The Rolling Stones Fall 1969 Tour

LOS ANGELES — Mid-way through the Rolling Stones‘ first concert here, Mick Jagger stepped to the front of the Forum stage, grinned at the 18,000 who had come to welcome him back to the U.S. and said, “Has it really been three years? It doesn’t seem that long.”

In many ways it didn’t. It was just like 1966. Police carried the more enthusiastic fans out of the hall, limp or tied in knots. Girls were screaming and guys were calling for their favorite hits. Jagger was still grinding his skinny hips and doing outrageous things with his tongue. When the Stones started playing “Satisfaction,” at least two-thousand rushed the stage to form an adoring sea of bobbing heads and reaching hands.

Creating – rather than causing – this pandemonium wasn’t all that easy in 1969. Jagger had to work for his satisfaction.

There had been interminable delays in covering the Forum hockey rink that had been used in the afternoon and in getting sound and lighting equipment installed. It was nearly midnight Saturday and the eighteen-thousand had been waiting patiently since seven.

Finally Sam Cutler, the Stones’ tour manager, walked out to the microphone and said, “Here they are . . . The Rolling Stones! The Rolling Stones!

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Mick came bounding from behind a pile of amplifiers. He was dressed nearly all in black — black belled mariachi pants, a long-sleeved tee-shirt (also black), a silk print scarf that hung to his hips, a red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam hat. On the shirt, on his chest, was the omega – like symbol of Leo, the sign of the king or president, a fixed fiery sign: proud, energetic, domineering, authoritative.

He literally pranced from one side of the stage to the other. (The rest of the band was busy plugging in their instruments, seeming almost bored.) Jagger bowed from the waist from stage left, right and center. He rolled his eyes like Eddie Cantor. He waved, wagging a limp wrist that could have won him Tangents’ Dream Date of the Year award.

Finally he found the microphone. “Sorry you had to wait so long,” he said. “We had to wait, too – right?” And so saying, the Stones dove into the first song in the set, “Jumping Jack Flash.”

The applause was near deafening.

The Jagger wondered aloud about the rapid passage of the years and Keith Richard started hitting his guitar, fingering perfect Chuck Berry notes as the band, and Jagger, leaped for “Oh Carol,” one of Berry’s songs. During the instrumental break, Jagger bobbed his hips at the audience, then sprinted for one side of the stage, where he peered into the balcony and started moving his mouth as if he were eating a giant-sized ear of corn: chop chop chop. His arms and legs seemed as if controlled by puppet strings.

During “Sympathy for the Devil” Jagger dropped to his knees and wedged the microphone between his thighs, phallus-like. He dropped his head, cradling it in his arms. He was screaming into the mike: “All right! All right!” He rolled backward – a reverse somersault – then stretched to his slender height and began cake-walking back and forth again.

Next the Stones played, and Jagger sang, “Stray Cat Blues,” the ultimate groupie song. “I can see that you’re thirteen years old,” he screeched, changing it from the way he wrote it, when she was fifteen. “I don’t want your I.D./I can see that you’re so far from home but/That’s no hangin’ matter/It’s no capital crime/Oh yehhhhhhh, you’re a stray, stray cat/Come to scratch my back …” And there was no mistaking where Jagger was saying his “back” was at.

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It was building and Jagger felt it was time to ease the pressure slightly. Two low stools were placed center-stage, and Keith was handed an acoustic guitar, as Mick said, “We’re gonna sit for a minute or two.”

Jagger sang and Keith played “Prodigal Son,” with Charlie Watts providing a just-discernible beat on the hi-hat, no other accompaniment. This was the concert’s “quiet spot.”

The stools were removed and Jagger stood again, chomping gum, saying thank you thank you and now we’d like to do one from the new album, Robert Johnson‘s “Love In Vain.” This was a slow electric blues, featuring a Mick Taylor bottleneck solo that begins like a Hawaiian steel guitar, then slides into a tense bluesy Delta sound.

In his next song, “I’m Free,” Jagger sat on the edge of the stage, swinging his legs, and as the photographers moved toward him, he jumped up and stalked stage-right to throw the audience a kiss, returning after that to his original position. Again he changed the words to a song, saying “we’re free” rather than “I’m free.”

You know we’re free
You know we are free
You know what I’m talkin’ about
We know we are free
That’s something we know
We’re goddamned gonna be free…

The ad-libbed verse was thrown against the audience with all the volume Jagger could rally.

The next song was another from the new album Let It Bleed, to be released about the time the Stones complete their tour. This was the slow instrumental break during which Jagger took off his wide, jeweled belt and dropped to his knees. From this position he kept time with Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (hunched over his bass, his back turned to the audience much of the show), swinging his arm back and then slamming the belt against the stage as if he were doing a cameo bit in Marat/Sade.

You heard about the Boston
Honey, it’s not one of those
Talkin’ ’bout the midnight
Someone you never seen befo’
I’m called the hit and run raper,
in anger…

In the next, another new one, “Gimme Some Shelter,” Jagger bumped his crotch at Mick Taylor’s guitar neck during Taylor’s solo.

There was a moment of silence after the screams and applause, as Jagger stood at the edge of the stage. He raised his hand to his forehead, Indian fashion, saying, “I can’t see anyone. Let’s see how beautiful you are. You can see us, but we can’t see you. Let’s see how beautiful you are.”

The house lights came on.

The aisles in the Forum were filling now. They had filled before but the ushers – wearing short, shiny, sherbet-colored togas that made them look like a karate team in a Las Vegas lounge act – had pushed the kids back to their seats each time. Now there seemed to be more than ever edging forward.

“This next song is from when you were little children,” Jagger said, introducing their second Chuck Berry song. “This is from before you let your hair grow long.”

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“Queenie” was one of those Fifties teenage songs, the songs that always got a ninety-five on Juke Box Jury because it had a beat and you could dance to it, and the lyrics were just barely risqué. With Richards’ familiar guitar chording and Jagger’s natural, gutty voice, it became a small classic.

Bang. Right into “Satisfaction.”

The place exploded. It was as if someone had cried fire or abandon ship; they jumped walls, leaped over chairs, shoved or belted anyone who had the misfortune to get in the way, and dropped ten feet from the balconies.

“Honky Tonk Woman” did it. Now it was absolute pandemonium. The bumpy plateau of heads and hands and girls sitting on boyfriends’ shoulders stretched more than a hundred yards to the far end of the Forum floor.

Jagger seemed reasonably satisfied and ended the concert with “Street Fighting Man.”

What can a poor boy do

But play in a rock and roll band?

Jagger exited the stage throwing kisses and batting his eyes and waving fluttering hands. It was as if he were doing a Tiny Tim impression. Kiss kiss flutter flutter. Thank you thank you thank you. Kiss kiss.

Thus the Rolling Stones “offically” began their first American tour in more than three years.

Actually the tour had begun the day before, on Friday, November 7th, a full day ahead of the publicized date, when the Stones flew to Colorado to perform a “break-in” concert at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, about sixty miles from Denver. This performance had been advertised by its Denver promoter for at least three weeks, but outside Colorado no one seemed to know of it; the Stones had asked that details of the concert go untold, in case something went wrong.

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The Stones played, essentially, the same set they would play the next four days of the tour. Only the audience response differed. In Colorado, Jagger said a day later, “They just sat there. They were, I think” – leaning forward, whispering confidentially – “too stoned to move.”

Following the concert, the Stones went to the Holiday Inn nearby for a snack, then flew back to Los Angeles, arriving at four-twenty Saturday morning. Everybody was dead and the tour hadn’t even officially started yet.

By noon Saturday controlled chaos was forming as dozens of people involved with the tour began to gather in the mountain-top Los Angeles home serving as the Stones’ West Coast headquarters. Disheveled girls stumbled around, hair in their faces, sleepy grins, anxious for some eggs or cereal. The technical crew arrived and began talking about setting up the $19,000 sound system on the huge front lawn for a test.

The Forum in Los Angeles began to fill. Down on the floor, where the promoters had the $12.50 seats (at least twenty rows of them), the audience sparkled in sequined gowns, leather patchwork suits, velvet capes and celebrities.

Except to say B. B. was as brilliant in his guitar work as might be expected of a man who had influenced nearly every guitar player extant in rock, there’s no need to describe the set. Making sure he got everyone in the audience, though, he said he had a song about love and he wanted the audience to sing it with him. “All I want/Is a little bit of love.” Over and over and over again.

The audience hollered for more, but there wasn’t time. Ike and Tina Turner, the Ikettes and a six-piece band were backstage ready to go on.

They opened with a song they’d just learned, Janis Joplin‘s “Piece of My Heart.” Tina was wearing a dress that looked like she’d wrapped a piece of colored gauze around her middle, the idea being you thought you could see everything, but there was enough left to the imagination to really turn you on. With the Ikettes, similarly dressed, she watusi’d through “Shake a Tail Feather” and pony’d through “Higher.” Then she sang Joe South’s hit, “Games People Play” and the great Phil Spector song, “River Deep, Mountain High.”

In “Loving You,” Ike, playing guitar, sang the lines ahead of Tina and she repeated them. “You got what I want,” said Ike. “You got what I want,” said Tina. “You got what I need. I want you to give it to me. Make me say: oh oh bay … oh … ohhhhh … unnnhhhhh … unnnhhhhhh … oh baby … ohhhnnn! Oh baby … uhh hhhhhhhhhhh nnn nnnnnnnnnnnnnn!”

The audience burst loose with an absolute roar.

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The set finished with Tina singing Otis Redding‘s “Respect” (which included a long rap about how women want respect, too), the Beatles‘ “Come Together” and “Na Na Na,” a non – song made popular a few years ago by Cannibal and the Headhunters. Tina and the Ikettes went off in a blaze of strobe lights and smoke.

It was two-thirty when the second Forum show started, four when the Stones went on, five-fifteen when they unplugged and dashed backstage for the limousines for a hasty get-away . . . back to the Los Angeles mountain-top homes where they were staying for a few hours sleep before getting up to go to Oakland for the next night’s two concerts.

The promoters of the Los Angeles concerts, Jim Rissmiller and Steve Wolf of Concert Associates, said they grossed $260,000, with the Stones getting sixty – five per cent of that – $169,000 for the two hours and fifteen minutes they were on-stage. Wolf and Rissmiller said they expected to net about $39,000.

Four days later there was an ad in the Los Angeles Times: “Due to difficulties beyond our control the two performances of the Rolling Stones Concert on Saturday, November 8th was delayed. We wish to apologize to the Rolling Stones’ fans and their parents for any inconvenience.” It was signed the Stones, the producers, KRLA (co – producing with Concert Associates) and the Forum. And the producers were talking about getting hit with between four and five thousand dollars in refunds for people whose view had been blocked by the mountainous pile of loudspeakers on the stage.

(They had been promised tickets for the November 20th concert, but that was cancelled after the Stones decided they didn’t want to do another concert in L.A. “What if something went wrong?” Charlie Watts asked. “It would be an anti-climax. Fuck it.”)

Oakland was one of the faceless cities for the Stones; they arrived when it was nearly dark (five-thirty Sunday afternoon) and left ten hours later when it was still dark, seeing only the 15,000-seat Oakland Coliseum and the nearby Edgewater Inn, where the Stones freshened up following the fight, ate supper and held an informal press conference prior to the first of the evening’s two shows.

It was at the Edgewater that the security arranged by the Stones showed its strength and efficiency. The press conference, for example, was (oddly) by invitation only and no one was allowed to take photographs except for the Stones’ official photographer. Several reporters were kept in the lobby, nowhere near the room where the conference was held, while others were kept outside the room’s closed door. And a huge guard stood there, arms crossed over his forty-eight-inch chest.

At the concerts there was an even more complicated system in practice. Photographers were permitted to shoot the performance, but had to have a photographer’s pass, a three-inch lapel button showing a red horizontal bar in a red circle against a white background – the European highway symbol for, peculiarly, Do Not Enter.

Further complicating the situation was the fact that there were at least thirty-five in the “official Stones party.” There were ten in the production crew. There were five writers, one of them researching a Stones biography. Jagger’s secretary Jo Bergman was along, constantly making telephone calls and parrying with the hordes who wanted to get at Mick. Tony Fuches, a huge, muscular black student from Los Angeles who’d formerly served as Jim Morrison‘s bodyguard. The people representing the Chrysler Corporation, always counting cars and station wagons (by Oakland there were twenty-eight in use) and worrying about where they were.

The only things that distinguished the two shows in Oakland from the one in Colorado and the two in Los Angeles – except for accelerating excitement – was the fact that all the amplifiers blew out and the promoter, Bill Graham, got into a fight with Sam Cutler. And . . . the staging, of course.

The staging was near-perfect. To begin with, the Oakland Coliseum is a good-looking hockey rink; an overhead grid in the saucer-shaped structure looks like a turbine and you’re convinced you’re deep inside a space ship headed for another galaxy. Over the stage was a bank of colored lights. Scattered around the giant bagel-shaped room, against the ceiling, were six spreading laser beams, the spotlights, bathing the Stones in blue and red. And over the whole thing, high over the stage and colored lights, was a monstrous closed circuit TV screen. Two cameras were in front of the stage and for an hour and fifteen minutes twice that night the screen was filled with Jagger’s uni-sex face. (Looking at times quite the duplicate of Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall. And when the cameras pulled wide to show all of Jagger, prancing, he looked and moved like Hayley Mills.) It was, simply, a consummate show executed in a consummate manner. Bill Graham proved, once again, that he knew what a promoter should do.

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But Graham made a little mistake. It happened during Oakland’s first show, when the thousands who had been dancing in the aisles rushed the stage, overrunning (but not damaging) the closed circuit television cameras.

Graham jumped onto the stage and began bouncing around like a man trying to stamp out a nest of snakes, pushing kids away and giving orders. Sam Cutler asked Graham to leave the stage. Graham told Cutler to get the hell off his stage. Then Graham grabbed Cutler – and Cutler, having a fuse only millimeters longer than Graham’s, grabbed back. They were going to kill each other.

Five feet away the Stones were still playing “Satisfaction.”

Finally the fight was stopped, but after the show, there was a lot of tension backstage. Graham was pacing. A dozen men in black suits stood outside the Stones’ dressing room. Rumors flew: The Stones are going to incite a riot, tell the kids to destroy the place.

Nothing happened. They juggled the line-up a bit, but that’s all.

Actually, the first juggling came during the first show, before the fistfight, when nearly all the amplifiers blew out. The amps had come from Ampeg, only two or three weeks old and never tested; the Stones were the first to use them; it was brand new experimental stuff. And it blew. So Jagger and Richard got into the acoustic numbers sooner than planned, to allow technicians time to repair and then replace the amps. In the second show, the Stones played through amps rushed to the arena by the Grateful Dead – with Owsley standing guard.

Also in the second show Ike and Tina opened and Terry Rield followed them and bombed, then B. B. came on and finally the Stones. B. B. was so good, he took the tour’s only (so far) encore.

The show was still improving. Jagger was gaining confidence. He once had talked about the thrill of poking that audience/monster, to stir it to its feet, to get it going. In Oakland he said, “I’ve got so used to playing in these big places. There’s a special kind of buzz to get all those people at it. It’s real easy to get two – thousand at it, man. I tell you, it’s a walk-over.”

Only one show was planned for San Diego, in the Sports Arena, home of professional basketball’s Rockets, professional hockey’s Gulls. It was the fourth round building of the tour and the one that most looked like a gymnasium – a huge Scoreboard over the center of the floor, an American flag nearby.

Outside, uniformed city cops stood near each of the arena’s four entrances, stopping anyone who approached to see he had a ticket. Other cops stood in lines of a dozen or more in the parking lot, staring at the four or five hundred kids shuffling around in the distance. By evening’s end, several dozen had been arrested, some for smoking grass, more for interfering with a police officer and vandalism. (A number of arena windows were broken.) San Diego was the toughest so far. It was also the last to be produced by Bill Graham.

Graham walked to center-stage. Ike and Tina had just finished their set and already the aisles were jammed. “A couple of days ago up north we had three very serious physical incidents when people came up to the stage,” Graham said. “We can’t tell you what to do, but please – think before you do it.” It was as if Graham were drawing a line and daring the Stones to cross it.

The Stones crossed it. Jagger came out in a flowing white shirt, a red scarf wrapped around his neck and flowing down behind like religious vestments. He pranced and smiled Burt Lancaster smiled and waved and bowed and shouted, “All right! All right!”

Jagger gave the signal to turn on the house lights a song earlier in San Diego, before beginning “Gimme Some Shelter.”

It is odd that, while crowd inhibitions normally diminish in the dark, at rock concerts it’s when the lights go on that the mob moves. Jagger knows this and he uses it.

The audience was pushed against the stage during “Queenie” and “Satisfaction.” It was a bumping and weaving mass that stuck thousands of hands into the air to applaud every song. Jagger seemed pleased.

Graham wouldn’t reveal his grosses for the three shows, but the producer of the Phoenix show had some estimates to make. The way he heard it Graham grossed about $75,000 for each of the Oakland shows, $71,300 in San Diego – with the Stones again claiming sixty-five per cent. This would have given Graham a reasonable profit, but there also were stories going around about how unsatisfied Graham was with the Stones. He was reported unhappy with the guarantee and unhappy with some of the special clauses included in the contract. “No fucking comment,” Graham said. “No fucking comment about anything.”

Tuesday the Stones flew to Phoenix, which was only sixty-five per cent sold out, which meant the producers lost money. The Stones still walked away with $40,000, their guarantee against the percentage.

“Even if we did lose money, I have to say it was a good contract,” said Bill Siddons, the Doors‘ manager and a consultant to the Phoenix producers. “The Stones had some great clauses in there – like they won’t play to a segregated audience and if the producer tries to put that over, the Stones can walk out with the guarantee … and the producer must hire at least fifty unarmed guards – y’dig, unarmed, no guns and no billies. I’m going to add them to my Doors contracts.”

Siddons and his friends grossed $55,100, more than $30,000 short of the potential. He said the producers lost about $5,000. Siddons also said they had let about a thousand kids in free at the last minute, because they were trying to tear the coliseum apart.

The Stones were on the road again. And though they faced a few empty seats in some cities, demand was so great in New York that their two scheduled concerts at Madison Square Garden (a total of 32,000 seats) sold out the day tickets went on sale. A third show at the Garden is being added – probably for the afternoon of November 28th – and Keith Richards now says there definitely will be a free concert when the tour is over (last date is November 30th, West Palm Beach), though no specific wheres or whens are being made public.

In many ways the tour was exactly like the last one in 1966. The logistical confusion, the last–minute chaos, the greed, the ego displays, the cast of characters . . . this and more remained unchanged. Only the audience reaction seemed different. In 1966 it was wall-to-wall whoops of sexual frenzy, every concert the reason for rioting. In 1969 the audience was, as Jagger himself put it. “intellectualizing.” Sitting on their hands, in other words.

In the three years the monster needed more prodding to stir it to its feet. Jagger got them (using his words again) “at it,” but it was no “walk-over.” Perhaps he was learning that in the time he had been absent from America, rock and roll had moved from the dance hall to the concert stage.

Bill Graham confided that if he had to do it all over again, he probably wouldn’t, but Graham also said, “What I hope the Stones do is turn the whole country on, do what the Mets did for New York, wake ’em up. And I think the Stones can do it. Mick Jagger is the greatest fucking performer in the whole fucking world.”

This story is from the December 13, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.