"Always a bit rough around the edges. You expect them to be." The band forges on, and starts "Hang Fire" all over again from the top."
"Oh, they're playin' tonight, Gil. No doubt about it. Didn't last night, even though everybody was here and ready. Think it was Keith who just couldn't get it together. The night before it was because Mick didn't get back from New York. So that was two nights people were basically just lying around. They'll play tonight for sure."
It's Jesse Henderson speaking, Long View Chief Engineer, standing up against the Dempster Dumpster in the shed, nursing a beer. He caught my attention as I walked past. It was now after supper for the "regular schedule" eaters and their guests, of whom there were many tonight. A Saturday night in mid-September. Kurt Loder from Rolling Stone magazine had arrived, hoping to get some material for his cover article on Keith Richards. Nancy Griffin, who wrote the copy for the eventual spread inLife magazine, was also there, demure, out of the way, and taking notes. Abe Brenner and Mark had just arrived. These were friends of Keith's, as best we could tell. It was rumored that Abe Brenner —who looks old enough to be Keith's father — had once gone to jail for Keith in some drug-related police action. We didn't ask too many questions about Abe Brenner and Mark, who didn't seem to sleep much — either of them — and who always seemed to arrive just minutes before the best parties began. They had somewhat sallow complexions and traveled via a different chartered airplane each time.
"Yeah," Jesse repeated. "Gotta play tonight. Piano's tuned. Rhodes, too."
"Space heater for Bill Wyman?"
"That's up there, right beside his stool. He should have no bitches. Works great."
"And overall, the place looks O.K. up there?"
"Except for the butts on the floor. They won't listen to me, Gary and Chuch. They put 'em out on the floor on purpose. Their way of getting even, I suppose. Everyone else beats on them, they beat on the studio. Weird, but I can understand it."
Gary and Chuch were roadies, and this was not the first time that they had worked for the Rolling Stones. They were in charge of all the gear — like the amps, and guitars, and the dozen or so packing cases full of assorted paraphernalia. They also functioned somewhat as court jesters whenever they were in presence of the band. They would do errands, roll joints, and — most important — absorb punishment otherwise meant for the band members themselves. Gary and Chuch would lose things that were somehow fated to be lost; it's either Gary or Chuch who would get hisfront tooth chipped on the corner ofthe pool table in the Game Room, not Keith Richards. A door swinging open unexpectedly would catch one ofthem square in the forehead, not Mick Jagger. Hangovers the morning after? Not the band members, as best we could tell. Gary and Chuch would suffer instead. They provided Karmic insulation, you would say, in addition to the usual services provided by professional road men. They rendered themselves up for poundings and punishment in service of the myth, and that's what they were really paid to do, if you ask me. And they put butts out on the inflammable wooden floor of Studio C — at one point almost prompting an ultimatum from me which would have been served up to Mick himself. Fortunately, this never had to occur.
"Thought I'd hang out up there a bit tonight, Jesse," I said. "See how things are going."
"Might as well, man. They won't kick you out. That's for sure."
"I've been trying to set an example, Jesse. They don't need us up there, even though they say we're welcome. We're welcome, but we're not either, if you know what I mean."
Jesse knew what I meant. He'd seen Long View staffers hustled quietly away by Jim Callahan or Bob Bender upon the raising of an eyebrow from Mick Jagger, and hadn't seen me up there very much at all. Oh, I'd take a tour through, once a night, but these were official visits only, not listening visits. As owner, I'd appear sometimes during the first few hours of the rehearsal, pass a remark or two in the company of lovely Patti Hansen, take an approving puff of the everpresent "joint a l'anglaise", dim the house lights a touch in evidence of Owner's Concern for Creative Environments, and then get the hell out of there. In a straight line, no detours, no dallying about, no mesmerization even .nh contemplated, much less acted out. I had to be the one to lead the charge in this whole area of professional self-image. We were doing this as paid "pros," and that left no room for any personal displays — affected or genuine. They didn't come here to see us, or hear our theories about their music, their personal lives, or whatever. Nor did they coome here to be friends with us. So enter, bow, depart; and don't get your feelings hurt if you fail to establish eye contact with all five members of the band.
It was a bit earlier than usual that night, when they started playing. Patti Hansen had appeared in the kitchen about 10 PM, willow-thin and a touch wan, wearing only a robe. "Keith's up," she said to John Farrell. "Wants his breakfast."
"Usual," Patti said, and John disappeared into the pantry for some raw hamburger and for the potatoes to make the home fries, and for the bottle of H. P. sauce. Patti would bus the completed "breakfast" over on a tray. She didn't mind; it gave her something to do "in the morning."
An hour later, Keith was up on the stage — wire-haired, crazed looking, and full of Long View protein. He stands still as Gary slings one of a dozen or so guitars around his shoulders, which are bare, and rippling with muscle tone. The guitar settles down and hangs low — as low as Keith can reach with his long arms. Keith slices across the metal strings with a guitar pick, and a massive, barn-rattling "SPRONG" issues forth from the Cerwin-Vega monitors.
"SPRONG . . ." Keith goes again. That "SPRONG" was in the key of "A", I thought, which made sense, since "Hang Fire" was the first tune on the top of tonight's "list." Mick's list, I mean. He kept it over on the packing case behind the piano, and he referred to it constantly during the night. Mick was very organized, and was writing things down all the time. It's unusual to see people "write things down" in rock 'n' roll. Practically unheard of. We "feel" in rock 'n' roll, and don't need to think.
Keith's ready, and the band lurches into "Hang Fire" — little Jade's favorite tune off the new album. The barn sounds great. Loud. Wooden. Almost cathedrallike. There's natural "slap" on the snare drum — echo from the far wall — and it sounds just like the "slap" engineers labor to synthesize in the studio, using delay lines. About a third of a second. House lights are off; only spots illuminate the stage. Red night lights — the sort that glow in the cockpits of bombers and supersonic jets — shine warmly over each of the Rolling Stones packing cases beneath the stage. Some of these cases are open with their drawers slid out —others half open, guitar cords snarled inside — others closed, but with a visitor sitting on top, fidgeting, looking about, and trying to stay out of the way. You'd find your reporters on top of these cases — those few who, after cooling their heels for as long as a week in Sturbridge, were finally allowed in.
Back to "Hang Fire." The harmony "doo-doops" sound terrible; and everyone in the band knows it. They stop playing, and Mick, Ronnie, and Keith try to figure out who's going to sing what. It's easier in the studio, where you can overdub voices, taking them one at a time if you want. Live, it's much more difficult. The three of them reach a consensus. Now they sound better, but not really great. "Always a bit rough around the edges — the Rolling Stones," to repeat what Keith Richards said later that night to Kurt Loder — the writer from New York City. "Always a bit rough around the edges. You expect them to be." The band forges on, and starts "Hang Fire" all over again from the top.
"Here, Gil. Do you want some of this?"
It's Patti Hansen who has materialized at my side, out of the shadows and the thunder, and she's extending a large cigarette to me which is quite lit, and giving off lots of smoke. She's holding her breath, about to exhale.
"Don't mind if I do, Patti," I said, taking the joint from her. I see Gary the roadie only a few feet away, dusting specks of tobacco off the top of the packing case. He winks at me, and gives me the "thumbs up" signal. He had created this cigarette only moments ago, and he was proud of it. We'd get to smoke it for a minute or two — to "warm it up," as it were. Then, upon a signal from the stage, Gary would snatch it away, run with it up the stairs, and feed it to Keith, on whose lower lip the thing would dangle, through several re-lightings, until it was all gone except for the cardboard mouthpiece. This cigarette was not ours forever. So I took another toke.
"You ready to give all this up for the movies, Patti?" I asked. Patti was going to be in a movie soon, and there was some question as to how much time she could be on the road, with the band.
"I don't think about it," Patti said. "It is great, though. I know what you mean. I've never seen them play this way before. Never. They actually seem to be enjoying it."
"Here," I said. "Do some more of this."
Suddenly, Jane Rose appears out of the darkness with a screech.
"Hi, every-body. Well, don't the two of you look comfortable there. I was wondering where you ran off to, Patti. Here, Gil. Come here, please. I want you to meet someone."
I get to my feet, and am given to meet Lisa Robinson — noted rock 'n' roll gossip columnist. I say hi to Lisa, and we chat for a second as best we can with "Hang Fire" playing live, just twenty feet in front of us. Behind her, moving quietly along the wall, are two Japanese photographers. A satellite tracking lens has been adapted to fit a standard Nikon, and brought all the way from Tokyo by these gentlemen. It's set up behind us, shooting over our heads toward stage center. A third, small Japanese gentleman is fussing with it, tinkering, and staring into the viewfinder. Pictures of Mick Jagger for an All Nippon Rock Extra. Printed on glossy paper and sold in millions of copies in Japan. Kurt Loder from Rolling Stone magazine is down by the fireplace, banging loudly in time to the music on our antique oak table. Nancy Griffin from Life is sitting on a packing case, legs crossed at the ankles, wondering how to package what she's seeing for Middle America.
A new gaggle of visitors appears in the doorway of Studio B. They nod respectfully toward the stage, and disseminate themselves in ones and twos along the walls — timid, silent, and awed by the dimensions of the room, the loudness of the sound and the spectacle before their eyes — the Rolling Stones, live.
Suddenly the lights come on, the music stops abruptly, and at least two dozen reporters, photographers, fashion designers, free-lance writers and other assorted Stones watchers freeze in their tracks — checking nervously over their shoulders in the direction of the stage. As well they should. Mick is not pleased; that much is clear. His eyes run over the faces in attendance — the writers, the reporters, the gentlemen from Japan — and his scowl deepens. He puts down his wireless microphone, and walks in careful measured steps down the beamed staircase, around the oversized packing case at the foot of the stairs, through the door to Studio B, and out into the night.
It's break time.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.