It’s no surprise at all arriving to Andrew Loog Oldham’s hotel room and find him on the phone. He’s lying in bed while he talks, and is sporting shorts and sandals. Being stuck to a phone must have been one of the most common tasks in his last fifty years, eventually since he began to be part of the British showbiz scene. After all, this is the man who, despite his informality, is the only one to hold the title of having been the Rolling Stones’ original manager and producer during the first four years of the band, mostly the essential ones. Which doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? And additionally one of the main iconic British record producers in both Pop and Rock history, let alone his role as impresario and, at least for the last 10 years or so, his own biographer, and incorrigible writer. Oldham is talking to his wife in Colombia, where he moved to about 30 years ago. Then one cannot help but wonder how come it is that, being Colombia a Spanish-speaking country, his isn’t as good as expected, and deliberately choosing to speak Spanglish instead, an informal way to describe the unofficial mix of both English and Spanish. “Well, I do eventually speak some Spanish, but anyway let’s do the interview in English” Sure Andrew, English then. And it’s going to be a long one. We’ll talk, discuss and argue for over two hours, and we’ll even lose track of what we were saying many times. In the meantime, there are at least half a dozen of flasks containing vitamin and herbal pills on one of the tables at Oldham’s hotel room (“I gotta take care of my liver, it’s something that comes from my grandfather”) There also different blends of British tea that he proudly got in Buenos Aires, and a large-sized plastic bag full of dry nuts, almonds and hazelnuts, which we’ll enjoy throughout the interview. Tea and sympathy from a true British man, how could you ever say ‘no’ to that? Next thing Andrew is complaining about the cost of the taxis in the city. I tell him not to worry, that they’re very much in keeping with any price at the supermarket. Oldham talks. A lot, almost non-stop. And so do I. We’ll interrupt each other quite often during the conversation. At 69, and with a brilliant memory, he is an unquestionable storyteller backed-up by an unlimited arsenal rich in personal experiences and juicy anecdotes which, after all, are the leitmotivs throughout his vast course, even when he’s now a bit in a hurry, too concerned about starting packing up all the things he bought during his stay in Buenos Aires (“It will take me a full day, I always buy things, I collect them”) He’s once again in town, this time to participate in a business conference for which he was hired by a local firm. But Oldham takes some advantage of it to spend a few more days in Buenos Aires, a city that, in his own words, “fascinates me”. I must confess, along the interview I had to stop myself from my original plan to ask him mostly questions exclusively related to his years with the Rolling Stones. That in the end were less than five, but truly the Stones’ embryonic ones. Oldham was there, almost right from minute one, nearly in every recording or photo session, TV appearance or concert of the band. Since the Stones were just another unknown underground act in London, to their virtual explosion into stardom, which he was an essential part of. But that wouldn’t happen, so far this time. He instead wanders around his endless labyrinth of stories, which is still a fantastic ride. But promises to do so in a future interview. So shall justice be done…
You were born in the 40’s but you’re considered a man of the 60’s, as eventually you started developing your career from the 60’s onwards. What was actually the very thing that took you to become interested in show business? I know you were always interested in the so-called “pop culture” in general. But was there anything else in particular?
When I was about 9 or 10, and I couldn’t go on the underground train, I couldn’t go by myself, I’d go with my mother. We lived in Hampstead, London. There was a part of me that was frightened of the underground because of the trains, the noise, the wind. The danger. But also because in the first year and a half of my life, even though I didn’t really realize it, every time the Germans came to bomb, you know we were always taken down into the underground when the sirens went. I don’t really remember it. Some people who are a little older than me remember it very well. As a distraction for me in that, the war experience…Have you ever been to London? And did you see the underground?
Yeah, last year, and I sure got on the underground many times.
OK, I think the underground is terrifying. You know, the tracks, the danger.
Well, I’d say, it’s so narrow. Maybe that’s the reason why they call it “the tube”
OK, you have a point, it’s true. I think you’re probably right, it could be that. OK I haven’t thought about that. It’s amazing how people arrive in the place that you were born and they locate the obvious. Anyway, I was attracted to film posters, because generally music wasn’t advertised. The film posters were in the underground, on the way down, so it was a distraction, it was a fascination, and I was immediately drawn to this wonderful escape, in particular the American films, and then on the second level I was attracted more to the words “produced by”, “presented”, “directed by”, because I already knew that I wouldn’t be John Wayne, that I would not be…
That I wouldn’t be Joan Crawford! But Mick Jagger would…I knew I’m not gonna be James Cagney, or Tony Curtis. And also at that time, the Americans have gone home, and so in many ways they were perfect, because we only saw Americans as young people on the screen, where they had perfect dialogues, perfect lighting, and great exits.
Maybe you got the impression they were even more perfect because of the things you were going through at the time in England, as everything looked so gray and dark…And then those colour posters in the tube that eventually called your attention.
True! Exactly! You know England had won the war, but you wouldn’t know it, you wouldn’t notice it. The American money had gone to Germany.
I know your father died in the war. How old were you at the time?
I wasn’t born. I was conceived nine months before January of 1944, and he was killed in June of 1943.
So while your mother was pregnant with you, your father was away…
He was trying to bomb Germany! He was an American pilot. Interestingly he had a family home in America, and at the same time his wife was pregnant, in Texas. So I have a half-sister. I’ve never met her.
So your father wasn’t basically your mother’s husband…
No, it was one of those wonderful things, you know. His name was Andrew Loog. The second name was Loog. My mother’s last name was Oldham, but her mother had changed it from the original one, because they came from Poland and Lithuania. So there were two women pregnant by the same man, and the one in Texas, Mrs. Loog… (The conversation is interrupted again by a phone that rings. First it was Andrew’s son Max, who lives in Brooklyn. Now it’s a friend who’s calling)
Phones. Still better than cell phones. Cell phones are terrible. I don’t travel with a cell phone.
Welcome aboard! You know, I never had a cell phone. I hate them. I hate them too. So why you don’t like them? Is it because you’re reachable all the time?
I don’t live my life like that. I don’t wanna be reachable. I like the idea of coming into my hotel at 6 in the evening and say “were there any calls for me?”
One should remain in the past some way. You have the internet, this and that…
I want to, I want to! When I had lunch today, I was sitting there in a table all by myself. I just study people, and the amount of couples that spend lunch on the telephones! I don’t get it. If it’s good for them, fine. It’s not good for me.
Plus you can get robbed for it, you know. How is it in Colombia?
There’s a place where I go to hike, in Bogota. And there were always robberies in this mountain where people walk up. There were always gangs of young boys, they were probably 14 or 15. Once there was an old man carrying his cell phone, and one of them said to him “listen, you see this gun, it’s already killed seven people, eight won’t make any fuckin’ difference” People ask me “is Columbia still as dangerous as it was?” Probably, but so is the rest of the world. I mean, Manchester or Liverpool, they’re just dangerous. Because of drink, basically. And drugs.
So let’s go back to your mum…
So the wife of Liutenant Loog is also pregnant when his plane is shot down by the Germans and she, this woman in Texas, looks down at her pregnant stomach and she says (and this could only happen in Texas) “whether you’re a boy or a girl, you’re gonna be called Andrew Loog” So the real name of my half-sister is Andrew Loog! And I’m Andrew Loog Oldham! When I published Stoned I wanted to be polite and not necessarily say things that could hurt people, well, some people, and I got this sort of internet private detective that Stephen King uses…
Stephen King, the writer?
Yes, his friend was a friend of mine. So, the detective guy, he didn’t find her. This is in the year 2000. We’ve been to the Air Force records in Waco, Texas, and they said that I had three brothers. I don’t. I hired him to track her down, to find if I had any living family in Texas or Louisiana.
But you keep in touch with them, although you never visited or met them…
I found other relatives in England because of the publishing of the book, and this is amusing. When I was at the age of 10, that was the first time I was worried about losing my hair. I wanted to see a picture of my father, I just wanted to see what hair he had. My mother had a brother, and I said to her “do you have any pictures of him” “Only with his navy hat”, she said. “But what happened to him?” This is like 1955, I’m 10. She said “well you know, before the war we weren’t really friends, so when the war finished I didn’t see the point of finding out if he was alive or dead” That’s fuckin’ cold, fuckin’ incredible! She was very well-connected, and the American air force had written to her and told her that he had died. So alright, she has a brother or she doesn’t have a brother, either if he got killed in the war, or whatever. Now, cut to the year 2000, the book comes out and about ten months later the publisher, Random House, sends me a letter that arrives in Colombia, and it’s from Michael or something, all right, somebody “Oldham” in the West coast of England, where they made “Straw Dogs”, Sam Peckinpah’s movie. The letter says “we have no idea if our father’s sister is still alive, but we realized that you were part of the family, so we went and bought the book. We wanted to give it to our father, your uncle, for Father’s Day as a present, but unfortunately a week before he had a heart attack. He went into hospital and died!”
You should have never published that book then, maybe he would still be alive!
He might have died a week earlier…
The dark forces of universe…
All of that! All of that! See, my mother’s family went from Poland to Australia. Ironically their grandfather died in Sydney at the age of 42 of liver disease. When they got to England in 1920, it seems they were orphans, and they went to different foster homes. And they said that my mother resented the fact that his brother went to better homes. So she never spoke to him again. This story is so fuckin’ Agatha Christie! So that was that.
So no blood brothers…
No, thank God.
So this story has never been published before. Maybe you referred to it in your book but not with all the details…
If you look at all my books, they’re in there. Probably the stories about my uncle.
Your books are great and you have a very personal way of writing, I enjoyed reading the three first ones very much (Stoned, 2Stoned and Rolling Stoned) But what happened to Stone Free?
You know the way people think that all the eBooks and Kindle is the future, you know it’s not…
I hate them!
I hate them too! But I’m afraid that’s the way it goes. People think that Mac and Apple are only 6 or 8 per cent of the business, but everybody in our business uses them, so we think the whole world uses them. They don’t. When I’m in Colombia, if a technician had to repair my Mac, they don’t know how to do it. Anyway, when the book came out as an eBook, I thought that was the future. I mean, I’m not going with an ordinary publisher, because an ordinary publisher is Harry Potter against everybody. So I gave it to this publisher, and my publicity man in England said to me “Andrew, if I don’t have a print, I can’t get reviews” So they printed them but, and here’s the disadvantage of being with an independent house. If they wanna send the book to England, they’re gonna pay the postage, and suddenly the book that was 20 dollars is suddenly 35 dollars. You cannot expect people to pay so much for a book. So I said to the publisher “OK listen, we tried, we all did our very best but is not working, so let’s finish the deal” Only a few were published, just enough for the reviews. They’re maybe available in independent bookstores in Los Angeles. Let me make us a cup of tea…
Sure, no problem.
You must stop using the words “no problem”
Why? Is it too American?
Yeah. It doesn’t mean anything. Just say “thank you” or, “not for me”!
You know last year I did my first trip to England ever, and I was a bit uncertain about my English, because it sounds rather American. I guess that’s because of the music, the movies, and all that. I mean, even British singers sound American when they sing…
When they sing, not when they speak. But the English, whether or not they have great voices, apart from, say, Joe Cocker, basically they’re acting.
All right now, have you heard the news that Monty Python is back again?
I’ve never liked Monty Python.
Sounds strange for an English person.
No, just a different generation. I like Lenny Bruce, Ernie Kovacs.
So, back to the beginning, now I know what made you become interested in show business. But your first important job was working for Mary Quant as her assistant. Actually her office boy. She put the miniskirt on the high street. The high street. This is very English, it’s strange. It’s the same with, uh, let’s see, if you go to public school, you’d think that would mean it’s for the public. It’s not, it’s for people who pay. Public schools are actually private schools. And it’s the same about high street. A wealthy area doesn’t usually have a high street, but a middle-class area does. One of the biggest stars of the 60s basically was the birth pill. So we did that and was mostly aimed at the working women. If you slept with somebody suddenly it didn’t necessarily mean that you had a baby, and you settled down, and your husband went to work. It was the beginning of both of you could work, right? So Mary did the mini-skirts and that was mostly aimed at the new young working woman. Actually, in music business we would say ‘copying’, but in fashion let’s say she was very influenced by the look of Coco Chanel. So it was basically the same. She never told me that, but if you look at them, they were very similar. Nothing is casual. So yeah, that was my first job.
So that wasn’t any original after all…
See, in England, before the Beatles, I wouldn’t say interesting, but we had a very uncreative life. Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, all those people. There was no chance at all that any of those people would have success in other countries. There were occasional freaks like Acker Bill, the Tornadoes with “Telstar”, and a couple of other things. But we copied American pop. But in a way that was unacceptable for America. Thy didn’t need Cliff Richard. They didn’t need Marty Wilde. Until the Beatles there was gonna be no America, simple as that. At the time we had Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and that British pop movement from ’58 to ’62. Basically, till the first Beatles’ single, fashion was the pop business. Between Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon and John Stephen, the man who basically opened Carnaby Street, you know, with these shops and all that, that was the pop business, and it was also a British invention that was exported. You know Vidal Sassoon had a saloon in Hollywood, David Bailey took pictures that were in Vogue magazine…So England had an image in other countries but it wasn’t music.
So pop was directly related to fashion way before music…And by the way how would you define ‘pop’?
Exactly, it was. ‘Pop’ means volume, I mean, volume of sales. It’s like thinking of what’s the difference between a band and a group. You know, Herman’s Hermits were a group, they were never a band. By the way, I saw Peter Noone in Vancouver just a month ago. He was great. There are two versions. In England there’s the Hermits, without Peter Noone, and in America there’s Peter Noone with the Herman’s Hermits, but they’re not the Hermits.
But there was only one in the 60’s…
Yes they were the same people, but then Peter Noone went to America, and the band stayed in England. And they still play, but without Peter Noone.
So basically all the people from your generation – musicians, producers, the music industry – are alive and well…
Oh they are! I mean, rap and hip-hop, they have nothing to do with this, there’s no way. And people who are doing popular music now don’t write songs. One day in Vancouver I bumped into David Crosby on the street, and the first thing I thought was “Oh God I hope he hasn’t read my second book”, because there’s a lot of stuff in it about acid and him. I mean, somebody that old, if he’s an artist, they only have time for themselves. They’re being David Crosby, as it should be, 24 hours a day. In the conversation that we had he said “hey listen man, it’s really great, if you’re over 50, and you can stand up, and you can remember the words, there’s work for everybody”
So how about your next jump, from fashion to music. How did it happen?
I was never a fashion designer. I don’t know why, I just started doing publicity, and I did people like Little Richard and Sam Cooke. That was incredible, right? Then in the first couple of months of 1963, I was a press agent representing both the Beatles, and Bob Dylan.
And then you publicized Dylan on his first visit to England, I’d consider that a major step…
He was doing the background music for a BBC play. I found out where he was staying, and when I knocked on the door at the hotel, he was there with Albert Grossman, and whatever these two were talking about, I don’t remember what it was. But whatever it was I wanted that. I wanted this conspiracy, this marriage. This is intoxicating. I didn’t say to myself “oh I want to be a manager”, it wasn’t that simple. But whatever it was, I wanted it, I loved it. I wanted to be around this.
And I guess that must have been fun, and good times, and…
It’s only 20 minutes. That’s all it takes.
But Dylan was already big in England, wasn’t he? He was in the magazines, and in the news…
He wasn’t big at all. And he wasn’t big in America either. What happened was, this BBC director had gone on holiday to New York in the beginning of the winter of 1962. And he liked jazz and all that stuff, and he was down in the Greenwich Village, and one of the clubs he went to he saw Bob Dylan. In September or October of 1962 Dylan only had one record out. So this man went to his bosses and said “look we’re doing this play about beatniks” I think it was a Jack London thing, I’m not sure. “So can we bring him over?, it’s only one guy” And they brought him in. I probably got him in the Melody Maker and a couple of other newspapers. They gave me fifteen pounds. I couldn’t get very good publicity for it because nobody wanted to fuckin’ write about him.
So they weren’t interested in a guy singing his folk songs all alone with a guitar…
Only the Melody Maker, but the others ‘pop’ papers didn’t, because the Melody Maker was into jazz, folk, and stuff. So I did that in January, February and March, and then on April 28, that’s when I went to see the Rolling Stones. So basically in the first four months of 1963 I represented the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. That was pretty good.
So you represented the three biggest acts at the same time…
Yes, but I didn’t think about it until five years ago. I had them all. I know why I realized it because I was thinking of it at somebody’s funeral. I had realized it before but I realized again at the end of last year because a guy called Chris Stamp died. He was the co-manager of The Who. And I was speaking at his funeral.
You gave a speech…
Well I wouldn’t say a speech, it’s meant to be with a little more humility. You’re supposed to be saying a few words in front of the people. And one of them was Roger Daltrey. Pete Townshend didn’t come because, as Roger said, “Peter’s probably trying to sell a few books” I knew what I was gonna say, but then I made it up. And I said “the great bands…”, and you cannot say this at a funeral, if you say this as a speech somebody’s gonna say “who the fuck does he think he is?”, right? Because it was a private audience. I said “the great bands have great managers” Brian Epstein, for instance, was the perfect manager.
You think so…
Oh yes! He used to be criticized, that he didn’t understand business. Fuck you! He was the perfect manager. So at the funeral I said “you know the Beatles, Brian Epstein was perfect. The Rolling Stones, I was perfect. And with the Who, Chris Stamp, who we are honouring today, and Kit Lambert, who died earlier, they were perfect for the Who. Just nobody else. You wanna talk to me about the Kinks?” And everybody started laughing, because they had terrible fuckin’ managers, they had a terrible fuckin’ record company.
Do you think that’s the reason why they haven’t gotten bigger than they actually were?
Yeah., I think you get what you deserve. The managers were amateurs. One of them was a real estate guy. The other, Robert Wace, I don’t know what he did then, but how he got the job with the Kinks is, he was one of the upper class people. He hired this band (they had a different name then, the Ravens) to play while he sang to all of these girls of the same class at a party. And he was singing Gerry and the Pacemakers songs, and they were backing him and he kinda looked around and went “they’re quite good, I’ll manage them” Anyway bands with two brothers are always fuckin’ trouble. Always. Don and Phil, the Everly Brothers, up to Oasis.
I guess you heard about this rumour that said the Kinks could get together again… T
That’s never gonna happen. Ray Davies says that every time he’s doing a solo tour because he thinks he might sell a few more tickets.
At the time you started working with the Stones they were informally represented by Giorgio Gomelsky, but then you took over with Eric Easton and Impact Sound. So how did that happen?
See, there was a journalist called Peter Jones who worked for the Record Mirror, he said to me “you know, there’s this group, we’re going to write about them, and this young writer who works for us, his name is Norman Jopling, he thinks they’re very good and blah blah blah. Maybe you should go and see them, Andrew” Actually I was quite happy doing publicity, and I had to go see them on a Sunday. They were playing this club, the Station Hotel, in a room at the back of the Station Hotel, in Richmond. Giorgio Gomelsky hired the room and presented this “Rhythm and Blues Night” So I thought, “I don’t really wanna go” because, living in Hampstead I thought that I would have to get the tube train into the middle of London, and then out again to Richmond. And that on a Sunday was going to take two fuckin’ hours. And Sundays, I used to spend them with my mother. She cooked, she ironed my shirts. I mean, a Sunday home. And we all sat at 8 o’clock and we watched the equivalent of the Ed Sullivan Show, which was Sunday Night at the London Palladium. But then my girlfriend at the time, who later became my first wife, said “Andrew, you know, there are trains that go overground, instead of underground, and they go from Hampstead, Finchley Road” So I could go straight. In a way I was disappointed, I actually didn’t want to go but the I thought, if I don’t go, when I go see Peter Jones on Tuesday, that wouldn’t be any good, as I was trying to sell him stories. At the time I didn’t care about Rhythm and Blues, I really wasn’t really interested, you know, and I had never heard about the Rolling Stones. So I went. I get off the train in Richmond and then, to get to the back of the Station Hotel, I don’t think you could go into the hotel and walk to the back. You had to get to the back, and there was an alley, and I’m walking down the alley, and there’s this couple having a fight, or an argument. And they were very attractive. And they looked like each other, which makes it more attractive. And I go in, and when the Rolling Stones come onstage I realized that the boy in that couple was Mick Jagger, and he was with Chrissie Shrimpton. Years later I realized that it was one the longest fuckin’ walks in my life, from the Richmond station over to the back door. Ten years ago, I went there, and it’s only from here to there!
So how did you talk Dick Rowe into signing the Stones?
Simple, because he turned down the Beatles, he said no to them. Decca then would have signed anything. They would have signed Davy Crockett, or a ventriloquist dummy.
It’s well-known you started encouraging Mick and Keith to write songs, that’s a fact. But what about the kitchen story? True or not? Nobody better than you to confirm or deny it…
Well that story is true, but it’s like when the accordion is in, that’s the story. But when you open up the accordion, the real story is that it took more than a few days. And the reality is that I said to them “for all the different reasons you have to write. I’m gonna take my laundry to my mother’s and when I come back, you’ve gotta have started something” That was in their place at 33 Mapesbury Road. And they did. They thought it was a joke. I think it’s Keith that said something like “what’s he’s talking about?” My attitude was “you play the guitar, therefore you can write a song” You know, “you’ve got all the ammunition”
At the same time you discovered Marianne Faithfull. That’s when she recorded “As Tears Go By”. What about that famous anecdote, when you described her as “an angel with big tits”?
I’ve never said that. Never. I don’t speak about anybody like that. Philip Norman put it in his book, but I don’t know where he got it from. I did not say it. I would never speak like that about somebody who I represented.
What about artists in general?
90 per cent of the time they’re selling something, and only 10 per cent is doing the work. For example, and this has nothing to do with his book, but over the years, save for the last 20 years, I would read Keith Richards interviews and I’d say to myself “hasn’t he got anything else to say? He keeps repeating the same fuckin’ stuff” It’s like a fuckin’ monkey on a wheel, right? Then, when I had to promote Charlie is My Darling in America two years ago, I didn’t fuckin’ believe it. I mean, I hadn’t done any promotion in America particularly, not intensely like we were promoting Charlie is My Darling. I had to go to two interviews, one at MTV and one at CBS. I had to go through this thing where, somebody rehearsing for the interview wanted to know what my answers would be. Before I was on TV, or before the interview! So it goes like this, they ask me a question like “when you first saw the Rolling Stones?” “Well” (he gets sarcastic), “this wonderful wave came over me, I just knew suddenly what my destiny was…” (laughs) The producer, or the interviewer, or the assistant, wanting to know what my answers are gonna be to their questions!
Was it also like that in the 60’s?
Oh no, this is now. Now we are in the era of…How many times did you see people being interviewed on TV go “now that’s an interesting question!” Then when you go live on TV, and they know what your answers would be because of that policy, there’s nothing for you to answer! They (the interviewers) wanna be the stars. They wanna be the celebrities and they wanna have all the information. When Keith does the interviews, in this new generation of doing interviews, all that exists in the end is the sound byte. And it gets worse. There’s a woman producer there, and then it’s as I’m not there! She says “ask him some more dangerous questions, you haven’t said anything good yet” And the result is Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Justin Bieber, it’s great. Miley Cyrus is great. The other one, Taylor Swift, she used to be great. Then she fuckin’ turned into Bette Davis.
What about records today?
To me it’s very difficult these days to make a record that has any sex in it, that turns corners in a human way in a world that is pure technology. Technology has a condom on it. It doesn’t matter if you make the records now with tape, it’s still gonna be destroyed by the technology.
And it’s the same with today’s artists?
Well, I don’t like Miley Cyrus smoking marijuana in public. We took drugs incrementally. We started out with pot, then we went to speed, then we went to this or that, and we looked at the medical books to know what we were doing. I don’t do drugs now, but I used to think that marijuana was OK for people who aren’t addicts or alcoholics, but it’s not the marijuana we know from the 60’s. It’s a chemical. And that’s different. Food is also full of chemicals. Bread is not bread. Or chicken. Or fish.
Keith Richards says he got into heroin because he felt he was too shy to face fame. I never thought of him as a womanizer or a real hellraiser.
Yes, I believe it. It’s the same when Paul McCartney talks about John Lennon and says “Brian Epstein liked me too” I mean, who cares? Keith likes having the reputation as a womanizer. I don’t remember that. He may have been it. If he was, he was very quiet about it. My first wife fixed him up with his first girlfriend, Linda Keith, because he had to go out with somebody! And Linda was going out with Jimi Hendrix at the same time! She just wanted to improve her status of Keith’s woman at the time. She was a clever woman. And when she took me to see Jimi Hendrix in New York (he was working for James Brown and they already did a great version of ‘Satisfaction’), after she asked me to take her out for dinner, we went to see him and Hendrix was so fuckin’ stoned. Either he didn’t play that night, or he did play and I was too confused. She was sleeping with Keith, and I was managing Keith at the time, and so I asked myself what the fuck I was doing there. If Jimi Hendrix played, I didn’t pay attention. So afterwards I go back to the hotel, it was like 2 o’clock in the morning, and there was a message from my wife in England that read “Linda called me and said that you had asked her out, what are you doing taking Linda Keith out?” Women in music, you know. If you look at the process of writing, it’s basically two guys that live together, and they write great songs. Whether it’s in a room, backstage, in a van. Most of their lives, they can’t afford girlfriends. Then they get girlfriends and they go to separate apartments. It doesn’t matter if it’s John Lennon and Paul McCartney, it doesn’t matter if it’s Mick and Keith, or Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. Then they make appointments to get it right with each other, and hopefully with their fuckin’ girlfriends out.
And that’s no good for a band. Like the Brian, Anita and Keith thing, right?
When Allen Klein started being the business manager, we were doing a tour, and I never wanted their girls on the road. Never wanted them in the studio, or on the road. He flew them in. There’s distraction because a man would behave differently in front of his woman, it’s obvious, as simple as that. Allen Klein flew them in. So that’s how it goes with bands and girlfriends. Then the next thing that happens, they get famous, and they’re busy, and what happens is one of them pretty much writes a whole song, and takes it to the other one, and maybe the other one says “you could do the bridge better” or “how about this to end it?” Then eventually there’s no contribution. One writes a song, and it’s pretty much finished. Steve Marriott of the Small Faces once said to me “Ronnie doesn’t fuckin’ do anything”, or the other way round. I said “does he still tell you when the song is ready? When it’s finished? When to stop? If he does then he’s still worth 50 per cent!”
Back to the Stones, do you get on with them nowadays, are you in contact with any of them?
I vaguely stay in touch with Keith through his manager. He sends me faxes. I once was with him at this Rock and Roll Hall of fame thing in a place in New York in the 80’s and I saw Billy Joel was there too. So I told Keith “see, there’s Billy Joel, I’d really want to talk to him” And Keith says “what do you wanna talk to him for?” I said “he writes by himself, I wanna ask him how he does it” So we go over and Billy Joel doesn’t understand what the fuck I’m talking about. “How do you do it, Billy? How do you know when to stop? How do you know which wall to bounce off of? What is your feedback if there isn’t someone else with you?” Well because he does it, my questions weren’t making sense to him. And Keith says “Andrew, he doesn’t fuckin’ understand what you’re talking about, let’s fuckin’ leave him alone” I mean, my questions weren’t logical to Billy Joel because he had never dealt with I was talking about, which was about two people writing.
A case for that would be the Elton John-Bernie Taupin songwriting team…
I wish he had stopped! (laughs) It was so fuckin’ boring! I mean, the last four records I listened to, I listen to all of Paul McCartney, all of David Bowie, I listened to two of Elton John, and I listen to all of Carlos Vives. I would never play those records again. I played them once, their new records. Bowie’s single was like a very attractive shop window, and then when you go into this shop, the shop’s empty. And Paul McCartney, onstage and in life he’s the greatest fuckin’ entertainer, and he’s incredible. In the last two years, and in a very polite way, he killed John Lennon. Fine. He finally did. John Lennon in death cannot compete with the life force of Paul McCartney. When Paul McCartney’s new album came out, most people went “it’s fuckin’ terrible!” Then I don’t know what happened. A couple of people who write in America who are regarded as important, like Bob Leftsez, they would change their mind, they suddenly went “oh it’s a great record!” So I get to my place in the jungle, and play it, and I say “he’s got to be kidding!” Four producers and all. I’m not criticizing him. I understand that him, or Elton John, have to go into the studio and make a record. Because when we were 20 or 25, there was a passion. Now, they’re 70, and it’s a disease, basically. So the problem is, when these people make records, they may feel young making them, but when we listen them we feel old. It makes me feel fuckin’ old, I don’t wanna listen to it. Now his show is fuckin’ great, but we don’t need the record. Ironically, there was a record about five years ago, Neil Diamond recorded with Rick Rubin. I thought “oh this should be good”, I bought it. Now he didn’t do with Neil Diamond what he did with Johnny Cash but then again Johnny Cash was dying, so it’s different. Makes the relationship and the result different. But what happens after you listen to it, you don’t remember any of the songs that are on the record, but you start remembering the old Neil Diamond songs. And it’s the same with Paul McCartney’s “New” album. When I was listening to it, the next two days I started to sing Wings songs. And it’s the same with Brian Wilson’s Gershwin record. There’s only one track that sounds like “Pet Sounds”, and that was in the commercial. The rest is fuckin’ crap. It sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks, it’s terrible. Old people make old music, that’s it.
And how was it when you formed Inmediate Records?
Very simple. I liked the idea of an independent record company, I was copying Phil Spector, Red Bird, Leiber & Stoller, Liberty Records, Specialty Records, but also I was getting stoned. And I didn’t want to go on with Decca anymore. Because everything they said, as I was stoned, I thought it was funny. So I formed my own record company.
Well it didn’t work bad…
It worked great, as long as I had the money to pay for it.
Your last book, Stone Free, was dedicated to Brian Epstein.
Sure, it’s a book about managers. Because he was the first. Very often I’m into situations like ”you have in your mind Brian Epstein was not a good manager?” If Brian Epstein hadn’t persevered and got his boys a recording contract, we wouldn’t be here now. Simple as that, he opened the door. Because, look at the insults they were throwing at him in the beginning. There were two things going against him that were very bad in England in 1961 or 1962. That he was Jewish and that he was Gay. Tough, very tough. Both were nearly against the law! (laughs)
The only insult left would have been that he was black…
Right, very good. Paul McCartney did too. He was on this TV program once, and his father had told him Jews were clever people so he should sign with Brian. But the point is, after Decca, he got them EMI . Let’s remember that one of the reasons was because his family record shop sold a lot of records a week. But they still fuckin’ insulted him by putting him on Parlophone, because Parlophone was a comedy label. George Martin was a comedy producer. He produced the people that were the Monty Pythons of the 50’s and 60’s. The Goons, with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. He produced a British comedian called Charlie Drake, who covered “Splish Splash” and had a hit with it. He produced the no. 1 record of 1959, which was Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren with “Goodness Gracious Me” So fuckin’ silly. It was an accident hat George Martin could turn out to be the perfect person for them. I tell you, George Martin didn’t go to the first two sessions. His assistant did “Love Me Do” and “Please, Please Me”, and during “Please, Please Me” the assistant picked up the telephone, called George Martin and said “George I think you should come down here, they’re good” So the consolation prize for the assistant is that they made him and A&R man. His name was Ron Richards, and he went on to produce the Hollies. Look at what happened in America. Capitol Records, which was EMI, didn’t want to release the Beatles. And so, without Brian Epstein haven’t kept going, I wouldn’t be here now, I wouldn’t be on the radio for twenty hours a week, and that’s life.
This isn’t your first visit to Argentina. The first time was in the early 90’s when you were hired to produce the Ratones Paranoicos, and then you mixed an album by Charly García.
I was not up too much as regards work in the early 90’s. I had tried to work with a couple of Colombian acts, but for various reasons the results were not satisfactory. Well, to start with, I perhaps should not have been attempting to work with acts whose inspiration was based in the 80’s….Soft Cell, The Human League. I mean , I liked some, actually a lot of records from that time, but I probably had no business trying to produce it. I was not that kind of producer. Interestingly I was in a taxi yesterday here in B.A. and Hall & Oates’ “Out of Touch” came on the radio. I just loved that record at the time and yesterday I realized one of the reasons why. There are at least two or three Motown songs stitched and threaded into the Hall & Oates’ song. “It’s the Same Old Song” by The Four Tops is just one. Anyway so I am in Los Angeles in the early 90’s, hanging in Malibu where my wife Esther, our son Max and I found our first dog which was headed for the dog pound until we stuck her in a hatbox with half a valium and shipped her back to Colombia where she stayed with us for nearly a dozen years. First dog in our tribe. Then I got a message in Malibu, a guy called Cachorro López was trying to get hold of me. We spoke, he was calling on behalf of the Ratones; they wanted me to produce their first recording for Sony. So I came down to Buenos Aires for the first time. It was love at first sight. With the Ratones Paranoicos, with Buenos Aires, with the spirit of Argentina. The Ratones and Argentina gave me life, and I gave them hits. It was a good exchange. Their music was much more natural to me than the stuff of the 80’s and we made some great music together. The Rolling Stones, Humble Pie and the Ratones Paranoicos, the top three musical experiences with bands in my life.
I heard you’ve just been inducted for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. I believe that’s nothing but great news, isn’t it?
It certainly is news, unexpected. Of course it is an honor to be inducted with Brian Epstein, for all the obvious reasons, as in when he unlocked the door for his lads, the Beatles, we all became his lads in some strange way. On the other hand I feel as if someone else is being inducted, perhaps a different but parallel version of how Yusuf Islam feels about Cat Stevens getting the same nod. I made my home in Latin America in 1975, I have nothing really to do with England. I was watching the queen’s 50th celebrations a while ago, filmed at Buckingham Palace in 2002. Amazing how just a dozen years later it all looked so felliniesque and grotesque. I was brought up to think that the honor was in the work accomplished, what I accomplished, what I suppose I am being acknowledged for not before almost feels like it happened in another life.
Last question. You’ve always used this very special kind of twisted and kind of mixed-up language in the liner notes of the Stones’ albums, or in your books. Was it done somehow on purpose?
See, when I write a book is like making a record. First I have to entertain myself.