow Bill Carter's razor for Keith), he pulls up in a station wagon shortly after two. He is wearing a black velvet suit, and with his head up and his white scarf flying, he marches up the steps. The people cheer him — except for two. An unidentified London photographer grabs his hair and says, "Deport the limey." A willowy blond woman who identifies herself only as "Bonnie" screams "evil cocksucker" at him and follows him inside, still screaming. The hearing is immediately closed to keep out the mob.
His heroin charge hearing is set for March 14th, but in a private session in the judge's chambers, Keith and attorneys Carter and Clayton Powell (a former Crown prosecutor here) are informed of a second charge. The Mounties claim that during the initial raid they had seized a second substance and lab tests had proven that it was 1/5 ounce of cocaine. Keith is privately told to appear in court the next day, Tuesday.
I find out that the federal prosecutor, David Scott, is planning to ask for revocation of bail and to move that Keith be jailed immediately. The Stones camp panics. Meetings are held all night. Peter Rudge is now a raw nerve. Strategy is finally agreed upon: the only way to keep Keith out of jail is to ask that bail be substantially increased, since the Mounties' beef is that a Rolling Stone got busted by them and essentially was released without bail.
Keith's court appearance the next day is an official secret. He is listed on no dockets and every official I call denies that he will appear.
The Stones' defense team decides that $25,000 in cash should be offered in exchange for Keith's body.
D ay 13, Tuesday the 8th. I have breakfast with Rudge, Carter and Wasserman in the hotel's Poseidon restaurant, which has become the Stones' war room. They are all chain-smoking, including Carter, who doesn't smoke. Rudge pleads with me to get the story out that Keith Richards, the epitome of rock & roll, cannot be jailed in Toronto, that it will mean the end of Keith and the Rolling Stones and rock & roll.
I arrive an hour early at Provincial Courtroom 26, where Keith's case is scheduled to be heard. I look at the docket: no Keith Richards. There are 32 drug cases (half of them for intent to traffic) scheduled for Judge Vincent McEwan. McEwan's tough reputation is contradicted by his pink-faced, balding and bifocaled appearance.
The first afternoon case confirms McEwan's reputation: a 17-year-old kid gets 18 months probation and a criminal record for supposedly possessing eight grams of green marijuana leaves that the RCMP had watched him grow in a public park. The charge: intent to traffic.
At 2:20 p.m. Keith enters, escorted by a Toronto cop.
Prosecutor Scott, who once worked for defense counsel Powell, opens by complaining about the low bail. Keith stands in the prisoner's box, his hands folded before him, head bowed.
Just as the Crown is swearing in RCMP officer Bill Seward (one of the Mounties who busted Keith), Clayton Powell enters a motion to prohibit publication of the court proceedings — routine in Canada. The judge agrees. And then Powell — looking over his shoulder toward me — enters a second motion: since "at least one reporter from an American magazine is here and is not subject to your order not to publish," any testimony entered here today could be prejudicial to Mr. Richard. The judge agrees, so the Mountie cannot testify about the circumstances of the bust, which testimony the Stones defense team does not want entered into court. I realize that I've been used.
Powell then submits that since the Crown seems worried about the low bail, the Stones are ready to hand over $25,000 in cash as good faith bail. The judge agrees and at 2:50 p.m. Keith has his passport back and is out on bail. Powell holds up the transmitter, saying that the Mountie who lost it can have it back.
Downstairs at the bail office, as Carter counts out $25,000, Rudge & Co. wink at me as though I had been the key witness.
D uring the hearing, Margaret Trudeau checks out of the Harbour Castle and leaves for New York City. Ron Wood and Mick Jagger also leave for New York — separately. The Harbour Castle lobby is suddenly overflowing with Canadian and London writers looking for Margaret.
At 5 a.m. I get a frantic call from Wasserman. "Did you see the Globe? It says Margaret ran off to New York with Mick and Ron. Jesus."
"Wasso, don't you realize that's the writer you bought dinner for last night? Why bitch to me?"
I can't possibly sleep so I go downstairs and check out. Wasserman has just come back from the newsstand with the morning Sun, which is bannered WHERE'S MAGGIE? Inside, an angry editorial complains: "C'mon Maggie, either behave with distinction or stay at home."
Reading the editorial, Wasserman becomes even more agitated. "I've got to get out of this fucking country before they find me," he says. "Carter, I'm leaving. Meet me at the airport. They threatened to arrest me yesterday for allegedly tipping off the press to that hearing. I've got to go. C'mon, Flippo."
"Well," I say in the cab, "you've been here a week and you've disrupted the entire country and created an international incident and the Stones may topple the government."
"Yeah," he says, "not bad for a week's work."
We are joined at the airport by Carter. As we get through customs we are stopped and Carter is pulled aside by the inspector in charge.
"It's every man for himself," says Wasserman, forging on ahead. I break my promise to myself not to quote any Stones lyrics and start singing, "Take me to the airport and put me on a plane/I've got no expectations to pass through here again."
We finally get on the plane and I ask Carter about the delay.
"They were apologizing about detaining my client Mick Jagger so long last night before they would let him leave the country."
"Yeah, I had to come out here last night when Mick called the hotel and said they wouldn't let him leave the country." No reason was given.
Wasserman, who surely hadn't slept for days, goes to sleep immediately. As soon as the plane takes off, Carter wakes him: "Wasso, I hate to tell you this but the prime minister just radioed the pilot to turn the plane around."
Wasserman groans, and falls back to sleep. At LaGuardia, he starts out of his seat and screams. Who can blame him?
Peter Rudge finally met with me in New York and said he was afraid it was all over for the Rolling Stones.
And Keith Richards still had to go to court.
E very Day thereafter, the daily newspapers were full of speculation about Margaret and the Stones. One Toronto radio station offered Rolling Stone $500 to tell them where Margaret was. Pierre said at his weekly televised press conference that he didn't think his wife's musical taste had anything to do with his ability to govern. The London press went berserk with such headlines as PREMIER'S WIFE IN STONES SCANDAL and THE FIRST LADY WHO GOT TURNED ON BY THE STONES.
March 14th, I am back in Toronto, in Courtroom 26. On the way into old City Hall, I run into attorney Clayton Powell, who had just gotten Anita off with only a $400 fine.
The court hearing takes about 20 seconds. Crown prosecutor Scott walks over to a calendar hanging on the wall, leafs through it idly and sticks his finger on June 27th. He returns to the bench and proposes that June 27th be the day that Keith is remanded to court, at which time a plea may or may not be entered and at which time an actual trial date will be set. Agreed. Keith is spirited back to the Harbour Castle.
A t midnight, I am summoned to Keith's chambers. Compared to the quiet splendor of Mick's suite, Keith's is frenzied and I feel that I have suddenly entered Rock & Roll Supreme Headquarters and hit the very core of rock: farther than this one cannot go.
Nothing is still: room service comes and goes frequently: everyone who is anyone within the Stones camp rushes in and out with urgent errands; "Honky Tonk Women" is blasting from giant speakers; and guitars and tape recorders and amps are everywhere. The television is on but the sound is turned off: the program being shown is of a church service. Wine is being poured everywhere.
Keith calls down to room service for another fifth of Jack Daniel's, then settles onto a couch beside me. For a man who has appeared. . . worn ever since he began with the Stones, he does not look all that bad. He is wearing jeans tucked into boots and a red shirt and a red-and-blue newsboy's cap. Anita drifts in and out in a nightgown and young Marlon sprawls on the floor.
"These are the Paris tapes," Keith yells to me over the din. "These are good, but I'll play you the El Mocambo tapes — they're better in some ways." He's right.
He also says he's been thinking he might someday like to teach college music seminars and that he's been writing songs daily and the first one — still untitled — is about prison. He does not volunteer any further information about it.
We retire to a quieter room and open the Jack Daniel's. Attorney Bill Carter is present, since the only way I could get the interview was to promise not to mention words like "heroin."
Keith begins, speaking softly: "Since I have been stuck for a week in Toronto by myself, while everybody else drifted off as stealthily as they could, I've been getting some rough mixes down from the El Mocambo gigs — the second night we recorded some good sounds. The first night, the band sounds like it was playing for something in New Delhi; there were these weird sort of quarter tones, out of tune, very frantic; it was all adrenalin."
But the second night, I say, was amazing: the Stones really kicking ass in a bar.
He smiles. "It was dead easy to get back into. I mean, we haven't played a place that small since '62. But it all fell into place, it felt very natural, you know. It has been a long time since I've had my legs stroked while playing, you know, I'd forgotten all about that. . . It's a full circle. We started off playing the real low bars and we have only just played our first bar this side of the circle so maybe it just means we are going to start playing a whole lot of bars again. It felt good. I know the band wanna do it. A lot of bands would like to do it, to break this system of these enormous tours — it's so hectic, three months and then everything explodes just as it is getting good and it's really starting to go to a top gear that you didn't know was there. "
He snaps his fingers. "Then it stops. No gigs for nine months. . . Charlie Watts is playing well. . . and it just stops. If every band could play three or four gigs a month, but it's not structured that way — how do you break that? I mean, the band is just as happy playing in a place like that [El Mocambo] as in Madison Square Garden. To play one of those once a month would be great to stay in shape. It's really a very unprofitable way of using the energy — this system of tours and huge auditoriums. It can't go any bigger, you know. With any other sports, okay, they build a special place for you to play that game in. If you play football, you go to a football field. Rock & roll — you don't get a rock & roll building, you know, you just play in a fucking football field."
Marlon comes in as we get fresh drinks and cigarettes and he starts talking. Keith: "Shh, son, daddy's working right now."
What sort of material, I ask, is he cutting now?
"I've got time to put down all these songs I learnt from Gram Parsons . I was very tight with him for a long time. I used to spend days at the piano with Gram, just singing, you know, I did more singing with Gram than I've done with the Stones. He taught me all the Everly stuff and the cross harmonies and shit like that. We lived together when we cut Exile on Main Street . He wrote songs, man, he would go all day without repeating himself.
"But it's been eight years since he taught me. . . I've never really done anything more than put them on cassette just to remember the lyrics so I thought I would put them down, a dub sort of thing, mostly country songs, Merle Haggard and George Jones . There's a few Dallas Frazier songs. 'Say It's Not You.' 'Apartment Number 9.' A couple of Jerry Lee Lewis things like 'She Still Comes Around.' 'Six Days on the Road.'
"I took this opportunity to sort of wrack my brains and put down everything I had floating around in my head: songs, half-songs, riffs, I got it all out on tape, very efficient for me. So that killed some time in Toronto."
W hat does Keith think about the future of the Stones?
"I don't think I feel any differently about it — as far as I know, it is just going to go on because it feels good to go on right now. . . if someone is unable to be with the others for a while, then there will just be a gap, but it will go on. I mean, Charlie was getting better and better, man, you just can't let that go, when things are improving all the time for the band. In its own perverse way, we all feel it's getting better. I mean there was a time when nobody thought an act could last more than two years, especially at that point when we started out. I mean, Muddy Waters has just put out a great new album. There is no reason that rock & roll has to be played by adolescents and juveniles. It still feels better from this end. You know, Fred McDowell, all my favorite cats, kept on playing till they dropped, 70 or 80 years old. It's like wine, man, they just get better."
So even if visa problems are massive after this bust, the Stones will keep touring?
"Yeah, cause we will keep on trying to get in and eventually we will."
I wonder aloud why entire countries regard Keith as the devil incarnate.
He smiles but shakes his head. "It's convenient. . . they don't have to look any farther. I can't answer it. I've seen simple little trials — the prosecutors, for some reason it becomes so enormous to them, they feel they have to prove themselves. That's something to do with it, but it's not all of it, but I feel that they want to show this kid or that kid that, see that they [the prosecutors] have got some balls, that's one attitude I come across an awful lot. It's like Lenny Bruce, but — once they start on something, they don't let up, man, they just don't. It's very easy to pick up somebody and give them a bad name. . . There's all this incredible rivalry that goes on between different branches of the legal department even on the international scale. If the English cops can't do it, then 'let's show them.' I guess also by popping me, they think that's worth popping 150 or 200 ordinary people. It shows people that your police are really on the ball."
Well, what is Keith Richard's immediate future? I know you can't talk about your legal status. Your attorney tells me it could prejudice your case. But what can you say?
Another sly grin: "Finish this live album, beat this rap, hopefully do some gigs in the States later on this year. South America — I'd like to bust that one wide open. I look at South America and I think of the potential rock & roll audiences."
On tours, he says, "you go around like nomads on these well-beaten tracks. I mean, there's people screaming for it. It's like BP [British Petroleum] not going and tapping some huge oil field, you know, just not bothering. Can you imagine that? It's equivalent, the audiences. They'd be down there like a shot after the pipelines. Rock & roll is ignored. There are thousands and thousands of record buyers. They should be knocking on Moscow's fucking door, they should be hitchhiking down to South America. You could go to New Delhi or Calcutta, there are thousands of street kids there. Africa has got to be another place where we could get it together.
"I mean if Leningrad is going to go potty over Cliff Richard. . . In towns like Bratislav, there are these posters in the street of rock & roll stars, completely music crazy, then the tanks came in and that was it."
All these governments, though, all they can think about is drug convictions, drug arrests, drugs . Right?
"Yeah, I think they are just scared of association or whatever. I can't believe that a government would spend two seconds of its time worrying about what rock & roll band is coming to its country. But they do. . . The idea is: 'Let's grab him. ' So it just becomes political outlaws — there really isn't any way for anybody in our position or my position to get a fair trial, because of the image, or the prejudice, anything, anyway. It's already against me just because of the image. . . illegal, they are really out to make rock & roll illegal.
" Really, it would be illegal to play the goddamn music, that's the basic drive behind that whole thing. They are just scared of that rhythm. Certainly every sound has an effect on the body and the effects of a good backbeat make these people shiver in their boots, so you are fighting some primeval fear that you can't even rationalize, because it's to do with the chromosomes and the exploding genes."
But you, Keith Richards, have had a lot to do with it, with songs like "Satisfaction" and "Street Fighting Man," which don't lose their impact on an audience.
"Songs — yeah. People think you're a songwriter, they think you wrote it, it's all yours, you are totally responsible for it. Really, you are just a medium, you just develop a facility for recognizing and picking up things and you just have to be ready to be there — like being at a seance; they just plop out of the air. Whole songs just come to you, you don't write it. Songs come to me en masse. I didn't do anything except to happen to have been awake when it arrived."
When I finally got back to New York a letter from the manager of the Harbour Castle Hilton was waiting for me. It was not a form letter. The manager effusively thanked me for staying there and spending so much money and behaving so well. I wondered if he sent one to Keith. I called the Harbour Castle and found that Keith was still there, trying to decide where to go next. I heard that Bill Carter and his briefcase were on their way back to Toronto. And I also heard that Margaret Trudeau was sporting a black eye.
And then came the final, depressing call from the Stones camp: "You better cover your ass, Flippo, and mention somewhere there is one hell of a chance that this will be the last Stones album ever. All work on the studio album has stopped and there is talk of breaking up the band."
This story is from the May 5th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.
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