That one sent him to London to write an article about the Rolling Stones, one that turned out to be about Brian Jones' last drug trial. Booth arrived in London, rolled up to the Stones' office, told them I was from Memphis and that I knew people like BB King and Furry Lewis, and he was, more or less, in. He’d met Memphis blues man Furry Lewis through a friend who owned a club where Furry occasionally played, had spent mornings accompanying him on his regular gig as a street sweeper and had put him onto the War on Poverty: Memphis Area project South Summer Workshops Program where he made a thousand dollars for working for six weeks, two hours a day.

There’s a bit of street cred there that transcends hack journo status and provides the access that fuels two-thirds of the narrative threads that run through The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones and a fair bit of the third. As far as the Stones were concerned he looked and dressed the part, spoke with the right (Southern) accent, indulged in the right vices and, coming from Memphis had firsthand knowledge of the music that inspired them.

I had managed to sweep the streets with Furry Lewis, throw up at Elvis Presley's ranch (overdosed on the painkiller Darvon by Dewey Phillips, the first man to play an Elvis record on the radio), drink Scotch for breakfast with BB King, watch Otis Redding teach Steve Cropper 'The Dock of the Bay' ... (loc. 4925 of the Kindle edition)

Following that trip to England Booth had a publisher looking for a book about the Stones, though he was, in his own words, way too serious and high-minded. Things started to change with Brian Jones’ death on 3 July 1969, since his death was a mystery. I wanted to get to the bottom of that. Booth heard the news directly from Stones secretary Jo Bergman, so he was already, to most intents and purposes on the inside. He was also partly swayed by his mate Memphis producer-musician Jim Dickinson assertion that the Stones were bound to be good ol' boys.

The Brian Jones side of things provides one of the three narrative strands Booth uses to drive the narrative, a more or less chronological description of the rise of the Stones from the days before they were an unknown group in front of an audience that didn’t quite stretch to double figures at the Station Hotel, Richmond, through the scene at the nearby Richmond Athletic Club that produced, among others, the Yardbirds and the Pretty Things to the end of the Sixties, when they were at the height of their rock’n’roll power and mainstream media notoriety.

As far as the other two strands are concerned, one runs through the actual tour, starting from the various parties arriving in Los Angeles, running through the pre-tour rehearsals and then heading off on the circuit of dates that finished with the infamous free show at Altamont. The other, predictably, is Altamont, a slowly unveiled account of the whole shebang from a viewpoint within the Stones’ entourage. That doesn’t deliver a whole lot of new detail, but is told by an observer with an eye for detail and unrivalled access to what was going on behind the scenes.

Looking back on it, that Stones tour across America represents a remarkable stage in the evolution of the twentieth century rock concert, one that’s worth pausing a moment to consider. Forty-five years later matters relating to touring have been honed into a finely tuned mechanism, but here, having just emerged from the package tour where you get half a dozen acts in the space of two hours or thereabouts with the whole party travelling on a bus you’re heading towards a longer set by the headliners with a couple of support acts, and, in most cases, still two shows per night.

The Stones had moved into travel by chartered airliner territory, but when you read the details here the logistics of the whole operation seem completely ramshackle as the touring party weaves its way through the concrete underbellies and stage entrances of the sports arenas and basketball stadiums that seemed to be the promoters’ venues of choice. The logistical arrangements get them to the night’s destination, though you have to add the qualifiers just and eventually, there are seemingly interminable delays in airport terminals, on the tarmac and nights spent in anonymous identical Holiday Inns. They’re the sort of circumstances that don’t just encourage the travelling rocker to seek refuge in chemicals, but go close to making the rampant drug use close to mandatory for anyone who isn’t immune to sleep deprivation, flawed decisions, illogical logistics, and inept management.

Booth also gets the reader inside the session at Alabama’s Muscle Shoals studio, where they played for three days straight, cutting Brown SugarWild Horses, and Fred McDowell’s You Got To Move, all of which, of course, ended up on Sticky Fingers. When the Stones needed a piano player for Wild Horses, Booth points them towards his mate Jim Dickinson, who he’d invited along to the session and introduced to the band.


© Ian Hughes 2012