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Topic: Travelling with the Stones Return to archive
December 16th, 2004 09:46 AM
Monkey Woman Local author has traveled world with rockís biggest band

By Bruce Fessier
The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, California)
December 15th, 2004

Imagine Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on "Celebrity Jeopardy," a guitar slung over his shoulder, his face made up like Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Overcoming his shyness, he ventures, "Iíll take Hong Kong birds of prey for $500, Alex."

Unlike the characters on the "Saturday Night Live" parody of "Celebrity Jeopardy," Palm Desert author J. Marshall Craig says Richards, rockís quintessential bad boy, could give Ken Jennings a run for his money.

"Keith is one of the most well-read people Iíve ever met," said Craig, who co-wrote a new autobiography by Rolling Stones pianist Chuck Leavell, "Between Rock and a Home Place." "He knows everything about everything.

"When we were on that boat in Hong Kong, there were these weird, massive black birds. They never flapped their wings, they just soared like birds of prey. But they didnít look like birds of prey. He knew how they nested and what they were called. He said, ĎTheyíre limited to a very small latitude.í I said to him, ĎHow do you know these things?í "

Craig, 38, has been rolling with the Stones for 12 years. He traveled with them on their last "40 Licks" world tour to research Leavellís autobiography. Richards gave him a ride through Hong Kong Bay on a boat for a birthday present.

These are the type of healthy pastimes the Stones now enjoy, Craig says. Richards is an avid reader. Mick Jagger likes to play video games before a gig. In Japan, the boys went to museums and temples and were just "soaking up the culture," Craig wrote.

The Stones donít even allow hard liquor back stage at their concerts any more, Craig said, just beer, wine and healthy stuff.

"I guess years ago it used to be a lot more decadent," said Craig, repeating the obvious at a Rancho Mirage coffee house. "Itís corporate now.

"The biggest attraction back stage is the juicer. Everybody lines up and they all have their own vitamins. There was a Newsweek article (recently) talking about old rockers and they quoted Chuck saying he ran into Joe Perry from Aerosmith in the gym of the hotel. He said, ĎIn the í70s and í80s, it was letís go to the room and do whatever.í Now itís ĎIíll meet you in the gym.í "

Richards doesnít use the gym, Craig said, and he still smokes four packs of cigarettes a day.

Tour taxes resources

The Stones are more businesslike on tours because traveling has become so expensive. They have a reputation to uphold as the Worldís Greatest, or at least oldest, Touring Rock Ďní Roll Band.

Craig says they plan to tour this Spring if drummer Charlie Watts has bounced back from lung cancer and, if they do, they will need four jet planes to transport all their equipment and personnel from city to city.

"They need the huge corporate machinery," Craig said. "The last tour the traveling crew was 250 people and they hired more people on site. In major cities they were doing a stadium show, a club gig and a theater gig and that required a different set for each venue. Thereís a physical therapist who goes on the tour. I would suspect they have a doctor on the tour."

With the three original members in their 60s and Wood in his late 50s, the Stones need more luxuries than they did in their halcyon days.

"Part of it is comfort," said Craig. "Chuck has two daughters and a family, Charlie (Watts has) a granddaughter. Keith has two daughters, a son and a grandson. Ronnie (Wood) has his family. So, when youíre away from them for so long, I can understand it. Having been with them on their last tour, all the travel, it isnít that much of a luxury any more. It doesnít matter that youíre staying in a great Four Seasons hotel. Itís just what they need to do to get by, having done it so many years."

But the Rolling Stones -- family guys? It just doesnít jive with Jagger singing about his sex drive or Richards vowing to break the law in "Thief in the Night."

Craig is writing this for a pianist who isnít an unofficial member of the Rolling Stones.

Leavell is one of the great rock sidemen, having been a member of the Allman Brothers at the peak of their popularity, and having toured or recorded with George Harrison, Eric Clapton and the Black Crows, and his own band, Sea Level. But he has had to wait for an invitation to work with the Stones since his first tour with them in 1981. He wasnít called to play on their last album to win a Grammy, "Bridges to Babylon" in 1997.

"I continue to be a friend of the band and all the members," Craig said. "Itís not that I have left anything out, but I didnít go into it with a salacious intent. And honestly, thereís nothing salacious that really went on. Itís just business, and these guys go to the gym."

Inside scoop

But Craig also ghost-wrote the 2001 autobiography of former Animals vocalist Eric Burdon, "Donít Let Me Be Misunderstood." He and Burdon continue to write that as the demand grows for new foreign language editions around the world.

Burdon, who lives in Joshua Tree, has always been a free spirit. Some might call him a bad boy of Rolling Stones proportions. So, in Burdonís autobiography, Craig was free to explain how Burdon came to be called The Eggman in the Beatles classic, "I Am the Walrus," because of a sexual act with a cracked egg, as he related to John Lennon.

Burdonís book contains so many outrageous stories, Craig had to do considerable research to confirm some of his stories. He got Paul McCartney to say Burdon was "The Eggman." And a photo of McCartney appears on Craigís Web site with the Burdon book.

"With Chuck, I never had any doubts about anything," said Craig. "With Eric, some of the stories are so outlandish, I thought, ĎWhoa.í I always believed Eric believed them, but I thought, ĎSome of these stories are so wild.í He had this one story about being at a beach in Spain and the U.S. Air Force losing two nukes and spreading radioactive material across the beach and the town, and his corrupt manager being there. It just sounded way too James Bond spy-novelish. And I went on the Internet and in 1985 they declassified the documents and absolutely everything Eric wrote was true."

Road to success

Craig became friends with these integral members of the first British rock invasion while working as entertainment editor at the Edmonton Sun. He had a good relationship with a publicist named Charlie Comer, who had dinner with some band members before their 1992 tour. When Comer heard they were playing Edmonton for the first time, he told them to call his friend, Craig, when they got to town. So Leavell did. The Stones did three shows in five days in Edmonton and Craig said, "I spent an enormous amount of time with them."

Craig, who wrote a story without mentioning gossip about the band, was looking to transition from journalism to screenplays. So, when Leavell told him, "Youíre welcome to hang out on the condition that everythingís off the record; youíre not a journalist when youíre with us," Craig agreed.

"At the time, I did it mostly because I thought they were really nice people," Craig said. "And they genuinely seemed to like me, so it just turned into a friendship. Of course, I never betrayed any of the things Iíve witnessed or been a part of."

Craig met Burdon through a friend of the Rolling Stones after Craig and his wife moved to Palm Desert.

Craig met a screenwriter who lived in Garner Valley through connections he made on the movie junket circuit and they co-wrote a script while attending the Palm Springs International Film Festival. When it sold, Craig and his wife moved to Idyllwild and then Palm Desert. Heís been writing books and films ever since.

He considers the Burdon book his big break. Heís never seen a book with so many foreign printings. But he treasures his tour with the Stones and the relationships they developed.

"Itís more than just a friendship with those guys," he said. "Iíve known them for a long time and as friends, I never used them to advance my career. Itís a very close-knit group, which is why I ended up getting the shots to write this book. Iíve known them for 12 years and there are very few new people who are allowed in the inner circle in the Stones organization."

Bruce Fessier is the people/entertainment editor for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at (760) 778-4622 or via e-mail.

More on this story:

J. Marshall Craig on:
Keith Richards: "Keith is the sweetest guy. You see him interviewed and he always (seems) wasted. Itís because heís so shy. So for interviews he puts on all this makeup and eye shadow and he looks like hell. Whereas, if you see the high resolution shot of us, he looks healthier than I do."
Mick Jagger: "On the record? Mickís a wonderful guy."
Chuck Leavell: "Chuck does the set lists for every show. They call Chuck the musical navigator. (His) set list goes to Mick. He approves or changes it and then it goes to Keith. Then it gets printed up and every band members gets copy on an official Rolling Stones note pad with the tongue."
Eric Burdon: "Heís a fabulous story teller. I truly think Eric is on a comeback. So many people count him as an influence. The thing about Eric is, everywhere else in the world, heís as big as he ever was. Except in North America, and I donít know why that is. Eric plays clubs here, but he plays large venues in Germany."
December 16th, 2004 09:52 AM
FotiniD Thanks Monkey Woman! Good read.
I only wish the press - and the people who talk to the press!! - did their homework before writing. "Lung cancer"?!?!?!?!?! And how about Keith's "two daughters, a son and a grandson"?????!!!

But the best part comes here:

Monkey Woman wrote:
Chuck Leavell: "Chuck does the set lists for every show. They call Chuck the musical navigator. (His) set list goes to Mick. He approves or changes it and then it goes to Keith. Then it gets printed up and every band members gets copy on an official Rolling Stones note pad with the tongue."

December 16th, 2004 03:33 PM
Ten Thousand Motels Well I'd rather see him on Jeopardy than Millionaire. Those contestants on that show are real stupid fucks. Some clown on there today didn't even know which mountain Hillary climbed in 1953. I wanted to reach through the TV screen and slap him.
[Edited by Ten Thousand Motels]
December 16th, 2004 08:35 PM
Soldatti Great read, thanks MM.
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