||Heart of stones
by NIGEL WILLIAMSON
Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones' forgotten svengali is speaking out at last
FROM THE Bogotá penthouse apartment that has been his home for the past two decades, Andrew Loog Oldham surveys the sprawl of Colombia’s vibrant and sometimes violent capital city far beneath us. The gold and platinum discs on his walls for the records he once produced for the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world glint in the afternoon sunlight.
His name has been conspicuously absent from the current celebrations surrounding the Rolling Stones’ 40th anniversary. Yet without him it is arguable whether they would ever have progressed beyond a spotty R&B band playing covers of songs by Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. Back in the early 1960s, he discovered them, moulded their bad-boy image and packaged and sold them via a brilliantly provocative marketing campaign which asked horrified parents if they’d let their daughter marry one. The Beatles had Brian Epstein. The Stones had Andrew Loog Oldham.
Yet by 1967, barely four years after the two groups had ushered in the most profound cultural revolution of the past 50 years, Epstein was dead and Oldham was out on his ear. He has remained estranged from the Stones ever since, but denies he feels bitter. “It was a long time ago and we all have our version of the truth,” he says. “I don’t have any regrets because they were a miracle for me and I was a miracle for them.”
But although he hasn’t been invited to the official party, Oldham gets to put his side of the story in 2Stoned, the second volume of his autobiography. The first, published two years ago, ended tantalisingly in 1964, when he had become the Stones’ manager but London had not quite started swinging and Jagger and Richards had yet to write Satisfaction or any of the other songs that would make them infamous.
2Stoned is the volume everyone has been awaiting, and it doesn’t disappoint with its tumultuous stories of the drugs, the outrage, the scandal and the music which helped to shape 1960s counterculture.
Born in 1944, Oldham never knew his father, who was killed on a wartime bombing mission. Brought up in North London by his mother and the showbiz entrepreneur Alec Morris, he left school at 16 and worked by day as a window-dresser for Mary Quant and at night waited on tables at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. Before long, he was working as a publicist for Epstein and the Beatles. Then he chanced upon the Rolling Stones.
At 58, he’s still red-headed and full of nervous energy and remembers, as if it were yesterday, the first time he saw the Stones at the Railway Hotel, Richmond, in early 1963. “I really didn’t want to go. I’d have much rather stayed in and watched Sunday Night at the London Palladium. But it was serendipity,” he says.
Within weeks he had become both their manager and record producer — although by his own admission he knew nothing about either. He also became an early practitioner of the ignoble art of spin. His first proposed advertising campaign for the group featured the line: “Would you let your daughter go with a Rolling Stone?” It was far too suggestive for Sir Edward Lewis, and the pinstriped Decca chairman insisted “go with” should be changed to the more acceptable “marry”.
Astonishingly, Oldham was just 19 when he became their manager and was younger than the Stones themselves. Yet he seemed far more worldly-wise and self-assured even than the knowing Jagger. He didn’t need to teach his charges how to be rude and loutish. They had already perfected that. But he took what he found and magnified it to create a clever counter to the clean-cut image Epstein had cultivated for the Beatles. “People say I made the Stones. But they only wanted exploiting. They were all bad boys when I found them,” he says. “I just brought out the worst in them.”
His first move was to take the Stones to Dick Rowe, the Decca executive who only a year previously had disastrously turned down the Beatles on the grounds that beat groups were on the way out. “You just had to go to the person who had said ‘no’ to the biggest group in the world, because he had some catching up to do,” Oldham rationalises. In his view, Rowe should be remembered in pop history not as the man who turned down John, Paul, George and Ringo but as the man who signed Mick, Keith, Brian, Bill and Charlie.
When Oldham first encountered the Stones they were merely a covers band, and it was his cajoling — not to say bullying — which launched them on their songwriting career. “I realised there was no future searching the bin for records not already covered by the Searchers or the Swinging Blue Jeans,” he says today. So he locked Jagger and Richards in a room and told them not to come out until they had written a hit. “They came up with The Last Time, followed it with Satisfaction and never looked back,” he recalls.
Once they’d had their first hit, he set about making them the most notorious group in the world. In creating the template for all subsequent forms of rock’n’roll excess, the Stones merely followed Oldham’s personal example. If he wanted drugs, he went not to some street dealer but to the New York doctor who had scripted JFK’s amphetamine pick-ups. To choose a new car, he got the showroom to drive the latest models in every available colour past his window. It was all part of sticking up two fingers at the dull, bean-counting conformity of the time.
Yet within four years his creation would turn and devour him. After the Establishment had decided the Stones had to be taught a lesson and Jagger, Richards and Brian Jones had all been busted, their manager fled to America in a state of panic.
“My bottle had gone because I knew they’d come after me and I knew I wasn’t going to have fans outside the jail with placards saying, ‘Free Andrew’,” he admits. One night in early 1967, the police followed his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce home from the studio and produced a search warrant. “I provoked them to hit me because I calculated that if I started a fight, it would create a distraction and give Eddie, my driver, time to get rid of the drugs. I was so obnoxious that they had to pull one guy off me,” he recalls. While all this was going on, Eddie duly disposed of the incriminating evidence.
Oldham took off for California, leaving his charges to face the trauma of court appearances and nights in the nick alone. By the time he deemed it safe to return, it was too late. Jagger was unforgiving and their mutual parting of the ways came in a phone call which ended with the words, “Goodbye, Mick. Have a good life.”
The rift between them has never healed.
When the Stones were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Jagger read a long list of thanks which pointedly omitted the group’s first Svengali. It was left to Pete Townshend, who was conducting the ceremony, to rectify the omission.
Oldham was still only 23 when his career with the Stones came to an abrupt end and he sank into a deep depression that lasted several years. He continued to dabble in the music industry, but the final chapters of his book tell a story dominated mostly by cocaine-induced madness and electro-convulsive therapy. After three decades of drug addiction he eventually cleaned up seven years ago, when he and his Colombian wife Esther signed on for a Scientology “purification” programme. The couple continue to live in Bogotá with their 19-year-old son Maximillian, and since he quit Britain in the early 1970s Oldham has never been tempted to return home. “I am attached to a few things English but not to England,” he says. He still lives on his royalties from Satisfaction and the other early Stones hits but has no plans to catch the group on their current world tour. “I don’t think I’d be very welcome,” he says.
Yet without him, the Rolling Stones today would probably be remembered in the same breath as such contemporaries as the Animals and the Nashville Teens. If Sir Michael Jagger can’t see that, he really should read his old mentor’s book.
2Stoned is published by Secker & Warburg
||I wonder if he posts here.........