“Life” Excerpt: Keith Richards, Debauchery and the ’72 Rolling Stones Tour

From Rolling Stone Magazine


The 1972 tour was known by other names – the Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise tour or the STP, Stones Touring Party. It was the beginning of the booking of whole hotel floors, with no one else allowed up, so that some of us – like me – could get privacy and security. It was the only way we could have a degree of certainty that when we decided to party, we could control the situation or at least get some warning if there was trouble.

The whole entourage had exploded in terms of numbers, of roadies and technicians, and of hangers-on and groupies. For the first time, we traveled in our own hired plane, with the lapping tongue painted on. We had become a pirate nation, moving on a huge scale under our own flag, with lawyers, clowns, attendants.

For the guys running the operation, there was maybe one battered typewriter and hotel or street phones to run a North American tour through 30 cities. A feat of organization on the part of our new tour manager, Peter Rudge, a four-star general among the anarchists. We never missed a show, though we came near it. The guy that opened for us, in almost every city, was Stevie Wonder, and he was barely 22.The traveling physician we’ll call Dr. Bill, to give it a Burroughsian ring. His specialty was billed as emergency medicine. Mick, who was getting appropriately nervous about people trying to get at him – there were threats and there were freaks fixated on him; people would walk up and hit him; the Angels wanted him dead – wanted a doctor around who could keep him alive if he got shot onstage. Dr. Bill was there, however, primarily for the – . And being quite a young, good-looking doctor, he got plenty.

He printed these cards, “Dr. Bill,” as it were, “Physician of the Rolling Stones.” He would scout the audience before we went on and give out 20 or 30 of those cards to the most foxy, beautiful girls, even if they were with a guy. He wrote on the back the name of our hotel, the suite number to call. He was into getting laid every night. And he also had this case of every kind of substance, Demerol, anything you wanted. He could write scripts in every city. We used to send chicks to his room and take his medicine bag. There would be a line waiting in the room with a waste bag of syringes while he was giving out the Demerol.In Chicago, there was an acute shortage of hotel rooms, so Hugh Hefner thought it would be a laugh to invite some of us to stay in the Playboy Mansion. I think he regretted it. Hugh Hefner, what a nut. We’ve worked the lowest pimps to the highest, the highest being Hefner. He threw the place open for the Stones, and we were there for over a week. And it’s all plunges in the sauna, and the Bunnies, and basically it’s a whorehouse, which I really don’t like. The memory, however, is very, very hazy. I know we did have some fun there. I know we ripped it up. Hefner had been shot at just before our visit, and the place resembled the state house of some Caribbean dictatorship, with heavily armed security everywhere.

We had the doc there, and we’d get in one of the Bunnies for him. The deal was “We get free dibs on your bag and you can have Debbie.” I felt the script had been written, play it to the hilt. Bobby [Keys, the Stones saxophone player] and I played it a little far when we set fire to the bathroom. Well, we didn’t, the dope did. Not our fault. Bobby and I were just sitting in the john, comfortable, nice john, sitting on the floor, and we’ve got the doc’s bag and we’re just smorgasbording. “I wonder what these do?” Bong. And at a certain point . . . talk about hazy, or foggy, Bobby says, “It’s smoky in here.” And I’m looking at Bobby and can’t see him. And the drapes are smoldering away; everything was just about to go off big-time. To the point where I can’t see him, he’s disappeared in this fog.“Yes, I guess it is a bit smoky in here.” It was a really delayed reaction. And then suddenly a flurry at the door and the fire alarms start going, beep beep beep. “What’s that noise, Bob?” “I don’t know. Should we open the window?” Someone shouts through the door, “Are you all right?” “Oh, yeah, we’re f- great, man.” So he just turns away, and we don’t know exactly what to do. Maybe if we’re quiet and walk out and we pay for the reconstruction? And then a little later there was a thumping on the door, waiters and guys in black suits bringing buckets of water. They get the door open and we’re sitting on the floor, our pupils very pinned. I said, “We could have done that ourselves.

How dare you burst in on our private affair?”

Hugh decamped soon after that and moved to L.A. Some of my most outrageous nights I can only believe actually happened because of corroborating evidence. No wonder I’m famous for partying! The ultimate party, if it’s any good, you can’t remember it. You get these brief vignettes of what you did. “Oh, you don’t remember shooting the gun? Pull up the carpet, look at those holes, man.” I feel a bit of shame and embarrassment. “You can’t remember that? When you got your d- out, swinging from the chandelier, anybody up for grabs, wrap it in a five-pound note?” Nope, don’t remember a thing about it.It’s not only the high quality of drugs I had that I attribute my survival to. I was very meticulous about how much I took. I’d never put more in to get a little higher. That’s where most people f- up on drugs. It’s the greed involved that never really affected me.

Text and photos from the book LIFE by Keith Richards with James Fox. Copyright © 2010 by Mindless Records, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Run: Portraits of Keith Richards 1963-1972 at the
San Francisco Art Exchange curated & produced by Raj Prem Fine Art Photography opening October 23rd




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