Both the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were, unlike the Beatles, a bit difficult for me to appreciate at first. The fab four took my heart immediately but not so the Stones and Dylan despite the fact that both were ultimately fundamental to the popular music of the 1960s.
The first time I ever saw a photo of the Rolling Stones was in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1964 under a headline reading: ‘Here Come Five More!’ This was a reference to the preponderance of long haired British rock bands coming to the USA in the wake of the enormous success of the Beatles.
The picture of the Stones wasn’t great and whoever retouched it hadn’t done anything to enhance their visual image. They looked ugly and I remember thinking I could never like them in a million years.
The next time they came to my attention was when I heard their single Time Is On My Sideon the radio. It was okay but nothing special as far as I was concerned.
It was later the same year that I was riding somewhere in Jeff Mayer’s 1948 Plymouth Coup and I heard their single It’s All Over Nowon the radio. I had to admit I liked the sound of that very much indeed. The way the electric guitarist hit the chords as the ending faded out certainly caught my attention.
Jeff Mayer was a year older than me and, for a time, we sort of hung out a bit. This consisted of me being a passenger in his car and occasionally coughing up some money for gas as I recall that he often drove it until almost empty.
I think that he lived with his mother and was a very self-reliant person. He had a job working at the Purity supermarket in Alto and paid for his car and the upkeep of it by himself. In this regard he was a pretty unusual fellow as most of the Mill Valley kids I knew tended to rely on their parents financially.
Jeff was a naturally funny person and had been the rally commissioner at Tam High. I remember one occasion when he turned in a truly original comic performance. He came to the mike in front of a packed Mead Theatre and slowly surveyed the audience. Without uttering a single word of English, he began chuckling, gently at first but soon was laughing out loud. Within a minute the entire student body was crying with hysterical laughter and he kept it up for many minutes.
Although Jeff would have the Top 40 radio on in his car I don’t remember ever discussing pop music with him and the Rolling Stones remained a background noise for me until much later.
Jeff had a thing on his steering wheel which looked like a doorknob, the purpose of which seemed to be doing sharp turns quickly with one hand.
My brother Jim remembers a drag race one night across the old Corte Madera road between Jeff in His ’48 Plymouth and Jimmy Brown in his Volvo. Jim Myers was the passenger in the Volvo while I rode with Mayer. It was a hair raising, high speed experience with Jeff screeching around those bends and using his doorknob to negotiate the necessary turns. I can only guess that we encountered no traffic coming the other way and once we cleared the summit where the gates of that big house stood, Jeff was clearly in the lead. The finish line was the stop sign by the Purity supermarket where Mayer’s Plymouth screeched to a shuddering halt followed by Jimmy Brown’s Volvo.
The idea of a high speed race on that winding road at any time of day or night makes me shudder to think of now but back in those days such crazy activities were commonplace. I was a passenger in many a recklessly driven vehicle during that era and the fact that I’m alive to recount such shenanigans occasionally surprises me.
Yet Jeff was not an irresponsible fellow. He took his job at Purity seriously and always made his car payments on time. Of course I never had a car of my own in those days so the temptation to have a drag race never crossed my mind but I certainly rode with some pretty dangerous drivers.
But I digress. What about the Rolling Stones you must be wondering? Well at this time I too had an after school job as a busboy up at La Ginestra on Throckmorton and it was actually pretty exciting as this Italian restaurant was taking off in a big way. It occupied what had been Esposti’s soda fountain and café and Sal the boss had clearly bought everything they owned. I recognised the oval plates and coffee mugs as belonging to Esposti’s and he still had the long lunch counter as well as the booths.
It was during this time that an old classmate of mine from Edna Maguire, Steve Tobin, came back from London where he’d been living for a few years. When I’d first met Steve in Mr Healy’s 7th grade history and English class his last name was Tollestrup but in the course of that year his mother remarried and he took his step father’s name which was Tobin.
To the likes of me Steve Tobin now spoke with what sounded like an English accent though he assured me that he didn’t sound that way to British folks. He was medium tall, had straight blonde hair, wore a big dark sailor’s coat and what I thought of as Beatle boots. He regaled me with tales of life in London which I loved listening to. When I asked about the music scene he spoke of only one band: “The Rolling Stones, mate.” He explained to me that the Stones were the most exciting band in London and that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were innovative trend setters.
I remember Steve coming to see me at La Ginestra where I managed to get him a free meal. He had a plate of French fries and I remember that he asked for vinegar to put on the fries which I’d never heard of.
So Steve got me interested in the Rolling Stones. They had an EP called Five By Fivewhich I bought at Village Music. It had a full length colour photo on them against a pale blue background. The five Stones all had longish hair and were all dressed differently. Brian Jones wore a suit and tie while all the rest were casually attired. They had Beatle boots on except for Mick Jagger who wore brown suede shoes. On the back was a black and white photo, a list of the five tracks and a brief sleeve note signed by their producer Andrew Loog Oldham.
At this time we were living at 48 Catalpa down near Park School and our record player sat near the front window of our living room on the second floor.
The EP took a bit of getting used to for me. It was rhythm and blues rather than pop. One of the tracks was an instrumental with a harmonica solo entitled 2120 South Michigan Avenueand all five songs had been recorded, the sleeve notes informed me, in Chicago during their recent American tour.
The music didn’t grab me straight away but Steve Tobin’s enthusiasm for them and his tales of gigs he’d seen them at had infected me and I became determined to give them a fair shake. So I listened to the EP over and over and, gradually, I came to like it. Around And Aroundwas pretty good and I definitely liked the instrumental number.
Before long I bought their LP which simply bore the title: The Rolling Stonesand had a dark moody looking photo of them on the front and another piece of effusive writing by Loog Oldham on the back. He described them as: “more than just a group – they are a way of life.” This guy was clearly a salesman but the tracks on the LP were pretty good. Side one kicked off with a good cover of Route 66along with other songs not written by them though Tell Mewas credited to Jagger and Richards. As I had always been in the habit of examining a record sleeve’s details from my early collecting days with Glen Pritzker, I was curious to see the name ‘Phelge’ appear as composer on two of the tracks.
The one thing that listening to the Stones’ records couldn’t convey was what they were like ‘live.’ This I got an idea about from Steve Tobin who would do imitations of Mick Jagger’s curious dancing style. One such imitation involved him clapping his hands to the side of his hips while jutting backwards on one foot. To my sensibility this looked odd, but I was, nonetheless, in the slow process of becoming a Rolling Stones fan.
Their next LP was 12 x 5and featured another dark and moody colour photo of the group on the front and another gushing essay from Loog Oldham on the back. This had all the tracks from 5 x 5as well as It’s All Over Nowand a cover version ofSusie Q. I noted that Jagger and Richards were credited as composers on three of the songs while the names Nanker and Phelge appeared on another two. The rest were cover versions.
I finally saw a short colour film of the Stones which showed them performing at the London Palladium. They played Around and Aroundso I was able to recognise the performance style so accurately demonstrated by Steve Tobin. Jagger’s dance movements were decidedly feminine and not remotely macho which was in total contrast to the sound of his vocals. He was a very good blues singer with a convincing black American style. Many of the songs had an aggressive edge and the subject matter was decidedly sexual. But the visual and audio were interestingly at odds with each other.
Bob Dylan, at this time, was somebody I heard about but never actually listened to though I knew he was a song writer who, along with Joan Baez, was a big hit with the anti-war crowd.
My next chance to see the Stones perform was in a full length movie called The T.A.M.I. Show. Shot in black and white at the Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, this was a rock and pop concert film with the most diverse collection of recording artists imaginable: Jan & Dean, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Gerry and the Pacemakers, James Brown and plenty more top acts including the Rolling Stones. It was fantastic. Each artist performed about five numbers and I guess it was the salesmanship of Andrew Loog Oldham which meant that the Stones were the closing act.
As I knew the music of most of the performers it was a highly enjoyable experience for me but there was one guy I knew nothing about and that was James Brown. I guess that this was before he had crossed over to Top 40 from the black soul scene.
I knew the music of the Four Tops, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson but that’s because they’d all had big hits on mainstream white radio. James Brown was completely new to me and I watched with rapt interest as his big band and three backing singers broke into the lengthy intro for Out of Sightbefore he came running out onto the stage and started doing this amazing dance about a few yards from his mike. He had a huge pompadour hairdo and was dressed sharp as a pin with a checked jacket, waist coat and the shiniest shoes ever. The shoes came to my attention because of the way he was dancing. Whether on one leg or two, his feet kept up this swivelling motion throughout the high tempo song and never seemed to stop. This guy caught your attention and kept it.
In retrospect Mick Jagger must have copied much of his dance style from James Brown who was a master showman and a monster soul singer. In fact his music was so interesting as in I’m Just A Prisoner. And his show business was something else. His colleagues came out to drape a cape over his shoulders and lead him off stage only for him to break away and run back to the microphone one more time.
So The TA.M.I. Showwas terrific. Also it was my first proper exposure to the Rolling Stones live but over the next few months their records would become more interesting to me.
In Part 2: Hullaballoo, The Last Time, listening to Dylan and the release of Satisfaction.