Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Rolling Stones: reputation or retirement?

Keith Richards has demanded an apology from two Swedish newspapers who printed bad reviews of recent Rolling Stones concerts including a comment that he appeared "very drunk". The newspaper Aftonbladet claimed the guitarist looked "a bit confused", while the Expressen review gave Richards zero stars for his performance. Richards retorted by saying the press had abused its power. "How dare you cheapen the experience for …the hundreds of thousands of other people across Sweden who weren't at Ullevi and have only your review to go on?" He said. "Write the truth: It was a good show."

Richards' thin-skinned anger came as rumours persist the Stones will finally retire from live performance. The band wrapped up their “Bigger Bang” world tour in London last weekend. However guitarist Ronnie Wood has contradicted claims the band would be unlikely to tour any new album due to the time-scales involved. Yet Wood also said they have no plans to stop touring, and will probably be playing live until they drop dead. With band members Mick Jagger now 64, Keith Richards at 63, Charlie Watts at 66, and Wood at 60, it is likely they may be approaching their 70s by the time the next tour comes round. "We need a rest, but of course we will tour again,” said Wood. “We'll never stop."

Wood will release his autobiography called “Ronnie” in October this year. It is the first to be released by any members of the band and will tell how he went from a working class council estate in London to becoming one of the most famous musicians in the world. The memoir includes tales of the band's legendary sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle and reveals Wood and Richards held loaded guns to each other's heads during a bitter row and also claims Richards once held a knife to his throat during another bust-up.

While his relationship with Woods was sometimes thorny, Richards was always a close friend of Mick Jagger. The pair grew up in Dartford, Kent where they went to the same school. Though they lost touch, they met again in 1960 when both were students in London. They formed a band called Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys (named for a DC comics superhero). The third member of the band was a mutual friend named Dick Taylor, who was later to form the group The Pretty Things. Mick sung and played the harmonica while the other two played guitars.

Mick and Keith drank regularly at a pub called the Bricklayer's Arms in Soho. Here they met Brian Jones who played slide guitar with a session band at the pub. The four decided to create a new band they called 'the Rolling Stones' taken from a track from a Muddy Waters album. In the summer of 1962, the new band got their first break after deputising at the Marquee Club and then winning a regular slot. There were a couple of further personnel changes. Taylor left the band to concentrate on his studies. Bassist Bill Wyman joined in December 1962 and drummer Charlie Watts joined a month later.

The band began to develop their R&B sound in 1963. They got a regular gig at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey. The Crawdaddy had the reputation of being a top R&B venue and London’s answer to Liverpool’s Cavern. It was here the Beatles first heard the band play live. As a result, George Harrison tipped off Decca's Dick Rowe to sign the Stones.

It was here also where Andrew Loog Oldham also heard the Stones. Oldham was a publicist who had worked for the Beatles but his head was turned by the Stones. Oldham and the Stones hit it off and he became the band’s manager. "I'd never seen anything like it," he recalls. "They came on to me. All my preparations, ambitions and desires had just met their purpose."

Oldham was a massive influence on the band. He insisted the band claim ownership of their master tapes and he created the bands “bad boy” image in deliberate contrast to the squeaky clean Beatles. It was also Oldham who convinced the Beatles to allow the Stones record their song “I Wanna Be Your Man” which was their first major hit single. The Stones followed it up quickly with Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”. Both songs hit the top of the British charts.

But Oldham realised that the Stones couldn't sustain their popularity if they continued to perform other people's songs. One night he locked Jagger and Richards in his kitchen with orders not to come out until they had written something. But it would be another year or more before they would succeed with any of their own compositions. In the meantime the band toured the US in June 1964 where they were an instant hit. The band achieved notoriety after their version of the Willie Dixon-penned Blues classic “Little Red Rooster” was banned by US radio stations for its sexual content.

In 1965, “The Last Time” became the first Jagger/Richards original to crack the US top ten. But it was their next song that really cemented their worldwide appeal. Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night in a Florida hotel room with a tune in his head based on a five-note guitar riff. Jagger added the lyrics “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction” and the song landed at the top of the US and UK charts.

The band quickly rose to the top with a string of smash hits. "Get Off of My Cloud" and "19th Nervous Breakdown" were followed by the Indian influenced Paint It Black". By now also, the band was beginning to be hounded by authorities for its drug use. In 1967 Jones was arrested for cannabis possession. That same year, the News Of The World tabloid newspaper tipped off Sussex police to raid a party at Keith Richards' home. The police found eight men with one woman who was wearing only a fur coat. She was Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger’s girlfriend. Both Jagger and Richards were charged with amphetamine and cannabis offences. Jagger’s home was also raided in 1969 when police seized cannabis. Police also denied Jagger’s claim that they tried to plant some "white powder" on him.

Beyond the drugs, the Stones continued to make great music including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Street Fightin’ Man, and a song based on Bulgakov’s the Master and Margarita “Sympathy for the Devil”. Brian Jones’s involvement with the band lessened as his drug dependency increased. Frustrated by his unreliability he was sacked from the band in June 1969. A month later Jones drowned in a swimming pool at his Sussex home after a night of drinking wine and taking downers.

Jones's death was not the only disaster to befall the band in 1969. In November the band finished their US tour at Altamont near San Francisco. The Stones headlined a stellar bill that included Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The Stones hired the Hells Angels to provide security for the concert. The Grateful Dead had a long-standing relationship with the Angels and had used them for security on several occasions without incident. The Angels were drunk and drugged by the time violence broke out in the crowd. The Angels retaliated with pool cues and full beer cans. When the Stones began to play, security staff beat an 18 year old black man, Meredith Hunter, to death. Three others also died that day. Two people died sleeping as they got run over in their sleeping bags and a third person drowned.

Despite the traumas the band remained at the height of their artistic powers with songs such as “Gimme Shelter”, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. Mick Taylor was drafted in to replace Jones and he in turn gave way to former Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood in 1974. The band became tax exiles in the south of France after the UK Inland Revenue hounded them for unpaid income tax. Although the Rolling Stones remained popular through the 1970s, music critics had grown increasingly critical of the band's output, and record sales went down. Richards’ heroin addiction was also a big problem at the time. In 2002 Richards described the impact of the drugs. “There was a lot of stuff happening, and it [heroin] gave me a sense of space,” he said. “Eventually, I was so far in space, I was almost in the atmosphere”.

But the band finished the decade on a commercial high with the successful album “Some Girls”. The album revitalised the band's career upon its release and re-established the Stones' credentials in a new era of punk and disco. The band continued to stage massive and successful tours through the 1980s and 1990s with each one threatening to be the farewell tour. After years of agonising and unwillingness to travel, Bill Wyman left the band after the 1991 world tour. The band survived his departure as it has done for many others.

The band continues to play with energy and conviction of people half their age. On 10 June 10 this year 2007, the surviving members Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie performed their first festival gig in 30 years, at the Isle of Wight Festival, to a crowd of 50,000. According to newspaper reports they blew away the newcomers also headlining at the festival. The Belfast Telegraph said the Stones gave a “masterclass of rock’n’roll” while Mick Jagger “strode out at a pace which would have left most 20-somethings wheezing, before ripping into an exuberant set”.

Meanwhile the Swedish newspapers are unrepentant about the latest bad reviews. Aftonbladet's Markus Larsson wrote on their website, "he can forget it. I am not going to apologise. It is Keith who should apologise. After all, it costs around $145 to see a rock star who can hardly handle the riff to Brown Sugar any more." Expressen's entertainment editor, Dan Panas, was more phlegmatic, "our reviewer had one opinion of the quality of the show and Keith Richards has another."


Joestoke said...

Attending a huge show like that is expensive. And, in the case of stadium concerts, downright unpleasant at times. So much so that many of the crowd had probably made their minds up before the gig that the Stones were magnificent. It could be that the journalists at the centre of all this were amongst the few that actually watched the show with a critical faculty.

nebuchadnezzar said...

yeah probably right there Joe.

I don't know who is right but I'm only surprised that Richards could be so sensitive about some obscure Swedish criticism after 45 years of touring the world to mostly rave reviews.

Hence my implicit guess it is to do with retirement and not bowing out on a sour note.

Anonymous said...

Empiror Keith Richards has no clothes and a journalist noticed. Ron Wood never had any clothes but he's a great cheerleader, just a lousy guitar player.