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Michael Sigman

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Andrew Oldham's Tales of Getting (Rolling) Stoned

Posted: 09/18/2011 5:45 pm

What do Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have in common, aside from being musical geniuses who changed the world? They all worked with Andrew Loog Oldham while he was still a teenager.

Oldham helped publicize Dylan and the Beatles in the early '60s, but his essential role as manager and producer of the Stones from '63-'67 is the central story in his exhilarating e-book memoir, Rolling Stoned, a combination/update of his earlier tomes Stoned and 2Stoned.

Oldham's flair for storytelling is well known to fans of his radio program on Steve Van Zandt's Underground Garage, one of the best stations on the planet. For three hours every weekday and four on weekends, Oldham punctuates pop gems old and new with colorful tales of the music business, pre-corporatization and pre-collapse. Van Zandt says, "Andrew is the light of my radio life. I'm quite proud of the fact that I've talked him into his first legitimate job since stitching petticoats for [mod fashion pioneer] Mary Quant. Okay, DJ isn't exactly a legitimate job, but he is broadcasting from the Loog-o-Sphere seven days a week which, for us seekers of truth and wisdom, is cumulative enlightenment."

Oldham's first impressions of the Stones are precise and priceless. "Mick was thin, waistless, giving him the human form of a puma with a gender of its own; [Keith was] black as night, hacked hair, maybe baby-hacked face atop a war-rationed baby-body channeled into his guitar." Brian Jones's "Head, having forgone a neck, slipped straight into a subliminally deformed Greystoke body." Bassist Bill Wyman was "gaunt, pale, almost medieval." Drummer Charlie Watts was "the all-time man of his world, gentleman of time, space, and the heart." The unofficial sixth Stone, keyboardist Ian Stewart, "had a Popeye torso, a William Bendix jawline, and a bad Ray Danton haircut."

Enlisting more experienced bizzer Eric Easton as a partner, Oldham quickly became the Stones' deus ex manager. He leveraged his contacts with London photographers and music journalists to spread the word that the Stones were a rough bunch, unlike the cute, lovable Beatles. For an early photo shoot, he posed the Stones in their own scruffy clothes against a grim-looking wall overlooking a river. "That 'just-out-of-bed-and-fuck-you' look was the beginning of the image that would define and divine them," writes Oldham. "Word got out that the results of the session were 'disgusting.' I loved the photos, got the picture, the penny dropped." Here, Oldham's role was more facilitator than Svengali. He adds, "They were all bad boys when I found them. I just brought out the worst in them."

Andrew's contribution to the Stones went way beyond image-making. He brought in Lennon-McCartney to write the early Stones hit "I Wanna Be Your Man," encouraged Jagger-Richards to write and record their own songs (they continued to brilliantly cover material written by others) and produced some of the greatest rock & roll records ever made.

You can't expect total consistency from anyone, let alone a guy who suffered drug addiction and severe manic depression for decades before he got sober. Oldham says he "dreamt up" the immortal line, "Would you let your daughter go with a Rolling Stone?" (The Fleet Street media preferred 'marry' to 'go with.') But elsewhere, he asks, "Did I first say it? No, but I heard someone say it and I repeated it and made it work." To his credit, Oldham acknowledges what's inherent in all memoirs: "I've given you the truth of my recall."

That recall provides a bird's eye view of '60s fashion. Sonny Bono, for instance, wore "barber-pole striped trousers, an Italian sweater of the sort thus far only dared by Carnaby poofters, sole and heel-less Indian calf-length moccasins, and paisley neck scarf...."

Life with the Stones inevitably included its share of heartbreak. As the '60s wore on, Brian Jones became so debauched -- towards the end, Andrew's wife Sheila noted, "He was trying to smoke a cigarette and couldn't find his face" -- that the group ejected him in 1969. Within a month, Jones died under mysterious circumstances at age 27.

A different kind of death occurred in 1967, when Andrew, still only 23, parted company with the Stones. He recounts this telephone exchange with Jagger:
"Mick, I'm not coming back. I think it's time we called it a day."
"Well, Andrew, if that is how you feel ..."
"Yes, Mick, that is how I feel."
"Well, Andrew. If you've made up your mind."
"Yes, I have. We don't need to do our laundry in public, so if you agree ..."
"I agree."
"So that's it then?"
"Yep, that's it, Mick."
"OK, Andrew, goodnight."
"Goodbye, Mick, have a good life."
Andrew's driver Eddie Reed, at the wheel of the Rolls, asked, "Where to?" and Andrew replied, "I don't know, Eddie ... just drive around."

Rolling Stoned also offers many a fascinating tale from Andrew's pre- and post-Stones life. But wait, there's more. When he's not DJing or blogging about his myriad other activities, he's polishing another book, Stone Free, with chapters on such music biz heavyweights as Allen Klein, Brian Epstein, Phil Spector and Pete Kameron.

For Oldham, writing books is like producing records. "Cut the track, do the overdubs, check the lead vocal and mix it. I'm techless, but I have no problem assembling, remembering and arranging. Ron Ross [a Brit rock expert and a fine writer-editor], Simon Spence and the other fellows who assisted are like engineers, arrangers and graphic departments rolled into a wonderful one."

 

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