Revisionists and romantics would have you believe that the Rolling Stones started when Mich Jagger bumped into Keith Richards, carrying a bunch of blues records, in Dartford railway station in 1960. It would be, though, just as easy to say that the Stones started in 1963 when Andrew Loog Oldham encountered Jagger, Richards, Jones, Wyman and Watts (and the later air-brushed out Ian Stewart) in the Crawdaddy club, and became their manager. Along with their natural talents, he introduced his own vision of danger, style, and business savvy.
Loog Oldham, who at the age of 16 got his first job at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club, moving on to working with Mary Quant, and then as a publicist for both the Beatles and Bob Dylan. As their manager, he introduced the Stones to the world (“Would you let a Rolling Stone marry your daughter?” – was just one of his many inspired lines to the press), and produced their first couple of albums, including such hits as The Last Time, Play With Fire, Not Fade Away, Satisfaction, Paint It, Black, Get Off Of My Cloud and Ruby Tuesday. It was Loog Oldham who, famously, forced Jagger and Richards to sit down and write their first original song, realising that the real money was to be made not by releasing blues standards, but by writing, recording and performing originals.
By 1967 the Stones had become famous, worldwide, and parted company with him in favour of American accountant Allen Klein, but Loog Oldham’s invovlement with the music industry didn’t finish there. He had founded Immediate Records, which was an early home to acts like the Small Faces, Rod Stewart, Amen Corner, Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and the Nice. He’s produced albums for Donovan, Jimmy Cliff, Bobby Womack, and Italian stars Francesco De Gregori, Lucio Dalla, and Anna Oxa. For the last twenty years he has lived in Bogotá, Colombia.
Without further ado, Three Monkeys Online presents Andrew Loog Oldham in interview:
You have an obvious love for Cinema, sprinkling film references throughout your two volumes of autobiography [Stoned and 2 Stoned. Did you, or would you, consider getting involved in film making seriously? For example, surely there are some movie moguls sniffing around the idea of filming your biographies?
Not really. Much to painful on the ego to be considered a full time job. You are really just a matter of copyright to be tampered with and depleted as the game progresses. Not unlike a legal lethal injection of smack and coke, and we know how that one doesn’t work. All too often the idea of you, or in this case my book Stoned, just provides some out of work hack with a reason to get up in the morning in L.A. to announce he’s alive and has some great fresh meat to share – You. On the other hand if I sniffed the right call I’d be there in a bridal instant.
It’s always been in the interests of the recording industry to have the artist in control of his music and stage appearances and out for the count in his private life.
I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Charlie is my darlin [Editor’s note: Loog Oldham produced documentary on the Stones ’65 tour of Ireland] yet, so forgive me for asking – what was it like to take the Stones to what must still have been a strongly Catholic, and by all accounts prudish, country (Twenty years later you could still be prosecuted for selling condoms anywhere other than a licensed pharmacy)?
I was not aware that it had changed.[it has] No wonder it’s hard for Britain to get a hard-on for Africa; it’s own niggers , the Irish, have been in a state of Mau-Mau suppression for so long and only a forty minute plane ride away. Too disgusting for too long. Now you’ve woven the usual fabric into Northern Ireland that we have here in Colombia where I live: the left becomes deaf, and become drug dealers bringing more death home. As for the Stones in Ireland in ’65, it really was not that much different from a gig in Sheffield or Luton, except that the people were a bit warmer.
You had a great admiration for Anthony Burgess – what was it about A Clockwork Orange in particular that you connected with? Do you have any regrets that you didn't manage to make a movie of it? There's a violence often associated with the Stones, implied rather than on the surface. Whether it was the establishment/Daily Mirror, or later music writers like Nik Cohn, all seemed to suggest that the Stones were somehow dangerous. How much of that was natural, and how much came from a crafted image, from you?
I loved Anthony Burgess because he made sense to my way of life at the time; I think Keith Richards took a liking to it too. It gave us another wall of armor to get the message out without being spotted. Mick Jagger would have just smiled at Charlie and hoped it didn’t go to far. It didn’t. Our violence was very Walt Disney at the time. No one really got hurt, life only became actually violent when the public began their ’60s as they were ending, and started up with drugs. I prefered it as a private club. People like Nik Cohn thought the Stones were dangerous because he may have got them for the masses, but deep down in himself he never really got a hold on them. He was always much more comfortable with something he made up. As time goes by, and more layers of the onion get peeled back – because nothing better than us has really come along, and by ” us” I modestly mean the collective 60’s because we did keep something back which was really not possible after the corpo-vampirism of the media system – I realize more and more that it was not a question of crafting images or being a svengali but recognizing the moment and adapting to it. That is not to say that I did not have my brilliant moments.
Tell me a little bit about the Italian connection – you produced albums for both De Gregori and Lucio Dalla. Were these jouneyman projects, or did you connect with the music? How difficult is it to produce an album in another language? Is there ever the fear that you'll misinterpret the tone of the song from a production point of view?
I think one of the greatest lyics is “uh-huh-a-ah” from Abba’s Knowing Me , Knowing You and that was written in their second language. I worked in Italy in 1978, ’79 and 80, a wonderful experience. I simply did my homework, I asked for the Top 50 LP’s and 45’s and asked what got them there – you know, the combination of song, track record, icon status, other media connection, etc. RCA in Italy were a wonderful company to work for; they knew their stuff and ran a tight ship that leaked on the part of getting the art right. It also helped to be recording their version [the Italians] of Dylan and James Taylor, Francesco De Gregori, and Anna Oxa , a young girl they were determined to break. Lucio Dalla played on these records; a complete Zeffirelli type gent who knew his stuff and had a Miles Davis edge of “let’s get on with it”. When I finished the Anna Oxa LP I was in Rome and the RCA execs told me they loved, just loved, the work with one small problem. They could not understand her Italian. I told them that made two of us. She was from Bari, and left in my hands she must have sounded as unintelligible as Joe Cocker or Kate Bush sometimes did to me, to their Roman ears, so they sent a fellow from Rome and we did a lot of the vocals over.
What did you make of that brief burst of Britpop, where Oasis, Blur, and a newly elected Tony Blair tried to tell the world that London was swinging again?
I have not lived in England since 1970, so it was all rather alien to me. It’s bad enough the record industry being run by lawyers, never mind the country. I come from a time when we were lucky enough to have our music and ideas accepted by the world in an overwhelming wonderful form. In truth, Oasis have meant as much to America as Billy Fury and Gary Glitter did. Not much. And sad to say, because of the decline of the ability and importance of the record companies to shape events you might say that the Police and U2 were the last two to get in under the radar in America, which shows you how long the rot has been setting.
Anyway, the non-importance of music has been sped on by muzak in our bathrooms, condoms, malls and coffee bars. Is it not the biggest seller of naff crap Starbucks? With it’s deathbed ode of duets to Ray Charles which sold to a bunch of folk who thought that Ray and Norah might sound as good at home as it did when they were queuing for a toxic fix. It’s very hard against those odds for music to be special and important in a world of Pop Idol. Thank God for the live gig.