Andrew Oldham is a fascinating figure in the Stones story – possibly even as fascinating as he reckons himself, for right from the moment he teamed up with the band, Oldham regarded himself as just as integral to the band as the original six members.
Oldham was, without a doubt, a genius. Not necessarily for his production, or even his instinct for a headline, but for his understanding of the momentum of pop music, the need to capture the moment. He also had, for a time, one of the finest noses for talent of the era. Brian Epstein signed up many mediocrities; Oldham discovered or championed geniuses such as Jimmy Page, Marianne Faithfull, Nico, the Small Faces and the young Peter Whitehead.
I don’t view ALO as a simple bad guy in the Brian Jones story; in fact, he told me that managers have no real duty – or perhaps, no real ability – to prevent their charges self-destructing. I think it’s pretty much proven in Sympathy For The Devil that Oldham did practise divide and rule within the Stones, and that this grievously injured Brian Jones. But it also grievously injured Andrew Oldham, who lost control of the band and volunteered for shock treatment to try and exorcise his own mental demons.
My favourite quote of ALO is “I only remember what I want to remember,” spoken to my friend Johnny Black. His recollections are entertaining, but I honestly don’t know what he remembers. He conducts most of his interviews, including this one, via email, which gives him more room to control an interview. His best books, Stoned and 2Stoned, work brilliantly because other witnesses are there to disagree with him, or outline specific events. In comparison, his third book, Stone Free, is thin gruel, psychologically.
It seems from recent Twitter quotes that the man who only remembers what he wants to remember, doesn’t want to remember being interviewed by me! [Edit, 11.5.2016 – ALO has apologised for not remembering the interview. He adds, “I do stand by all that I said”] So here is a reminder, which gives a good sense of the man. I’ve tidied up some questions and answers to eliminate repetitions, but I’ve kept some of the digressions – as that gives a taste of how he deals with a question. The bulk of this interview was conducted in December 2012, but I’ve also added some earlier questions and answers from earlier interviews where they were quoted or referred to in the book.
In the context of the Stones story, and Brian’s too, there are many significant statements here: Andrew’s belief that there was no acknowledgement of any dislike between him and Brian, that the band wasn’t particularly split into camps, and his championing of Allen Klein. All these claims are discussed by other witnesses on this site, and of course in the book. What I also find especially enlightening is his admission, if that’s what it is, that ultimately Andrew Oldham never had a deep, insightful conversation with Mick Jagger. Perhaps the ultimate irony of ALO’s role in the Stones is that a hustler can be hustled, and a player can be played.
Essentially, you were the guy who stopped the Stones’ being Brian’s band, by providing a vision, and encouraging Keith and Mick as songwriters. It’s obvious he came to resent Keith and Mick. Did he resent you?
Brian may have resented me, but he never showed it and if he did we never confronted or handled it. We were all too busy. Brian was a split personality ; he wanted fame and blues purity in equal lethal barrels. Gene Pitney tried to help him finish some songs at the time, but you can’t write popular music looking down at it, and that’s what Brian did. Brian was like a cat who has had nine lives and the man upstairs makes a mistake and sends him back for a tenth.
The segments in Stone Free on Allen Klein are fascinating – generous, especially considering that he, ultimately, gained control of the catalogue you midwife’d. Yet, from a music fan’s point of view, his work with the Stones’ catalogue is often described as a disaster. Are you speaking up for him because no one else will?
Well, Sam Cooke is dead and Mick’s busy. Seriously, I could make the analogy between the Stones going with Allen alone and the Small Faces coming to Immediate. a great initial burst of music from both bands but the end of the original kill. That original passionate killer elite of youth. money does that. Fame as a regular member of your family does that as well. You start writing songs from a different point of view , and that’s okay as long as you are still hummable and danceable to. Unfortunately when an Allen Klein is needed the music is already # 2 on the band’s agenda. It’s inevitable. It’s not Allen’s fault, and I really ought not to say ‘an Allen Klein’ coz there was and will forever only be one Allen Klein. Friendship in a band is somewhere between being acquaintances and an affair. tiz a thin line, miss dizzy… back to your origination, I write about Allen as I experienced him, that was the job of this book.
Haven’t got the dates here to check exactly, but I think Keith wrote the main riff and chorus to Satisfaction in Clearwater around 6 May 65, the band recorded the first version at Chess around three days later, and the definitive RCA version two days after that. What do you remember of Mick and Keith working up the song during those intervening three or four days? And who deemed the Chess version unreleasable?
I don’t remember any work being done between Chess and RCA, except in Keith’s head. He brought the meeting to order when he put fuzz in his bullets. I didn’t have to ask about the Chicago version – it was a dog, sounded like Walk Right Back by the Rooftop Singers on Ritalin. Some things you just don’t do at Chess.
Tell me about Jack Nitzsche. What did he contribute? And how did he seem to interact with a bunch of English guys?
The Americans we worked with were professional , not desperate or scornful, about producing this kind of music. That was the main difference then between London and LA. Whenever he played Jack Nitzsche was the glue, a dividing factor slipped in between the bottom and top end of the band. You can’t always hear him on Satisfaction, but if you removed his piano you’d know he wasn’t there.
You’re remarkably non-judgemental of many people who are widely disliked, for instance Don Arden. But every mention of Brian Jones in Stone Free, bar the last one, is coupled with a put-down. Did you really dislike him that much?
An older cunt in a school in the next barrio does not interfere with your life. If he’s the same age and going to the same school then fuck him. He may be able to score brilliant goals, but you cannot rely on him.
(in response to a later question)
…what i should add is that Brian was either a leader or a liability. Oh, he fused brilliantly on enough memorable musical occasions, but it was a ruse. Once he was not the leader he found it hard to be a team player. I smelt him out from the word go. Keith said once, ‘Brian and Andrew only get on when they are both high.’
In The Beatles, people who were there tell me Epstein kept a balance between the four of them – Ringo and George always got their song when he was around. In the Stones – and tell me if I’m wrong – the band was always split into camps. It might have been you, or Bill who said whoever was mates with Keith at the time was on top. Brian started his own geographical isolation when he went off to Windsor while Mick Keith and you were in Mapesbury Road… but is it fair to say the Stones internal rifts were more obvious, and deeper, than The Beatles?
I don’t think Epstein had any influence in the studio and as to when George got a look in. I cannot follow your Stones Pete Frame oratario because it’s based upon hearsay, Nick Kent and sour grapes. The remark you credit to Bill , if that’s what it is, sounds like a statement that was made after the Stones started to marginalize Bill and eradicate him from the group’s history in a book the Stones did a few years ago ‘edited by’ Prince Rupert’s daughter. My son Max told me, ‘papi, you’ve got more mentions than Bill.’. Go figure. I guess. Finally we are all Harold Wilson and Lord Kagan !
… (added later)
I thought some more about your Stones question. There was no division until Allen Klein. Bill and Brian wanted Eric Easton, Charlie never spoke and Mick, Keith and I wanted Allen. There was no division caused about Mick and Keith being the writers because it was only at that time that they started writing hits for the Stones.
Your revisiting the subject of Mick Jagger in your third book is fascinating; especially the mention that you never had a “real” conversation. Is he unknowable? Or is he just the straightforward, ambitious, good blues singer you also portray him as?
As you can imagine the writing of many of the chapters in Stone Free was a learning curve, a summing up, as I’ve said influenced by Willie Maugham’s The Summing Up. I’d come to bits and go, Oh, do I really think that ? And I did. It is easier to talk with you here about what I wrote because when I wrote it a lot of the subjects were on death row with the possibility of a reprieve. Today we both know they didn’t get it. And I’m glad you said ‘Good’.”
You leave us with the sense that the “feud” between Keith and Mick is getting tedious. What would you tell them to do, if you were still in charge?
It is tedious. It’s Mick with instrumental accompaniment. Keith is like Gary Oldman at the end of State Of Grace, when his brother Ed Harris kills him. ‘Cept this brother has better hair.
And I was never in charge. Regardless of the occasional detail and ennui. If I’d been in charge I’d have been managing The Yardbirds.